Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 2, Graduation

Graduation was scheduled for the much-saner hour of 9 a.m. on Friday, May 21st. We all had dressier clothes than for family day, but the red theme continued--it's the color of the 1st Marine Training Battalion.

As you can imagine, there's a lot of pomp and circumstance. The Marine Corps Band marched and played:

Then the battalion marched onto the Parade Deck by platoon.

There were some speeches, a lot of marching around, and, finally, after about 40 minutes, dismissal for 10 days leave.

Then we were allowed on the Parade Deck for more hugs and pictures:

Austin took us to his barracks to show us where he lived and slept for three months. For security reasons no pictures were allowed. Let's just say everyone in his platoon got to know each other very, very well.

All that was left was to grab all his gear and drive to the motel.

He couldn't wait to get into civilian clothes again, get a good lunch, and begin the drive home.

Neither could we.

Day 1, Leave

Austin had about five hours of leave on Family Day, but it had to be spent on the base. First thing we had to do was eat! We knew that all the eating places would be crowded, so we bought some KFC the night before and had a picnic on the grounds.

Dude hadn't had a Dorito in three months! And you should have seen him with the Double-Stuff Oreos! And Angela had made some buckeyes, which is some kind of peanut butter filling covered in chocolate. Austin loves her buckeyes. He had lost 20 pounds and didn't want to put it back on, and though he controlled himself pretty well, the temptation was great.

Talking to his Mema and Grandpap, Pam's parents who couldn't come on the trip:

Then we went to the post exchange to do some shopping at really good prices. Just about everyone got t-shirts and souvenirs, and Austin got a couple of things he needed for his uniforms. Pam got enough things for her car as to leave no doubt to anyone (particularly state troopers) that her son is a Marine.

We went to the Parris Island Museum where there are some cool exhibits on the history of Parris Island proper as well as Marine history.

He wanted us to see the Protestant Chapel, which had some beautiful stained glass windows. This is a memorial bell that is outside the chapel.

It's amazing how fast the time can go, and then he had to report back to the Parade Deck at 3:00 for to practice drill for the next day's graduation. They were all told in no uncertain terms not to be late, so we had him back at 2:30, and he said goodbye by 2:45. He said it was like a tease to be able to be with everyone and then have to leave but he had one more night in the barracks.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 1, Leave Ceremony

After the Motivational Run we have about two hours before the Leave Ceremony. We go to the visitor's center where we sign-in, get some coffee, and do a little souvenir shopping. We meet the depot mascot, Hummer:

Those are Corporal stripes on his uniform. Even the dog outranks Austin.

Finally we head over to the All-Weather Facility. There's a video showing the various aspects of recruit training, which we'd already seen, and finally the Base Commander addresses the crowd. After that the new Marines march in by platoon with everybody cheering and clapping. 1038 is last, and but they are directly in front of us. Unfortunately Austin is in the rear and is block so I can't see him.

After some pomp and ceremony, they are dismissed and we are allowed to go see them.

For three months I had to listen to Pam say how she wanted the first hug but that Ariella would probably get it. I seriously thought about buying handcuffs and at the last minute slapping them on them so that they would have to go up together. But in the end, Pam said, "I guess I'll let her go up first." That was big of her, and I said I thought it was nice. So as the time comes, Ariella leans forward and tells Pam to go first, and Pam says, no, you go first, and it went like that until I finally said, "Will you two please hold hands and go up together!"

So they did. And they were fast! I didn't get to see what happened, but they ran up together and Austin hugged them both, first Ariella and then Pam. By the time I got there Pam was hugging and crying:

Then it was my turn. Boy, that really felt good.

Angela's turn. She's really, really proud of him. (The women are really weepy too, huh?)


And Judy:

It was really surreal. It was Austin, but he was different. His bearing was straighter, and there was a formality that underlined his excitement, and I don't mean that in a bad way, like he was somehow reserved or not excited. It was more a matter of proper comportment. He was now a Marine, and he was taught that Marines always carry themselves in a certain way. When someone wasn't hugging him and he was just standing and talking to us, one hand held his "cover" (hat) while the other hand was held behind him at the small of his back.

This was new. But it was good.

More pictures:

Austin and his Sr. Drill Instructor:

Pam and Angela, still red-eyed, and not from the camera flash:

We were glad that Judy was able to come. In the almost two years that he and Ariella have been dating, Austin has become a part of her family as well.

Three generations of Eubanks men:

Proud parents, and we got the shirts to prove it:

From the time he left on February 22nd...

...our whole family has been waiting for this one moment:

And you just can't believe how good it is.

Parris Island, Day 1--Motivational Run

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.

Celebrity Night at Camden Yards

A week ago I met Matt and Angela at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for an O's game against the Marlins. Matt is from Miami and wanted to see the Marlins in person, he found some good seats at a great price online, and I haven't been to a game in a couple of years, so it was on.

I arrived before they did, so I had some time to kill. I had read that the O's had jacked up the price of game-day tickets--as an encouragement for fans to purchase tickets in advance, I guess--so I went up to one of the ticket booths to find out how much they were charging. As I approached, Rick Dempsey, a well-known former Oriole catcher who was the MVP the last time the O's were in (and won) the World Series and is now an O's broadcaster for MASN, walked right in front of me. I might have called out to him and said hi, but I'm not that kind of guy.

Giveaways are frequent promotions at ballparks, and tonight each fan received an orange Oriole t-shirt with Ty Wigginton's name on it. For a while I just hung around Eutaw Street where various shops are located, in particular Boog's Barbeque. Boog Powell was the Oriole's first baseman during their glory days in the late 60's and early 70's when playoffs appearances where the norm and the Orioles were in the World Series 4 times, winning twice. He was a big dude in a time when lifting weights was considered detrimental to baseball players. Boog was the American League MVP in 1970 and an All-Star for four straight years from 1968-1971. He was (and still is) a fan favorite during my childhood when I first began following the O's.

Hanging around waiting for Matt and Angela I noticed that Boog himself was actually there. So I took a picture with my cell phone and texted Angela "Boog's here!" After a few minutes he moved next to the entrance to his stand, and sat at a stool to sign autographs.

I'm not an autograph-seeker, but he was there, there was virtually no one in line yet, and I wasn't doing anything, so I got in line.

When it was my turn I handed him the free shirt I was given. As he signed it he said, "So it's Wigginton night tonight, huh?"

And I said, "Yeah, but I'd rather have your name on my shirt."

He looked at me with a smile, held out his hand, and we shook. It was pretty cool.

Our seats were next to the door to the press room and I was sitting on the aisle, and after a while O's field reporter Amber Theoharis came trudging up the stairs toward the press box.

I say trudging because it was in the high 90's, humid, and she looked like she had been climbing 100 steps rather than the 20 or so it actually was.

Since she was passing right next to me I again thought about saying hi, because I am that kind of guy--I mean, look at her, she's cute as a button--but she looked absolutely miserable and I didn't want to delay her getting to the air-conditioning. Truth is, she looked like she was maybe 3-months pregnant, and I make it a rule not to mess with hot, miserable pregnant women who are seeking air-conditioning. (Angela agreed that she looked pregnant but she was at that stage where you don't risk saying anything for fear of major embarrassment.)

It was a miserable game, a typical example of what has been a miserable season from the start. But it was cool seeing people you only see on T.V.

And I got a shirt that I won't want to wear.

P.S. O's have won four straight! Thank God for the Nationals!