LAWTON, Okla. - I have had, in my middle-aged life, occasion to visit many of the states in this great nation. I have been to points north, east, south and, of course, I was born and raised in California. My family heritage, as far as the U.S. is concerned, is equally varied; my mother is an Oklahoma native, my father was born in New York. But oddly enough I have not yet visited the two states where my parents were born – not until one was knocked off the list yesterday. My youngest son just completed his Army basic training at Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla. and I came here to be a part of this seminal moment.
Over the years, I have not heard a great deal of positive affirmations regarding this state. Sure, college football is huge and there are prestigious universities, but as far as a place to live… well, it just doesn’t receive the highest marks. I do not say this without some degree of direct recount - remember, my mother grew up here. And although my visit here will be far too brief to make any kind of educated personal assessment, my recollection regarding my stay will be exceedingly positive due to the nature of the journey.
Military service in my immediate ancestral family has skipped a generation. My grandfather served, my father served, but I did not. The reasons are as much personal as they are political, both circumstantial and societal… reasons that in large part still exist today, though perhaps not as pronounced. When my youngest son approached me about joining the Army, I was a little taken aback, but not entirely surprised. Additionally, the personal reasons I had for not joining myself have been tempered with the wisdom of time, my mind much more open, the benefits far more visible. The long and the short of it is that military service is once again an integral part of my immediate family.
And I couldn’t be prouder. Although I supported his decision from the start and his departure for basic training had a surprisingly profound effect on me, after today’s graduation ceremony, I am truly connected. That’s not to say that I am somehow more patriotic, or that now I support our troops even more – I don’t think it is possible to further expand those sentiments, but I am now personally – very personally – connected to someone who has given his word to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. He has joined the ranks of just a very few who have chosen to protect the freedom of so very many.
All graduations are special. They all celebrate the accomplishment of something big, something not just anybody can do. I have attended several and earned the right to participate in a handful. This one was different. This one meant something greater than the sum of its parts. This one ushers brave young men and women into an uncertain world with solemn dedication – and honor. You could see it in their steely eyes; you could feel it in their collective, unified voice. They are rightfully proud of their accomplishments and will march confidently onto the path ahead.
Oklahoma isn’t so bad. True, the weather isn’t great; the scenery is base; but the people I have met are friendly enough… and the Army is here. Oklahoma will forever have a place in my heart and my respect for its part in creating the experience that has made my son a soldier. There is no more honorable profession than that of a soldier and Oklahoma is a fine place to embark on this journey. Mere words can never describe the pride I feel right now and Oklahoma will always be a part of that.