February 9th will be a day he remembers for quite some time, I'm sure. He got up at 4 a.m. with the rest of his graduation buddies. Showered, cleared out his room, chowed....and headed off to an 8 a.m. graduation. In stark contrast to Basic ceremonies, not many family are present. But that doesn't lessen the pomp and circumstance of the day or diminish the honors that are bestowed on the graduates. That remains.
I think back to October 21st of last year and Jonathan's graduation from Basic at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Over 200 soldiers were acknowledged that day. The honor graduates received special recognition and one in particular spoke of the road ahead.....and the trials that will present themselves. "Stay guarded" was the message. I could only imagine how proud the parents of that soldier were. Shortly thereafter, the caps flew in the air signalling an end to the festivities. It was then, that soldiers went looking for friends and family. The image forever implanted in my memory is seeing the person I knew as my son, maneuver through the crowd to reach us. The aura surrounding him was different. Frankly I've thrown out words like changed, manhood, jaw dropping and a bunch more that I thought might fit. None have really expressed it all....it's been intangible.
Later that day, Jonathan and 53 of his fellow soldiers boarded a bus to take them to Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland for AIT. There they would begin working on their MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) as a Light-Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic. "From Day One, I had my eyes set on being an honor graduate", he reflected. He reminded me of an early Facebook post when he first arrived in Maryland saying that same thing. If only I could remember that.....
|Several graduates and 1st Sgt. Sanders at Aberdeen with Jonathan (far right)|
Because, he was. Distinguished Honor Graduate PV2 Jonathan Kelling. Has a nice ring to it, I must say. Now, I don't have to imagine what it must have felt like for the honor graduate's family at Basic, I know. What I now find myself trying to visualize, is if I had been there Wednesday, hearing his name announced and watching as he made his way across the stage. "If only I could imagine"......
What I won't have problems in remembering is his arrival at Des Moines International Airport later that evening. He purposely was the last person from his flight to head for the escalator. At the top, he stood in his Class A's, the same uniform he had on when he graduated earlier in the day. Most of the graduates chose to travel in their ACU's (Army Combat Uniform). Not this rascal. He came dressed to the hilt. As he descended the steps you could see the pride he carried growing the closer he got to us. If we couldn't be there for his graduation, then he'd bring it home to us. And I'm glad he did.
It has been a long six months. So much has taken place, changes have been happening so, so fast. Young men have had their lives altered. They've learned accountability, teamwork, responsibility and a whole lot more. As Jonathan summed up, "I've learned to be a leader and how to be a better one in the future". Forty nine soldiers graduated from Aberdeen on February 9th. They are going to be the ones to lead us. I challenge them all to LEAD BOLDLY.
"Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me"-Psalm 23:4