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Four Weeks Ago – Graduation Parade

Four weeks ago, we were still in San Antonio…headed into our second day of graduation festivities.

After a good night’s sleep, we headed back to the base.  I was praying that the rain that had been forecast would stay away again.

I love the sight of sun rays peeking through the clouds. I think of them as God’s fingers reaching down to earth.

This day, a Friday, was the day families would see their Airmen in their dress blues during the Graduation Parade.  By the time we got there, and we thought we were arriving early, the stands were already filling up.  We weren’t sure where to sit…always the dilemma when a mama wants to get the best pictures of her baby.

Everyone took turns making trips to the bathroom.  Rooster’s girl and I took time out for a quick selfie…

You can see that the sky behind us was starting to clear up.

As more people arrived, a woman announced that there would be a practice parade.  Whew!  I sure was glad she said that because after the near-fiasco from the day before during what we’d thought was the Honor Grad Ceremony, knowing ahead of time that this wasn’t the real thing was much appreciated!

Practice!!

Eventually, we saw Airmen marching to the parade grounds.  They were a longgggggggg way off.  That field was humongous…larger than a football field.

I’d watched videos on YouTube, so I knew that they were marching from the dorms, quite a distance away, over a bridge, and toward us, their loved ones.

I used my camera to hunt for my boy, but I didn’t find him until the flights, led by flag bearers, formed up on the field.

Once again, I was glad I’d purchased my telephoto lens.  I was able to quickly locate Rooster.  Look at how incredible those men and women look.  I’ve always been partial to a man in a uniform.  This sight made my heart swell with pride, both as a mama and as an American.

The band played (did you know that the band during graduation consists of trainees placed in this special flight during their BMT training?), and other special maneuvers/marching drills were performed.  Then, the Airmen began marching across the field and past the bleachers.

Oh, y’all.  Once again, the tears are flowing as I’m looking at these pictures and recalling that morning.

I am a naturalized citizen.  I grew up in this country and became naturalized in 1997.

I’ve always had a special affinity for American history, have read dozens of historical novels, and took many history courses in college including a military history class for my history minor.

Watching this parade…the presentation of our national and state flags…the salute of our newly minted Airmen…their straight backs and perfectly-timed cadence…these sights made me grateful that I live in a country where others are willing to sacrifice everything to protect our freedom.

I walked to the end of my row in the bleachers so I could stand up without bothering anyone, and when my boy passed, you better believe that my camera was clicking away.

Isn’t it funny how God prepares you for little things?  I’d spent years taking pictures during Chicky’s soccer games…learned how to use the sports mode on my camera.  This knowledge came in handy during all of the ceremonies we attended during Rooster’s graduation.

I got quite a few pictures of my sweet guy.  Oh man, but did he look handsome!  Yes, we’d seen him in the button photo, but that did not do him justice.  His cap…his carefully pressed pants…new shiny shoes.

❤ ❤ ❤

There was, of course, a speech after the parade.  Then, there was the reciting of the Airman’s Creed.

Happy sigh.

I think I may have teared up again at this point.

And then…the words we were longing to hear…it was time to tap out our boy.  The Mr. and I were going to do the honors this time.

Rooster’s girl followed us, recording our Tap Out with the Mr.’s phone.

Oh y’all…the crowd.  It was CRAZY!  Families were rushing to get to their Airmen.  The Mr. was way too polite.  I would have shoved my way through like the Mama Bear that I am, but then again, I was raised in the South…i.e. Redneck Central.

Ahem.

We finally got to our boy, and oh man…the hugs.  Sure, they were a little sweaty because San Antonio has a humidity index of like 99.9% even in May…but who cares when it comes to hugging your child.

Rooster is such a sweet young man.  Once again, relief flooded his face.  “I was about to pass out,” he said.  Yeah, it was hot.

Project Tap Out Your Airman was now complete, and we had the REST OF THE DAY with our boy!

But first, the Dorm Open House.

During the Dorm Open House, loved ones are given a tour of the facilities where Airmen had spent the previous eight weeks.

It reminded me a lot of school open houses.

This room housed half of my son’s flight.  This was where he learned to make a bed properly and keep his belongings in order.

The first thing that struck me was how precisely his shoes were lined up.  Trainees are assigned jobs when they arrive at BMT.  One of those jobs is making sure shoes are lined up properly.  Oh yeah.  The Air Force is all about precision.

Look at the corners on this bed!  Rooster said he will never make his bed again after he gets out of tech school.

Every single thing has a certain place to go, including towels, PT clothes, and laundry bags.

Each trainee has a locker.  Clothes must be hung a certain distance apart.

Even their t-shirts and socks must be neatly rolled (the size of a soda can) and arranged in neat fashion!

Rooster got quite good at rolling shirts and traded his expertise for extra protein bars.  🙂

Each trainee has a locked security drawer that must also be kept in proper order.  They will earn demerits if things are out of place.

There was another room called the day room where briefings were held.  I saw this on one wall…

Rooster took us by the patio.  It was the place where his dorm got to call home, a benefit to being in “Alcatraz” as his dorm was called because of its age.  The newer dorms on base (known as Disneyland) don’t have the patios with pay phones; the older dorms do.  Trainees in the newer dorms have to go to the BX to call home…while waiting in line for the two or three phones that are there.  As you can see, Rooster’s patio area had a lot of phones.  His flight was very good about dividing up their free time into equal slots so everyone could call home.  The quality of the phone service was not great, but at least we still got to hear from our boy.

The next picture is the laundry room.  Rooster was the Laundry Chief, in charge of his flight’s laundry crew.  I got a good laugh when he first told us what his job was.  He’d been doing his own laundry at home for a number of years…back when he was in middle school even.  He’d been well prepared for this task and spent many, many hours in the room you see.  It was a great job and provided him with opportunities to study and write letters home while he was waiting for clothes to cycle through.

After touring the dorm, we were free to take Rooster off base for his town liberty.

What joy!!  This was the first time he’d left the base since he had arrived.  It was lunchtime, so we let him pick the place.  Where did he want to eat?  Panda Express!!!  It was right outside the base.

It was quite the experience, walking in with him dressed in his blues, for that was the uniform of the day.  I walked with my back a little straighter, so proud to be in the presence of this fine young man I’d raised…proud to show him off.

After lunch, we headed to the Riverwalk.  I had taken Rooster and Chicky to visit my dad many, many years ago, and we had flown into San Antonio and done Riverwalk, so I was a little familiar with it.  Visiting it again with my grown son was even more special.

There was a very large mall along the Riverwalk.  It provided respite from the heat and humidity. I was struck by the people who thanked my son for his service as we passed by.  Quite a few of them offered their congratulations.  San Antonio is a place that appreciates the military, let me tell you.

We made our way to the Riverwalk below street level and signed up for a boat tour…a must-do activity if you’re in San Antonio.

Our tour guide was a hoot and kept us in stitches the entire time.  He provided a lot of historical information about the various hotels, restaurants, and other buildings along our route.

Look at the gargoyles on the next building!

I loved the flags that adorned the end of the boat…

The mural on the next building (I think it was a fine arts center) was incredible!

After the boat tour, we decided to visit the Alamo, which was right off of the Riverwalk.

There is no fee to enter, if you can believe that.

We found a lush green area outside of the Alamo and snapped a few photos after we had toured inside.  Those are some of my favorite pictures, my Airman son looked so handsome.

We were hot and tired after the Alamo, so we headed back to the hotel for a brief rest.  Rooster took a short nap on the couch.  One of the things that most Airmen want during graduation is sleep.  Watching him rest made me tear up, as I am right now just writing this (yes, I’ve become a blubbering fool, I fear).  Do you remember watching your babies sleep when they were little?  I have a secret to share with you.  When they are grown and wearing an Air Force uniform, you still get emotional watching them sleep.  Gosh, but I love my kids.

Anyhoo…

After he woke up, we left for our next adventure.  Graduating Airmen are granted one late night, upon prior approval, during a town liberty to attend one of two events that have been agreed upon beforehand.  Rooster had the choice of attending a WMBA game on Friday night or a minor league baseball game on Saturday night.  Because of the dire weather predictions, he’d selected the basketball game because it would be inside.  Although he was tired, he didn’t want to miss the chance to spend more time with us.

What a fun experience!!!  I’d never been to a professional basketball game before.  We saw several new Airmen at the game, and I was, again, moved to tears during the national anthem when I saw, for the first time, my boy saluting the flag.

I looked around and saw all of the uniform-clad men and women doing the same thing.

I’d never paid much attention to that before.  It will never go unnoticed again.  These men and women will forever salute the flag, even after they retire.  It’s become a part of who they are.

The game itself was so much fun!!  Everything about it, from the music to the crowd to the videos displayed on the large screen in the middle made this night a memorable one.

One little girl in the crowd went nuts when she saw herself on the big screen, and boy, did that girl dance for the camera.  It was hysterical!!!  Her mom sat behind her with her hands over her eyes.  Priceless.

I snapped a selfie of myself, Rooster, and his girl.  He raised one of his eyebrows in the picture…so classically my Rooster…every the comedian.  One of my fears when he left for BMT was that he would lose part of who he was.  I was afraid that the harsh training would scour away that part of his personality.  My fears were for nothing, for he was the same sarcastic yet loving son he’d been before he walked away from the car that April day.

He was exhausted when we took him back to the base.  The boy had been conditioned to going to bed by 9pm each night, and it was about 10:00.

Dropping him off was easy again, for I knew I’d get to see him the next day.  It’s funny how a mama’s heart rests much easier when she knows that her babies are in the same city.  I don’t remember dreaming about anything that night.  I just remember that I slept soundly for the second night in a row.

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