My son, Ben, is incredibly smart; which he has demonstrated with two remarkable accomplishments to-date: Earning a physics degree and marrying Jess; or as we like to call her–Jeff (due to an unfortunate, yet humorous, misspelling on a cake that read “Welcome back Ben and Jeff”).
Being my son, Ben was always a bit on the small side, and was / is a bit of a geek. His talents lay in math and science, versus sports. Growing up, he wasn’t much of a talker. The fall he was in 6th grade he went out for football, and when I asked how practice went he generally replied “I got squashed” without further elaboration. Eventually, he gave up football, found his voice and went out for forensics and dramatic endeavors for a few years, before settling into his ultimate recreational calling of playing video games.
Ben was 18 years old on 9/11 – THE 9/11 when our world changed. As awful as that day was, it took a more personal turn when it occurred to me that my son was a prime age to be drafted into the armed services. As it turns out, our country did not bring back the draft, and many courageous young (and not so young) men and women stepped forward to serve our country. My son was not initially among them.
Shortly after his graduation from college, Ben bulked up enough to meet the minimum weight requirement and joined the army. On leave from basic training, he and Jess got married in a civil ceremony on a Tuesday afternoon. Shortly thereafter Ben was deployed to Afghanistan, where his unit did route clearance, looking for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). I still shiver at the term. (As a side note: 2 weeks after Ben’s arrival, the military finally found Osama bin Laden. No doubt he heard Ben was in town and just gave up. At least that is my theory. )
Communication with Ben was difficult, and I took to carrying my cell phone around with me at work, ready to step out of any meeting if he was able to get a call through during my morning–we usually connected about once a month. I sent a LOT of care packages with cookies, hats, magazines, books, etc. But mostly, I worried.
To all the men and women of the Armed Forces, past and present, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your service. Once in the Atlanta airport I bought lunch for a couple of servicemen in uniform. They came over to thank me and said they were on their way to Afghanistan. I somewhat tearfully asked them to look out for my son, and without even blinking; they said they would.
After a long year, Ben returned safe in body and mind with many tales to tell (although I assume he had to take a vow of silence pertaining to his role with carrying out the Osama bin Laden raid); and I resumed breathing.