Monday, December 6, 2010

Company... Halt!

Alex is almost at the end of his training - one week from tomorrow is his Turning Blue Ceremony and the next day is Graduation!  It's been an emotional time for me, so I thought I'd take some time to take a breath and reflect on the past few months.

First off, I want to thank my family and friends for their support during this time.  I hesitated doing this blog, because I thought maybe you would not want to hear me talk about every single aspect of Alex's training or every thought and emotion that popped into my head.  But I'm a firm believer in talking about your feelings, so if nothing else, it was cathartic for me.  Yet you've all been so supportive - many of you even told me you looked forward to my next blog post, so I thank you for allowing me to indulge my Mommy neuroses.

At the beginning I worried about Alex's health and his ability to withstand such rigorous training.  I also worried about his emotional well-being; could he handle the daily mental beatings handed out by the Drill Sergeants?  But I have to say, the boy surprised me.  He not only handled it, he thrived on it!!  Each letter home was more and more positive; with each phone call, he sounded more and more confident.  I shipped a scared, worried boy off to Georgia;  I've got a confident, positive, happy young man coming home.  

Facebook has also been important to me during this time - it's been a lifeline to Fort Benning.  Three pages in particular have kept me informed and feeling close to my son: the main Fort Benning page, his platoon's page, and the page of a Bible Study group Alex attended most Monday evenings (where pictures of his smiling face were often posted!!)

His platoon's page has kept us up-to-date with what the guys have been experiencing and achieving.  I'm FB friends with some other Army moms and wives, and we've all been clinging to each and every tidbit of information.  The latest info has made me particularly proud:

11/28:  "FTX...12 miler on Saturday into the Honor Hill ceremony where the guys receive their crossed-rifles. The end is in sight."

12/3: "FTX has been pretty intense. Had to pull the company out of the field Tues morning because of a major storm. Struggled to find some open land. Got the guys out yesterday afternoon. Finished up Squad tactics and now we're moving to a urban ops sight for the end...tomorrow night is the 12 miler and Honor Hill. The finish line is close."

12/6:  "The Soldiers did an amazing job Saturday night. Everyone that started the ruck march finished. The Brigade Commander commented to the guys that it was the best ruck he had seen on Sand Hill since his command began over a year ago. The newest Infantryman in the country are now cleaning gear, resting and getting ready for the Eagle Run on Friday and Graduation next week."

So that's it - he's almost done!  What an amazing four months it's been!  It's been a growth experience for Alex, certainly.  But I feel I've grown, too.  I've found out that I can let go and be proud of the young man I've raised.

I'll probably just have one more blog post after this; I'll post my thoughts on Graduation and of course, some pictures.  Thanks again for reading!!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bite the Bullet

Alex is now down to his last two weeks of Basic Training!!

Thankfully, he passed his final PT test, and now - according to the Fort Benning website - he will be engaging in the most difficult training of all.  The list includes such things as:
  • 36 - 48 Hour Continuous Operations (The Gauntlet) - I have no idea what that is, but it's such serious stuff that it warrants its own ominous nickname. 
  • Battle March and Shoot
  • Five-Mile Eagle Run  
  • Foot March (12 miles)
  • Honor Hill Cross Rifle Ceremony
  • MK-19 Machine Gun Day & Night Familiarization Fire
  • Seven-Day Field Training Exercise
Graduation is Wednesday, December 15, so I just don't see how it's possible to fit all of this in within the time allotted.  But this is the Army, so I'm sure they're being pushed to hunker down, bite the bullet, and git 'er done.
For the past three months, my nerves have been shot wondering, "How is he doing?  Are his lungs okay?  Did he pass his PT test?  Did he do well on his rifle qualification?"  I haven't been able to relax, and I won't really do so until I pin the Blue Infantry Cord on his uniform.  Then I can relax.


Okay, not really.

I worry that he will come home, settle into work and school, and suddenly get deployed overseas (God forbid, to Afghanistan).  I realize now that Basic Training is the easy part.  The National Guard is an 8-year commitment.  I have no idea where it will take him; I just have to have faith that he's been trained by the best Army in the world and that he'll be prepared for anything.

He got a 48-hour pass over Thanksgiving, so his dad went down to see him.  He reported back to me that Alex has an increased confidence and a solid life plan in place.  Chalie said Alex is "beaming with pride and ready for the world."  Just when that begins to make me feel better, my Mommy self kicks in and once again... I worry.

So I have come to the realization that I will worry forever - it's in my nature.  It's in the nature of all mothers.  At the same time, however, I need to let go.

Guess it's time for me to bite the bullet as well.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Today is Thanksgiving Day.  I miss my child so much and wish he were here with me today.  But he's got his Dad with him down in Georgia, so he's with someone who loves him as much as I do.  And he called last night and spoke to his grandparents, his aunts and uncle, and his little cousins.  So I'm sure he feels even a little more connected to home.

He's missing out on a lot this Thanksgiving:
  • Mom Mom's delectable escarole soup
  • Mom Mom's amazing stuffing (my grandmother's recipe, created more than 50 years ago)
  • pumpkin pie
  • playing with his little cousins
  • sitting around the table and laughing with family

But he's experiencing and learning so much:
  • discipline
  • teamwork
  • perseverance
  • honor
  • loyalty
  • sacrifice
These are values that he will carry through the rest of his life, so missing one Thanksgiving at home seems a small price to pay.

Chalie already sent me some pictures of Alex this morning.

Alex, and his friends Dave and Tyler.  I love the beret!!!

"I'm eating donuts omg. I've never loved coffee so much lol." (Actual texts from Alex)

I'm so thankful that Chalie went down to spend this time with him.  I wish I could have afforded to go as well, but there was no way I could have done it.  Graduation is only three weeks away, so I'll see him very soon!!!

Gather your loved ones around you today and be thankful every day for the blessings God has bestowed upon you.  And be thankful for our soldiers who sacrifice to keep us all safe and free.  I know I'm thankful for mine. 


Monday, November 1, 2010

For My Soldier and His Platoon Buddies

Dear Alex & Charlie Company 1-19 TF330, 3rd Platoon:

For a while now, I've been wanting to write a post specifically dedicated to all of you who are training together. However, it's proven more difficult than I'd ever have imagined. Most of my posts are written in one day, sometimes under an hour.  This post, however, has taken me more than a week to compose.  Everything I start to say seems inadequate, so I scrap it and start all over.  But I want you all to see this before Graduation, so here goes...

I am in awe of each and every one of you!!  

You have made the decision to willingly leave your loved ones and put your lives on hold so that you can train to defend your country.  Because of you, those of us at home will continue to enjoy our freedom.  What an amazing sacrifice!  Obviously, I only know my son's experience and how he came to this decision.  I know that he has always loved his country; he just 11 years old when 9/11 happened, and it affected him deeply.  The heroism and patriotism that fell over the country in the weeks and months afterward settled into his soul and became a part of him.  Your story may be similar; it may be completely different. But there was something that inspired and influenced your very difficult decision.

I can't imagine how it feels to say goodbye to your parents, your spouse, your kids, your friends and embark on one of the most difficult journeys anyone could imagine.  Once you get to Basic, you're waking up before God, running in the dark or the heat (or both), crawling through dirt and mud, enduring the gas chamber, enduring your Drill Sergeants, running until your lungs feel they're going to burst, learning how to disassemble and reassemble your rifle until you can do it blindfolded, building your bodies and your minds... all the while aching for a letter or a picture from home.

I know from Alex's letters that he hates getting up early, but he loves the training. And he keeps telling me that what constantly drives him - besides the support of family and friends at home - is the thought of when he gets his Blue Infantry Cord.  Like the proverbial carrot on the end of the stick, that braided piece of material keeps him moving forward and motivated.  I can't wait until I can put that cord on his shoulder, and I'm sure every one of you is excited to have your parent, spouse, or other loved one do the same.

I recently found this Soldier's Creed.  I don't know if they teach it to you during Basic Training, but I thought it was beautiful, so I made this to share with all of you:

"I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life."  That statement is so simple, yet so profound.  Many of us take our freedom for granted, but if it weren't for the soldiers who came before you, we wouldn't be enjoying our freedom.  And now because of you, your children and your grandchildren will continue to do so.
Some of you may go overseas but, God willing, most of you will serve at home, called on when you're needed most.  But no matter what, you are all SOLDIERS, and you each will learn to live by this creed.  Stand proud when you can say "I am an American Soldier."  
Mama Leone signing off, sending lots of love to everyone in 3rd Platoon!!  God Bless you all, and I hope to meet many of you on Graduation Day!!



Thursday, October 21, 2010

Permission to speak freely?

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"Missing someone gets easier every day because even though it's one day further from the last time you saw each other, it's one day closer to the next time you will."  (Author Unknown)
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I've done so much relaying of information about Alex's letters and phone calls, but I really haven't taken the time to relay how I'm feeling about all of this.

My main emotions are basic:  I miss him and I worry about him. It's just really hard having him away from home. Alex still lives with me, and he and I are very close; even though we butt heads a lot, we love each other like crazy.  He's my heart, and I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm kinda swell.

Letting go of your child is letting go of his childhood. You carry him in your womb for 9 months (although in Alex's case, he was anxious to get out around 6-1/2 months, but that's a whole other story...), then you nourish and nurture him for his whole childhood.

You change his diapers, rock him to sleep, smell his perfect little head at least 25 times a day, marvel when he learns to crawl and then worry when he learns to walk, read his favorite story "AGAIN!," take him to the doctor umpteen times for every little ailment, teach him to count and say his alphabet, kiss his boo-boos, teach him to be respectful, send him off to school with high hopes then have to learn to deal with ADHD and all the problems that brings into your lives, deal with his temper tantrums, cry with him when someone hurts his feelings, yell at him when he needs it (and sometimes when he doesn't really but you've had a really bad day), cross your fingers and yourself when you send him off to play down the street without you for the first time, remind him to do his homework, remind him again, yell at him when he still hasn't started his homework, cry with him and feel you've crushed his heart forever when you and your husband tell him you're getting divorced, feel your heart stop when your ex-husband calls and says he's taking him to the emergency room, feel your heart stop again when you find his lung has collapsed and he's going to need surgery, joke with him in pre-OP to keep him calm then kiss him goodbye and cry your eyes out after they wheel him to the OR, wring your hands and pray while he's in surgery, almost pass out when you see him in recovery wearing an oxygen mask, take turns sleeping next to his bed for the next few nights, go through it all again two months later when they repair the other lung, then stand proud and cry your eyes out the day he graduates high school.

Then you think "Well, I've done my job," and that now you won't have to worry quite so much. He's a young man now; you expect to be able to let go.  But, as John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." 

My baby is now a young man, but he still needs me, and I guess he always will to some degree. Right now I can't be there to nourish, but I nurture remotely, through my almost-daily letters and cards. I encourage, I uplift, I inform, I humor... I mother.  Good to know I'm still needed.

 (Thanks to Kaitlyn Daniels, wife of Alex's platoon buddy Dave Daniels, for the quote!)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

4-Hour Pass


He had a 4-hour pass today, so he was in the PX eating a cheesburger and fries and calling everyone he could get a hold of!  As on Monday, he sounds great - still just concerned about PT.  When Alex was little, he didn't like to practice anything - he wanted to do it perfectly right away, so I can understand why he's frustrated.  He also used to give up if he couldn't do it right he first time, so I give him a lot of credit for working so hard at it!!  Of course, he should have worked on his endurance before he left for Basic, but he knows that.  He'll get there, I know.

We talked for more than half an hour - it was so nice to have a leisurely talk for a change.  He told me all about his rifle training. He said he sucked when he first did it, but he's getting progressively better. He's saving his targets to show his dad when he gets home. I told him that his father has always gotten an "Expert Marksmanship" every year he requalifies, so he should work hard to show him up!! ;-)

He said he's going to go to Bible Study again, and he did attend a Protestant service one Sunday - he said it was "awesome! Much better than Catholic Church."  Yikes!!  I told him please just don't convert while he's there - his grandmother will have a stroke!  But I'm happy that he's going to any service at all.

It's a good thing he's spending a lot of time with God, because apparently, there is a lot of cursing and salty language in the Army! He said he was trying very, very hard to control his tongue while he was talking to me.  Even one of their cadences is "F***, F***, F***ity, F***"!!  Oh, those crazy drill sergeants!!!

Speaking of which - he's really upset because his favorite drill sergeant just got reassigned to another platoon. He likes the other guys, but Alex just felt a special affinity with this particular DS.  I can't believe they would do that in the middle of traning, but I guess one doesn't question the Army.

I'm still so excited that I can't remember the half of what we talked about, so I may update this post.  Just wanted to spread the joy!!

This has been such a great week; I talked to Alex twice and got to see pictures of him - I'm in Mommy heaven!!

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He just sent me a picture!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Communication Received!

Alex called me this evening!!

I told him I didn't expect to hear from him on a Monday (usually they let them call on Sundays), and he said they were all surprised, too when the drill sergeants told them they could call home.

He sounded really good and very happy!  He said he loves the training although he's still having a little trouble with his endurance in PT.  As soon as he said that, I immediately asked about his lungs, but he said that he's fine - it's just that he's still getting into shape.  He can do 48 sit-ups now and today he ran 2 miles without getting winded, but he still has a long way to go.

He said he went to a Bible Study today and that they took pictures. I just checked, and here he is!!!

Alex and his friend Dave Daniels at Bible Study

Oh my!!!  Look at that shaved head and huge glasses (they call them BCGs: Birth Control Glasses, LOL!!)  At least he had dark glasses before, so he doesn't look too different.  And look - he loves his mommy!!!!

We weren't able to talk long, but it was so wonderful hearing his voice!! And now it's wonderful to see his face!!!