Mother follows son into service
April 29, 2008
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (TRADOC News Service, April 28, 2008) -- When high school junior Brandon Srinamyom sat down with a recruiter and decided to join the Army Reserves, his father, Randy Hacker, was pleased. The father and son had talked about Brandon's joining the military several times, and Randy thought enlisting in the Reserves was in his son's best interest to earn money for college.
But when Randy's wife, Stephanie Hacker, told him a few days after Brandon's meeting with Sgt. Joseph Ooley from the Bloomington, Ind., recruiting station, that she also wanted to join the Army, he got excited. Really excited.
Randy was so excited about Stephanie's interest in the Army that he was the one who called Sgt. Ooley and asked him to come back to their house because Stephanie was ready to join.
"I was very supportive and very excited," Randy said. "I thought it would be a great opportunity for the both of us. I immediately called Sgt. Ooley and asked if he could come talk to us about her going active duty."
Said Ooley: "She was ready. It was right before New Year's, and Randy called and said Stephanie wanted to join the Army. I was surprised. Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Downs and I had just met with Brandon and enlisted him in the Reserves. I had no idea Stephanie was even interested in the Army."
Stephanie Hacker said she liked what Sgt. Ooley said about the Army providing training and money to go to college.
"I am working as a certified nurse's assistant at a nursing home, but I eventually want to become a nurse," Stephanie said. "After Sgt. Ooley talked with Brandon, I started thinking about it deeper and deeper. I've lived in Martinsville my whole life, 31 years. I was ready to go and do something else."
Stephanie's enthusiasm for the Army was also met with a dose of reality. For her to join, it meant the entire family faced huge sacrifices. She would leave behind a stepson, Brandon, and his 16-year-old sister, Brittany Hacker, and two sons, Cameron and Clayton Hacker, ages 11 and 9, respectively. Additionally, the family would move from Martinsville to Stephanie's first duty station, uprooting all four children from school.
"We talked about it as a family, and we made a family decision," Stephanie said. "The whole family was excited about my joining and ready to move to a post."
Randy, who works as a carpet and tile installer, saw a chance to move as a better opportunity for everyone. "Work has been kind of slow around this particular area, and I think it will be a good opportunity for Stephanie to be in a stable career and a better opportunity for me to find better work."
But those opportunities come at a price. When Stephanie left for Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, S.C., on Feb. 5, Randy was left to take care of all four children.
"I left him a lot of instructions," Stephanie said, laughing. "Fortunately, Brittany is really good about doing laundry and all the kids are good about helping around the house.
"Everyone's okay with it. They all understand the sacrifices and why we are making them. The younger kids know more than what you would think, and they know that I'll be gone for a while."
After basic training, Stephanie will move to Fort Lee, Va., for Advanced Individualized Training to work in food services and then to her first duty station sometime in July.
Brandon is making perhaps the biggest sacrifice of all - his senior year. After being in school with the same classmates since kindergarten, Brandon will finish high school at a yet-to-be-determined location. He'll meet the rest of his family in August after completing basic training.
"I won't know where I'm going until after I graduate from basic training," he said, referencing that the family will move to Stephanie's first assignment while he is at Fort Jackson.
"I'll definitely miss my friends," Brandon said. "And some friends are upset that I am ditching them. But I'm looking at it for the future. I want to better myself."
A wide receiver who scored two touchdowns for Martinsville high school last season, Brandon said he looks forward to playing football on a new team.
"After basic training, I'll be more fit than anyone else," he said.
Sgt. Ooley, who originally joined the Reserves and was a split operations Soldier, told Brandon that he'll have a whole new perspective on his senior year of high school.
"I told him that when he's in his senior year, he'll look around and see what he did over the summer and look at what his classmates did," Ooley said. "The other kids will have just been hanging out over the summer doing what kids do, while he will have gone through basic training and be more physically, mentally and emotionally mature."
Said Brandon: "I really don't listen to my friends when they tell me I'm ditching them. They'll be here doing nothing, and I'll be out making something of my life."
Brandon recognized that joining the Army Reserves offered him a chance to earn college benefits that he might not otherwise have. He looked at the Reserves as a chance to open more doors and have opportunities for a career.
"I want to fly helicopters," Brandon said. "At first, I talked to the Air Force, but after talking to Sgt. Ooley, I realized that the Army offered more opportunities and more benefits."
Brandon said his main interest in joining the Army was the college tuition benefits. "All the opportunities for education sold me on it," he said. "I'm joining the Army knowing that I'm going to be able to do something with my life."
Brandon joined the Reserves as a Power Generator Mechanic, but said he plans to move to active duty during his senior year and has thought about switching his MOS.
Although Brandon and Randy had talked before about a military career for Brandon, he had not thought much about the Army specifically until Future Soldier Cameron Smith brought Brandon to meet Sgt. Ooley at a table set-up in Martinsville High School. Smith, a junior, had already joined the Reserves and wanted Brandon to meet with his recruiter.
Sgt. Ooley and Sgt. 1st Class Downs went to the Hackers' house and met with Brandon and his entire family.
"We talked about all the options he had, we talked about his goals, and we conducted the Army interview," Ooley said. "He decided on the Reserves so he could do basic training this summer and then complete high school. And he's already decided to move to active duty after graduation."
Brandon and Smith will go to Basic Combat Training together at Ft. Jackson on June 3. Smith was promoted to E-2 after Brandon's referral turned into an enlistment.
In spite of the sacrifices, the family is excited about their futures.
"It's all Randy can talk about," Stephanie said. "He's out telling everyone he sees that his wife and son are joining the Army and we're moving.
"It's hard to leave my family behind to go to training, and my friends don't want us to leave. And sometimes I can't believe it's happening either. It's all happened so fast, and I never expected to do this. But we're all excited and looking forward to the opportunities and changes."
And the family's Army Strong commitment may not be over. Brandon's 16-year-old sister, Brittany, is thinking about joining next year when she is a junior.
"She's watched what we've done, and she's already started talking about joining the Army, too," Brandon said.