Pam and I head out of here on Thursday to see some friends in Jefferson, Georgia, but the occasion for our trip is to see Austin as he finishes Marine Combat Training at Camp Lejeune, NC before he heads out to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for more training.
It's been a month since our trip to Parris Island to see him graduate from boot camp, and I haven't written anything about it. Don't really know why. Part of it was that while he was home on leave for 10 days I didn't want to stop, as I said before. Part of it, I think, is that it's hard to put into words what it was like, and I didn't want to try, almost like, because it would be inadequate, it would cheapen it. I don't even know how to describe that.
Suffice it to say that I will never forget those days and can't even describe it to myself. So let me just try to describe the events.
First of all, I can't remember anything in a long time that I looked forward to more than this trip. We were all excited.
Wednesday, May 19th at 5:45 a.m. Pam and I headed out to pick up Austin's girlfriend, Ariella, and her mom Judy. We immediately had to turn around so Pam could get some medicine because we learned that Ariella had been up all night throwing up. We didn't know if it was a bug or if she was just nervous and excited (we've concluded it was the latter), but I told Pam that if we had to stop at every exit between here and Parris Island that girl was going. She is the biggest reason that he was able to get this far, she deserved to be there, and nothing else was acceptable.
Luckily she was OK for the rest of the trip. It was about 8 1/2 hours of driving, but we got to our motel around supper time. Mom and Dad were already there, having left the day before and stopping overnight to break up the trip. Angela and Matt couldn't leave until after she got off work, so they arrived around 2 a.m.
The first event of Family Day was a 3-mile run around the base, passing by each barracks. Before going to the motel the night before we tried to get on the base to get a look around, but the guard kindly refused to let us in. He did advise us, however, to arrive early--like 5:30 a.m.--to miss the crowds for the 7 a.m. run. So we were up by 4, out by 5, and parked by 5:30 in the darkness.
(Normally this probably would have been good advice, but Austin's company was about half the size of a normal company and so there really wasn't a large crowd.)
We find some good seats in the stands at the Parade Deck, and across the way we can see the barracks that Austin has lived in for three months.
Pam and Angela made signs for everyone to hold up for him to see as he ran by. (They weren't allowed to look anywhere but straight ahead, so he didn't see them until he was on leave later that morning.)
In the pre-dawn light we begin to see platoons begin to assemble. We are so anxious to see him that even this is exciting.
Finally they begin marching toward the Deck by platoon. Austin's is 1038, which ends up being the last one in. It's still not completely light, and they are a good distance away, and THEY ALL LOOK ALIKE! But we're still trying to pick him out. We know he's going to be one of the tallest, so that helps. It's pretty cool when we finally find him. He's in the front row towards the right side, between two guys with glasses:
The run starts and everyone is cheering:
After they pass the stands they run out of the Parade Deck and onto the streets. Everyone lines the street behind the stands hoping to get a glimpse of their new Marine.
He's in the back, mostly obscured in this shot:
After running by all four barracks, they head back to the Parade Deck, and we're waiting at the entrance and get our best view of him yet, front and center in this shot:
They take a lap around the Parade Deck and as they pass Pam yells, "Go Austin Lee!" and Angela and Ariella said they saw him crack a momentary smile, though they are not allowed to acknowledge our presence at all.
They get back in formation, then march back to the barracks to shower and get in uniform for the Leave Ceremony.
Writing all this it sounds like we're Austin groupies, just waiting to catch a momentary glimpse of a rock star. But after three months of little contact, we really are anxious and excited to see him, but more than anything, it's the pride we feel in knowing that he succeeded in something that few try and many cannot or do not complete.
And we are ready to see how he has changed, grown, and matured.
We have a couple of hours to kill before the Leave Ceremony and the reunion.
I'm ready for a cup of coffee.
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