Young patriots: Teen's dedication to service helps make military life easier
April 17, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Military children often grow up in several different states and countries during their youth. However, one Fort Drum teen is somewhat new to military life.
At 13 years old, Joe Andrus was uprooted from his hometown of Westminster, Md., and moved with his mom Alli Green and new stepfather Capt. John Green to a new home at Fort Bragg, N.C. The Family moved to Fort Drum in August 2010. John Green is currently deployed with 10th Sustainment Brigade.
Although military service is part of his family history, Joe Andrus, 17, has only been an "Army brat" for four years. His mom, a fifth generation veteran, served six years in the Army before Joe was born, and Joe's father and stepmother are both in the active-duty Army.
"He wasn't military before, but he's just adapted so you would never know," Alli Green said. "I know how hard it was growing up and moving. It's always exciting to reinvent yourself, but it takes a while to figure that out."
Joe is now a senior at Indian River High School. During the past four years, he's learned what it's like to be an "Army brat." He saw moving away from his hometown as just another chapter in his life's story.
It's important for military children to be flexible and open-minded, Joe added.
"(Being a military kid is) kind of like there's this huge bubble, and everyone who isn't military is on the outside, and everyone that is military is inside. It's two very distinct worlds," he explained.
"I think not having grown up military, but being military now (makes it) easy to make friends with other people on both sides of that bubble," he continued. "I share the same experiences with both groups, so it's really easy to relate."
Joe also said that there are positive and negative things about being in a military Family. He likes meeting new people, going to new places and doing new things, but it's hard leaving friends and the places he has grown to love.
However, being a military child doesn't always mean moving every three years and seeing the world. It also comes with responsibilities that many youths can't imagine.
While his stepfather is deployed, Joe is man of the house and serves as a positive influence on his little sister Aimee, 2.
Aimee was born with a vascular malformation called lymphangioma in which the lymph node in her arm never connected to her lymphatic system, causing fluid to back up in her arm.
"(When she was born), her arm was bigger than her head," Allie Green said. "They removed it in the first surgery (when she was 8 months old), but it was such a long recovery."
"Aimee's arm will never be a 'normal' arm, and she'll always need to stay partnered with her physician," she continued. "The lymph node didn't have anywhere to drain but into the surrounding tissue. Now, her arm from around her shoulder blade to about mid-forearm is lymphatic tissue."
When people get sick, their lymph nodes swell and become tender. When Aimee gets sick, her arm feels that way, Alli Green explained.
"Her body tries to process all that fluid, but it winds up causing problems with her lungs, (so) we have to be really careful about bringing germs home," she noted.
Aside from the scarring on her arm, Aimee endured months of physical therapy.
"(Joe) helped with changing bandages and scar massage, or even just distracting her so I can change her bandages," Alli Green explained. "It was difficult and hard because she was just a baby."
After arriving at Fort Drum, the Family had to travel to North Carolina for Aimee's second surgery. After her surgery, Aimee refused to eat.
"Then Joe came in -- he's always been able to calm her down," Green said. "Aimee was able to eat so the doctors could release her from the (intensive care unit). He's just very calming."
Joe has played a pivotal role in Aimee's recovery and development, Green noted. He has helped her with physical and occupational therapy, including speech therapy.
"(Aimee had) low muscle tone; and if your core isn't strong enough, (the body doesn't recognize) the tongue as a major muscle, so the body won't put in the effort into developing it," Green explained.
"She couldn't jump or hop until two or three months ago," she continued. "She didn't say 'Mom' or 'Dad' until she was a year and a half old, but 'Joe' was the first name she said. She smiled for him first, and it was two or three weeks later that she smiled for me or her dad. He's her Joey."
John Green agreed that Joe has been a big help in his sister's recovery and development.
"He cares about his sister; he has always wanted one, and Aimee is special," he said. "Joe is a caring young man -- more so than most his age."
Joe and Aimee share a special connection, Alli Green said. When Aimee can't sleep, Joe can get her to fall asleep.
"He spends a lot of time with her, and he never complains," Green explained.
The lymphatic malformation also affects Aimee's immune system, so she can't go to day care very often.
"If she's exposed to something, her arm doubles in size and builds up fluid, which goes straight to her lungs. For her, a cold is really bad," Green added.
Helping with his sister is rewarding, but Green knows it also takes a toll on her son.
"He just goes with the flow and is very easy to work with," she noted. "(When Joe was) Aimee's age, we were at the (Department of Motor Vehicles) and there was a kid screaming. Joe had his favorite toy with him, and he just gave it to (the other child) and never looked back. He came that way."
"Emotionally, it's a lot," she continued. "It's hard for (Aimee) and I know it's emotionally hard on him to watch that. It's hard for him to watch me be stressed. He has a lot of responsibilities."
In addition to "normal" teenage duties like school, friends and Family, Joe is active in Boy Scouts. He's currently working on his Eagle Scout project at the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park in Watertown. A member of the Scouts' Order of the Arrow, Joe soon will be inducted into its highest rank. He participates in mentoring, and he serves as an instructor for the Scouts' National Youth Leadership Training Academy.
"Order of the Arrow is an honor," Alli Green said. "It isn't just something you get unless you've contributed a (lot). Your peers nominate you for it."
Joe agreed, adding that there are three ranks in Order of the Arrow: ordeal, brotherhood and vigil.
"Vigil is a special honor awarded to those who give a lot of service to the Order of the Arrow, to their community and to Scouting in general," he explained. "This year, I was selected. It was a big surprise to me; I didn't expect it. It's a really big honor."
Before making a selection, the Boy Scouts national board looks at the nominees' activities, leadership skills, Order of the Arrow participation and other activities.
"I've been through a lot of (leadership and professional development) training that most adults haven't," Joe said, adding that he's been involved in Scouting for more than six years. "They don't take into account how many years (a person has been in Boy Scouts); it's based solely upon what you've accomplished in the years you've been a member."
Last summer, Joe also participated in the National Youth Leadership Forum in Chicago. NYLF offers outstanding high school students to choose different forums, which include medicine, law, national security or collegiate success.
"You have to be nominated by a teacher to go; I was selected to go to the NYLF on medicine," Joe said, adding that until last year, he aspired to become a neuroradiologist. "You spend 10 days there and you earn two college credits from George Mason University. It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life."
Because Joe did such a great job at NYLF, he was selected to attend the Global Youth Leadership Forum and the upcoming U.S. presidential induction ceremony. Joe's summer schedule is too busy to allow him to participate in the GYLF, but he's interested in attending the inauguration.
This year, Joe also found time to participate in taekwondo and his school's drama program. He recently played "Rooster" in his school's theater production of "Annie" last month.
"This was my first time doing any acting," he said. "It's really fun to act like someone you're completely different from -- Rooster is a sly sleazebag."
Joe plans to finish the school year with good grades, and he looks forward to college this fall. He chose to go to college in Texas because it's a new place to him.
"I got accepted to the University of North Texas, and I'm going to major in photography," Joe said. "I'd like to work in commercial photography and travel. My biggest aspiration is to travel because I love it so much."
Being a military child has helped Joe fulfill his desire to live in and see new places. Although he'll be moving away soon, Joe is thankful for his experiences as a military child.
Before John Green deployed last year, Joe had him come to his school as his "hero." Joe chose his stepfather not only because he is in the military, but because he has given Joe many opportunities that he wouldn't have had otherwise.
"(Being in a military Family) can have its ups and downs, and it can definitely throw curve balls at you from time to time, but it's really a great experience and I'm glad I got to be a part of it," Joe said.
Even though Joe has been a military child for only four years, his stepfather thinks he's always had what it takes to live in an Army Family.
"I think deep down inside, Joe was always a military kid; he just didn't know it," John said. "I think it was hard on him to move to a new high school away from our hometown. He had some difficulties with meeting real friends, but being at Fort Drum for his junior and senior year, he really came out of his shell and excelled."
"He is a good kid; I am proud to call him my son," he continued.
(Editor's note: Following is the third in a four-part series highlighting exemplary military youths at Fort Drum.)