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Coping with worry

How to deal when your teen enlists.

While other parents are worried about their teen going off to college, I’m worried about mine going off to war. My son is enlisting in the United States Marine Corps and will likely leave for boot camp 30 days after high school graduation.

I had always pledged to myself that I would not tell my kids what they should do as a career. After all, I’ve never met anyone who is happy after following their parents’ desires rather than their own. But when my son said he wanted to enlist, the first word I uttered was no. Then I started to cry.

It has taken me about a year to come around to seeing that his enlistment will be the best thing for him. I have worked hard at accepting his plan and understanding what’s involved so that I can embrace it. Here are some realizations that helped me.

They don’t need permission
When I told an acquaintance that my son was enlisting, she replied, “Oh, I would never let my son do that!” Your child, at age 18, does not need your permission to enlist. You cannot prevent it. If your son or daughter wants to serve, they will do so with or without your support. If you try to prevent it, you may only end up excluding yourself from the process. It’s much better to be part of the experience than to have your teen proceed without you.

Focus on the benefits
Today’s military offers excellent benefits, including good pay, room and board, full medical and dental coverage and education benefits. It’s possible to emerge from a term in the military with a degree, funds for further education and money in the bank. Your teen may emerge healthier, wiser and richer than otherwise possible.

In a delayed entry program, your teen can select a job up to a year in advance of departing for boot camp. You can help your teen choose by sharing your experience while you review the choices. Remember, there are many noncombat positions.

If you’ve never served in the military, read up on boot camp and military life. After I read a detailed week-by-week description of Marine boot camp, I felt I understood a lot more about what my son would be going through. All the safety regulations were very reassuring.

Listen to your teen
It may be a strong sense of patriotic duty, a desire to be part of an honored tradition or to be proven capable of the challenge. They may want the excellent financial and educational benefits of serving. It may be adventure they are yearning for. Understanding why your teen that wants to enlist will help you better understand him or her as an individual and give you greater acceptance.

Your teen may very well know what is best for his or her success in life. My son is not very self-disciplined or motivated. The structure of the military takes care of all that. He is choosing the most difficult path he could take, but that will give him what he needs most in the long run.

Talk to other parents who have been through this
Ever since the formation of the first fighting force, parents have been experiencing the same worries. I seek out parents of enlistees who are older than my son and ask how they have coped. They are always glad to share their experiences with me.

Overcome your fears
My biggest fear with my son’s enlistment is that he will die. I have not, nor will I ever overcome this one-not now, not while he serves or well into his old age. I try to tell myself that he could be hit by a bus at college, but this doesn’t appease me much. I try to accept that each of us has our own appointed time and we never know when that will be. My son has promised me he won’t die, but I know that is said with the invincibility of youth. Still, I try to believe him. The only thing that comforts me at all is knowing that, if he were to die, he would be where he wants to be, doing what he wants to do.

See it as a calling
The greatest realization that most helped me accept my son’s desire to enlist was grasping that this wasn’t just some whim my son was following. He truly wants to be a soldier and feels called to do this kind of work. As much as I hate to admit that we need warriors in this day and age (I like to think that we should have figured out how to maintain peace by now), we do need soldiers. Not everyone can do this line of work; it is my son’s calling to be a defender of our country. By enlisting, he is following his calling, the voice of his own life, to do what is right for him.

It has taken a long time, but I’ve finally come around on my son’s military desires. It’s not what I would choose, but I don’t get to pick his calling and he doesn’t get to pick mine. The idea still occasionally brings me to tears, but they are often from pride that he is doing what is right for him. It takes as much courage to do that as it does to march into battle. I am very proud of my son, the future Marine.


Sponsored by Army National Guard

For more information on joining the Army National Guard, call 1-800-GO-GUARD and ask to speak to your local recruiter today. Serve your country, learn a skill, and earn money for college with a career in the military. There are several options for students who are considering a military service career: the National Guard, several branches and jobs to choose from, even officer training through an ROTC program or a military college.

The best way to find out which military career path is right for you is to talk to a military recruiter in your area. Remember, military careers aren't limited to being a soldier. There are opportunities for doctors, engineers, pilots, computer specialists, communications professionals and more!


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