In the midst of all the excitement with Jaz last week, I didn’t get to share the good news.
He officially finished his military training last Wednesday and left technical school as a certified air transportation specialist* for the US Air Force Reserve.
I took off from work that day and drove down to Ft. Lee to attend the ceremony. A few other family members were there as well, and we all got to watch as our Airmen were given their certificates and words of encouragement from class leadership.
And I even got to step up and take the grip-and-grin photos for everyone.
After the ceremony, we headed over to the dorm so Martin could collect all his belongings, and within an hour, we were on the road again, heading home.
Martin is no longer considered a “pipeline” Airman. He’s done with his initial training.
Starting next month, he’ll be putting on the uniform at least one weekend a month, two weeks a year, and doing his work at nearby Andrews Air Force Base. Of course, there may be some travel to other locations here and there, some time apart, some more training down the road.
But now? He’s back to be being a full-time stay-at-home dad.
He’ll be posting soon about his tech school experience, and of course, we’ll be sharing as we follow this new path for all of us, especially as he re-integrates with the household again.
It probably goes without saying that we are so proud of him.
* Here’s an Air Force video showing you what air transportation specialists — or “Port Dawgs” — do in the Air Force/Air Force Reserve.
Once again, we traveled south to Richmond to spend the Memorial Day weekend with Martin. Not only were we blessed with three whole days together, but there was a twinge of excitement knowing it was the last time we would make such a trip since Martin graduates from tech school very soon, and will be home for good.
We decided to go all out.
Fortunately, several attractions in the area offered free admission for military members and we took full advantage at Kings Dominion (normal admission is $62 for adults/$40 for kids) and Colonial Williamsburg ($50/$25) since regular price as a family of five = never happening.
Since I didn’t get around to posting these earlier, I’m using this Flashback Friday to share some photos we took during our holiday weekend.
The kids and I drove down to Richmond to spend the weekend with Martin.
Not only was it Mother’s Day weekend, but it was also the first opportunity Martin was able to exercise his new “freedom” from technical school.
Unlike our first visit with him a few weeks ago, Martin was able to wear civilian clothes, drive in a personal vehicle, leave the base, and stay overnight with us.
So, I booked our stay in an extended-stay hotel just outside the city, turned off all our electronics, and made the most of our time together.
The four of us arrived late Friday night with Martin greeting us at the hotel since he was able to get a cab and check in on time for us. He had everything set up for us: the pull-out couch done up for the girls and a crib for Jaz so all we had to do was carry our sleeping kids up to the room and toss them in.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to sleep in on Saturday morning because more than half the people in his dorms failed their room inspections and he was required to be back in his dorms for a 6 a.m. room inspection. But that didn’t stop the rest of us from sleeping in!
By late morning, all of us were together again, though, and the very first thing we did was head over to the nearby shopping center to get Martin some new clothes.
Seriously — the man needs new clothes. When I pulled up to his dorms on the post, he was standing outside waiting for us, wearing his old jeans and t-shirt. It’s an outfit he’s worn for years, but it was hanging off of him.
To be honest, I thought he looked sickly. Not that he looked pale and weak: on the contrary. Martin’s probably the healthiest he’s been his whole life right now. But he looked like he was swimming in his old clothes and it just didn’t look right.
So we snagged him some new jeans and tops, and I was so amused as he kept going back and forth, grabbing smaller sizes off the rack.
Next, we went to the grocery store for some food items, and we returned to the hotel to eat lunch and hang out.
We took our afternoon nap all piled up in the king-size bed.
We went swimming in the hotel pool.
We popped popcorn, ate Oreos, and watched a marathon of movies.
And then we threw all three kids into the room’s giant whirlpool tub before getting them in their pajamas and tucking them into bed.
It was so nice just being able to do that simple family routine again.
Fortunately, Martin was able to sleep in on Sunday morning.
Or rather, he was able to stay in bed after the kids woke us up shortly after sunrise. All three of them bounded into our room and leaped into the bed once they realized he was still there in the room.
We took our time with breakfast and getting ready for the day, packing up our things to check out of the hotel.
We decided to head to the Richmond Children’s Museum for the afternoon, which was a very wise decision on our part. That place is perfect for kids, with various learning corners and play areas. There’s a little “town” set up, where the kids could play in a grocery store, a bank, a school, a news station, etc. There was a giant apple tree where the kids could “pick” the apples. At one point, we lost track of Lola while everyone was running around/playing in the center “playground” of the museum.
We weren’t concerned: it’s an enclosed environment with lots of areas to play. But there were many corners and rooms where she could be. We found her in the theater room, up on the stage, performing a puppet show for about ten people (a mix of parents and kids). I’m not even kidding: they thought it was a part of the museum.
She had a storyline, each character had a specific voice, and everything. Martin and I stood in the back, filming part of it and taking photos. It was too funny.
After the museum, we ate a late lunch at nearby Galaxy Diner which had a retro/futuristic space theme and really good food. It’s not often that all three kids eat ALL of their food at a restaurant, but they did.
And even Martin and I finished our plates, although we both regretted it later. It was the most both of us ate in one sitting in a long time.
But worth it!
After that, we went to a nearby movie theater to watch The Croods, and by the time that was done, it was time to drive Martin back to Fort Lee.
Yet, we couldn’t give him up right away, so we drove into the family housing area to find a playground. That’s one of the most reliable things about a military base: if you find the housing area, you will find a playground.
We let the kids run around for about an hour, hoping to wear them out for the road trip back up to Northern Virginia. It worked. By the time we really did drop Martin off at his dorm, the kids were very tired.
Which meant they were a little grumpy, too.
Nobody wanted Martin to go.
But fortunately, he only has one month left before he can come home for good with us.
That Sunday after his graduation ceremony was the last we saw Martin while down in Texas.
He earned a town pass for the day in two ways. First, he won it by maxing out on the physical fitness standards, earning himself a “warhawk” status for extraordinary fitness. Because of that, he got a certificate, a t-shirt, and a town pass.
This incentive is something new to BMT (or at least, new to me), and when Martin told me about it over the phone, his German accent threw me off, and I misunderstood that he was a warthog.
It was a few days later until I realized my mistake. I just assumed he was referencing something from BEAST week, and didn’t bother to get clarification.
It’s Warhawk: the Air Force God of Fitness.
(I made up that last part.)
The second way Martin earned the Sunday town pass was through his flight, and their designation as the honor flight. All the others in his flight also got to spend one extra day with their families as a reward for earning the most points through their exams, inspections, and fitness tests.
So, Miss C and I picked up Martin early Sunday morning and immediately drove down to the city, where we enjoyed breakfast on the Riverwalk.
Halfway through our meal, an older gentleman approached us, and introduced himself as a former B-52 pilot. He had been eating at the table behind us with his family, and when he saw Martin in his uniform and overheard our conversation, he realized Martin was a recent BMT graduate, and he wanted to treat us.
So he bought our entire breakfast, thanking Martin for his service.
The gentleman wasn’t the first to thank Martin that weekend. In fact, just about everywhere we went, people approached Martin to shake his hand, thank him for his service, and welcome him to the Air Force.
Martin said this made him feel really awkward because not only is he naturally a pretty humble dude, but for so long, it was people coming up to me and thanking me for serving, and occasionally treating me (or us) with some random act of kindness.
But most of all, Martin said he felt weird about it because in his mind, graduating from BMT didn’t really count as a significant contribution of service.
But he is wrong.
Every time someone approached Martin, I wanted to speak up about my husband, to bring them up to speed about how he’s already served and sacrificed. And it’s not even that he gave up his own Bundeswehr career, or offered such unconditional support to my own Air Force career.
But despite having witnessed all of that through my career and those of our good friends, and despite having a comfortable life as a stay-at-home dad with us at home, my warthog STILL decided to serve.
Thank you for your service.
The rest of that Sunday was definitely more low-key. After breakfast, we let Miss C decide our plans. This led us over to the IMAX theater near the Alamo, where we saw a documentary about monarch butterflies.
Afterwards, we drove back to our hotel, where the three of us ordered room service and watched animal reality television shows featuring adorable puppies and psychotic cats while all piled up on the huge bed. The only thing missing were our two babies, Lola and Jaz.
At least, though, we knew that the hardest part — BMT — was over, and we were that much closer to being all together again.
Our goodbye to Martin that day was relatively quick and painless. I pulled into the parking lot next to his dorm, helped him unload his new luggage set, and gave him a quick hug and kiss goodbye. He had an early morning flight out of Texas — the airport bus picked him up at 2 am — and then he would be off to technical school to learn how to become an air transportation specialist.
This meant he was now a lot closer to home, too.
For the longest time, I thought his tech school was there at Lackland Air Force Base. But as it turned out … of all the places he could have gone for his training, his school is at Fort Lee, Virginia.
Just two hours south of where we live.
Can you believe that Martin already wrote something for the Air Force’s official blog?
That Sunday, while we were hanging out in the hotel room, Martin typed up some thoughts about his BMT experience.
We almost missed seeing Martin during the Airman’s Run that Thursday.
It was a combination of the time change (San Antonio is one hour behind DC), me underestimating San Antonio’s rush-hour morning traffic, and me also having no idea what this Airman’s Run was really all about.
Back in my day, there was nothing like an Airman’s Run at the end of Air Force Basic Military Training. My flight participated in a 5K at some point. I got a t-shirt. We ran two miles for our final fitness assessment. I did a good job with that.
But an Airman’s Run? Where family members line the street and scream for their Airmen while holding up huge signs and taking photos while all the flights run around singing jodies and running in step?
That’s something new. So I didn’t know what to expect or what exactly we were supposed to do, but in the end, it all worked out. Miss C and I arrived on base and parked a few blocks away from where the whole thing takes place. I thought I had at least 30 more minutes, and I had a general idea of where things would happen, so we started walking in that direction.
At some point, though, we started to hear people screaming and chanting, and then I noticed other family members were running in a particular direction.
So I grabbed Miss C’s hand, and together we started following the stragglers until we ended up at the end of a street.
And it wasn’t just any street.
It was the street where all the flights were running. But instead of ending up alongside the street, Miss C and I were actually at the very end of the street, facing the flights as they ran toward us before being forced to turn left.
It ended up being the best place to stand, because if we were standing on the side of the street, there was a chance it would be the wrong side, or we would be lost in the crowds.
But at this spot, there was no way Martin could avoid seeing us. There were only a handful of others standing next to us. We were looking at everyone. And everyone was looking at us.
Including Martin, who was just one flight away from being right in front of us.
I barely had time
to whip out my cell phone and set it on video. I didn’t get any photos. (Fortunately, I found a photo of Martin running on the BMT Facebook page.) Instead, I got incredibly shaky video as I held the phone in one hand and waved frantically with the other.
Miss C was jumping up and down next to me.
I made eye contact with Martin.
I knew right away he saw us.
And then he was gone again as the flight turned and ran away from us.
Miss C and I were giggling the whole time. We half-heartedly ran across the way, hoping to catch another glimpse as the flights ran back from where they came, but that meant falling into the crowds lining the streets. There was no way we’d get a good view.
We didn’t care, though. We definitely saw Martin.
And we couldn’t wait to see him again.
But we had to wait. We didn’t see him again for another few hours.
In the meantime, Miss C and I huddled together on a set of metal bleachers lining a drill pad where the Airman’s Retreat and Coin Ceremony was to be held, shivering as the Texas temperatures dipped down into the 40s.
At one point, a lady brought over a towel for Miss C to use as a blanket.
The Coin and Retreat Ceremony is another new BMT experience. Back in my day, the Airman’s Coin was a relatively new collectible item for enlisted folk. It was explained to us that the coins were to be carried, and not dropped unless you wanted to buy everyone around you a beer. At least, that’s what I remembered.
I was handed my coin by a chief master sergeant after my Warrior Week experience, standing alongside a metal warehouse with all my flight members. A Billy Ray Cyrus song blared over the sound system, and shortly after, a bus picked us up and drove us back to the dorms.
There were no family members around. In fact, back in my day, the first time family members got to see their Airmen was right after the official graduation ceremony on Friday.
Not on Thursday.
But alas, when BMT got stretched out to eight and a half weeks, the time needed to be filled, and all these little traditions became more significant ceremonies.
So that’s why Miss C and I sat on those freezing cold bleachers for a few hours, waiting for the Retreat and Coin Ceremony to start.
To pass the time, we took pictures. I walked to the food stand and got breakfast for the two of us while Miss C saved our seats.
I also chatted with some of the mothers I met online in our flight’s forum on the Air Force WingMom’s page. We all recognized each other from our posts.
That was awesome.
It seemed like forever before the flights started arriving.
But sure enough, they started to appear shortly after the honor graduates were recognized. I knew Martin was an element leader in his flight, so I knew he would be marching in front of his group. We were seated in the center of the drill pad, though, and while I could make him out, I couldn’t really see him, so I switched to my zoom lens to get a better look.
And I literally gasped when I saw him.
It was like seeing Martin from years ago.
Like, actually seeing my young German lieutenant standing over there, at attention, waiting to swing into step.
It was surreal.
He looked amazing.
In his letters, Martin wrote about the times he marched past the groups of families waiting to see their graduating Airmen. At one point, he was working a detail and witnessed the many happy reunions. Watching those with young children really choked him up. He admitted he didn’t think he would be able to hold it together if he saw Miss C and me.
And that was true.
He later said he was able to see Miss C and me right away since we snagged the best seats: front row and center in the bleachers right in front of his flight. He said he kept his attention on the top of the canopy above us, and refused to make eye contact with us.
That didn’t stop me from taking a million photos, though.
Truthfully, I didn’t pay any attention to the Retreat and Coin Ceremony. I know there were speeches to the history and significance of everything. All around me, mothers and girlfriends were sobbing and pointing out their loved ones. I even saw a few fathers dab at their eyes.
But I just couldn’t be moved to tears.
Instead, I was giddy with excitement, and I could feel Miss C growing anxious, too.
We just wanted to get to Martin. We just wanted to grab onto him, to see him up close.
Once they officially ended the ceremony, families were able to step forward and walk to their Airmen. Just as I stood up, my friend Karen appeared out of nowhere. She is still active duty, working in public affairs and stationed in San Antonio, and decided to swing by the area, knowing we were there somewhere.
Even though it’s been years since we saw each other, she just appeared and offered to take my camera to video the reunion. I just smiled and handed it to her.
It was seamless.
And the result was this video, which I posted last week.
By the time we reached Martin, he was a mess.
He was making what Miss C calls the “puffy face.” He admitted he lost all bearing when he saw us approach, and was in tears by the time we wrapped our arms around him.
It was one of the best moments ever.
We got to spend the rest of the day with Martin on “base liberty” which meant he was free to hang out with us, but he couldn’t leave Lackland Air Force Base.
So, we had lunch with Karen and Martin’s wingman, Larry, who is from Nigeria and also a Reservist from Andrews Air Force Base. (He and Martin are going into the same career field, too.)
Then Larry, Martin, Miss C, and I went to the base bowling alley, where we played a few games. If it weren’t for the uniforms, and Martin’s new skinny face and lean body, and all the other Airmen and their families, it really would have felt like it was an ordinary family outing.
But of course, it wasn’t.
Every now and then, another Airman came up and called out to Martin by our last name. Some of them introduced him to their families as “the German MTI.”
Still others approached him asking him for permission or confirmation of something, and I realized they were Airmen from his flight, seeing him as their element leader.
I found it all very amusing.
Miss C and I ended up staying on base until ten minutes before Martin was due back to his dorms. To be honest, we weren’t even bummed about saying goodbye. We knew the next day was going to be the official graduation ceremony, and then he would have a town pass to the leave the base.
Martin is now graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training.
After nearly nine weeks apart, Miss C and I reunited with him down at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. We flew down there together on Wednesday, and the first time we got to see him was on Thursday during the Airman’s Run and Coin Ceremony.
Here’s a montage of video and photos from the events.
I will be sharing more from our weekend all this week.
I officially married Martin on a Friday after the Easter weekend in 2002.
Eleven years later, the anniversary of our civil ceremony falls on a Friday after the Easter weekend. And just as he was back then, Martin is in the military again.
I wonder what he is doing today on our anniversary, down there at Air Force basic training. I can say with confidence that whatever it is they have him doing is just about the farthest thing the both of us imagined for him that day in Germany eleven years ago.
On Sunday morning, we headed over to Grandma MJ’s house, where we feasted on a traditional lunch with our family. My sister Jill and brother-in-law were there with my niece, the fabulous Miss J, who is just six months younger than Jaz.
I’m convinced our kids are actually twins masquerading as cousins. Out of the four parents, none of us have blond hair nor do we have blue eyes, yet here we have blond-hair, blue-eyed children with wide smiles and cherub cheeks.
Weren’t they adorable in their Easter outfits?
Jaz in a sweater vest just kills me.
Anyway, the kids all participated in an Easter egg hunt in Grandma MJ’s backyard. Miss C and Lola did very well, and the younger two got a second chance for success with a smaller egg hunt in the living room.
All the kids ended up with baskets full of goodies.
Despite being surrounded by so much family, though, it was obvious that Martin was missing. Everyone asked about him, of course. As the kids ran around in their bunny ears, or did something cute, or cheered as they found their treats, I felt the pull of wanting to turn to Martin and say, “Did you see that? Aren’t our kids adorable?”
But of course, I didn’t. Instead, I passed around some stationery for everyone to sign, and they did. I also took a lot of photos and video of the kids running around and laughing.
At least he’ll be able to share in the memories when he gets home.
I can’t tell you from personal experience what this particular week is all about because I didn’t have a Week Seven. A few days after my basic training graduation after six weeks, I was on a bus to the San Antonio airport for my flight to Baltimore. My technical school — which I will write more about later — was at Ft. Meade, an Army installation in Maryland between Baltimore and Washington DC.
Now, he’ll wrap up his training with a bunch of evaluations and classroom instruction. According to the various sources of information online, Martin will be learning about Airmanship (which I think has really been ongoing this whole time), as well as some skills he’ll need as a new Airman.
Like financial management.
I’m going to be very disappointed if I hear he didn’t stand up in that class and give those young men some solid financial advice. Seriously — the reason they have that class is because a lot of young people have never written a check … or opened a checking account … or handled anything other than cash.
I’m positive that he will NOT be able to sit through that class without raising his hand and saying something. I can see him twitching, trying to hold back …
His flight will also be taking their final Air Force BMT fitness test, too.
Needless to say, I think this is going to be an easy week for him.