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By Kimberly Mae
As I lay on my bed with what I considered to be a very generous gift—a glass of burgundy wine—my mind started to wander. I realized something in my life as a working mom on active military duty had to change. Working 50 hours a week and taking care of two kids was hard enough, besides experiencing the degradation of receiving state assistance.
Something inside me cried. All I wanted was for my sons Michael and Caleb to have a better life, better opportunities, and all the things I never had growing up.
Joining the U.S. Army was an easy option for me. I come from a large military family, so it wasn’t as mysterious as it seemed to others. I thought I would be pulled away from my boys for a few months and we could go back to a life together, relishing each and every moment before I had to go overseas, if at all.
Little did I know that the day I left for boot camp would set me on a course to be separated from my sons for the next two years. I left Oct. 28, 2009, and didn’t unite with Michael and Caleb until Oct. 26, 2011. The three vacations I had during that time were about a week each, and I will be forever thankful for those moments we had. Never again will I presume to know the future’s destiny, nor will I break another heart sharing that certain presumption like I did with my sons.
Basic Combat Training (BCT or Boot Camp) was difficult, to say the least. Along with every part of my body aching and feeling as though I would have fallen apart, literally, I had the separation of my kids rattling around in my head daily. Looking ahead and picturing the future got me through those days. I saw Caleb and me walking in the park at Niagara Falls, and laughing at any funny comment or gesture he might craft. I pictured Michael walking ahead of us, gazing at the vastly magnificent cascading waterfall. He is my quiet inquisitive dreamer. Caleb is my class clown. Sometimes I would picture myself relaxing in a bubbling hot bath with a glass of cabernet or the latest and greatest from Niagara’s Winery. That was the trick: using your mind to put yourself in another place, knowing the projected outcome and bearing anything just to get to that finish line.
I was able to go home for a week in the midst of training. It was Christmas time, and the base decided the drill sergeants deserved to be with their loved ones for the holiday. So, needless to say, that gave privilege to us soldier recruits, too. If I had known the following holidays would bring separation, depression and grief overseas, far from family, joy or peace, I would have done something to make that time incredibly memorable. It was during this that I learned to never take for granted the few breaths of fresh air we are given.
The Army and being deployed taught me that the only constant is change. It is inescapable or inevitable. While I was in Afghanistan, I focused on myself and what I had to do, and channeled my energies towards studies and work. I still kept some time for myself, reflecting, writing and corresponding with family. Trying to keep in touch with who I was helped keep my feet on the ground and my objective clear. Ultimately reaching my goal was certain, because my thirst for success was unstoppable. The wellbeing and prosperity of my sons will prevail, because I will prevail.
Kimberly Mae served in the U.S. Army for three years, including one deployment to Afghanistan as a generator mechanic. She is the mother of four sons. With the proceeds from her book, A Drill Sergeant’s Fame, Mae hopes to assist disabled veterans and create a motivational seminar program for children.