Mom Joins Sons as Defenders of Freedom
November 9, 2007
FORT LEE, Va. (Army News Service, Nov. 14, 2007) -- Let's say you're a 37-year-old mother from northern Michigan.
You recently lost your husband and you have two teenage sons in the military that are likely to be put in harm's way.
You've always set the example for your only children, so you call up a recruiter, raise your hand in earnest and join them in service to the country.
Sounds like an idea for a decent movie script, right'
But it's not. It is the real life story of Pvt. Vickie Granroth Myllyoja.
Pvt. Myllyoja is a 5-foot, 2-inch blonde advanced individual training Soldier assigned to Fort Lee's Company C, 262nd Quartermaster Battalion, 23rd QM Brigade. She lost her 45-year-old husband 10 months ago to a heart condition, made good on a vow to live a meaningful life, and joined sons, Coalton and Cody Campioni, as defenders of freedom.
"I'm the one that makes mud pies with them," she said, referring to her preference to get her hands dirty and be actively involved in her sons' lives. "I'm not the one that sits back and watches them do this kind of stuff."
Pvt. Myllyoja has been doing "this kind of stuff" with her sons since they were youngsters. A native of the rugged Upper Michigan Peninsula town of Dollar Bay on Lake Superior, Pvt. Myllyoja raised her boys in a way that would make any father proud. She cited as an example her approach to teaching them to confront their fears.
"Just to teach them not to be afraid of heights, I would climb trees with them," she said. "I would say, 'Come on kids, mom's up here; you can do it, too.'"
With both of her sons - 19-year-old Coalton, an Army private first class currently in Iraq and 18-year-old Cody, a Marine private in San Diego - Pvt. Myllyoja's commitment to setting examples and leading the way for them sort of worked in reverse. They joined the ranks of the military first; she supported their decisions, and then followed them in their tracks.
"I stand behind my kids," she said. "If they're going to do something, I want to be there doing it with them."
So now mom is an active-duty Soldier donning combat boots, carrying a weapon and participating in road marches, just like her sons. It may be considered a noble and courageous thing to do, but Myllyoja is also a realist. She knows there are risks - for herself and her sons - but maintains that the risks aren't any more than those in everyday life.
"My husband died at 45," she said. "People can get cancer at the age of 30; so you can die anytime you catch a disease. I would rather my kids say, 'My mom died defending her country and helping other people."
Pvt. Myllyoja's realization that life can be fleeting came during her marriage to Dennis Myllyoja, a 110-pound-pillar-of-man whom she said "...was as strong as a brick house." She married him six years ago with the full knowledge that he was going to die.
"Knowing that he didn't have much time to live, we just did everything we could (together)," she recalled.
During the time they were married, Dennis fathered the two boys, mentored others in the community and taught his wife a trick or two about those fleeting moments.
"He said that no matter how rough life gets, live for the moment."
Pvt. Myllyoja's newfound grasp on life after Dennis' death was manifested in her decision to enlist. When she did, Coalton wasn't surprised.
"She's a tough old bird," he said. "I knew she could handle it."
Pvt. Myllyoja is more than pulling her weight and meeting the standard. She said she is currently ranked at the top of her class in terms of academic performance and Coalton said she has turned in some physical training test scores that he envies.
"When you call your mom and she says she has a better PT score than you, even with the age difference and points scale, it made me want to push a little harder," he said.
Pvt. Myllyoja plans to spend the next 20 years in the Army. She is currently undergoing training as a mortuary affairs specialist, a job that requires the handling of remains. She said she is honored to train in that job, despite the fact she recently buried her husband.
"Bad things happen to good people," she said. "You just have to move on, and being a mortician is helping people move on."
Pvt. Myllyoja is scheduled to graduate from AIT in December.
(T. Anthony Bell writes for the Fort Lee Traveller.)