By Maj. Adam CollettMay 1, 2014
HOUSTON (April 25, 2014) -- Active and reserve military troops in the enlisted ranks sign up for multi-year service obligations. If they choose to continue after that, they go through a re-enlistment process that includes the signing of a new service contract and the administering of a new oath.
Traditionally, that new contract is witnessed and counter-signed by a still-serving officer in that service member's immediate supervisory chain. But custom allows the document to be signed by a wider variety of individuals, including some current and former government officials.
In a compelling example of "you never know unless you ask", an Army Reservist received a special honor for himself and his family here today when former President George H.W. Bush presided over his re-enlistment ceremony and signed his new contract.
Branden Young currently serves at the rank of master sergeant, meaning that he is fairly senior in the Army non-commissioned officer spectrum. The rank is just above sergeant first class and a single notch below the venerable title of sergeant major.
The 39 year-old Young is also a husband, having married after his second deployment to Iraq. The couple settled in Virginia, where Young works as a civilian contractor for the government and attends his required reserve military training assemblies.
Normally, NCO re-enlistments -- even those of a senior grade -- do not call for the involvement of former presidents. But Young says it was the background of his wife Amanda that inspired the effort to petition for Bush's participation.
"She completed her master's degree at the Bush School of Government and Public Service," Young says. "So when we were talking about how to make the re-enlistment a meaningful occasion, Bush's name came up."
The Bush School is a graduate college of Texas A&M University launched in 1997 and named after the forty-first president. It is part of the university's 5,500 acre flagship campus in College Station, a little more than 100 miles southeast of Fort Hood. In addition to graduate degrees in public administration, the school offers programs in international relations.
The Youngs decided it couldn't hurt to ask. Not knowing the official way to transmit such a request, Amanda contacted her graduate alma mater, which in turn referred the couple to Bush's post-presidential staff in Houston, where the former president and first lady settled after leaving the White House.
To their pleasant surprise, the eventual reply was a positive one: Bush would host Young and family for a re-enlistment ceremony at the post-presidential office just west of downtown Houston.
Young and a number of family members and friends made travel arrangements to Houston at their own expense for the meeting. They were joined by members of Young's Army Reserve chain, including Brig. Gen. Gabriel Troiano, who leads the Military Intelligence Readiness Command at Fort Belvoir, Va.
Young is specifically assigned to the 2300th Military intelligence Group in Charlottesville, Va., which falls under the Fort Belvoir-based command.
Bush not only signed the re-enlistment contract as promised, but also made time for photos and conversation with the Young family and the military representatives.
"I have a lot of respect for President Bush," Young says. "He has done so much for the country before, during and after his time in office. His compassion and service are remarkable."
Young originally joined the Army in an active duty capacity before moving over to the reserve. In total, he has 14 years of service. To be more accurate, that's 14 years and counting since he raised his right hand in front of the former president earlier today.
Young says the decision to re-enlist was both an easy and a difficult one. On the easy side, he cites the chance to give back to the military.
"It's an opportunity for me to mentor junior soldiers," Young says. "And to pass on some of the things I've learned while progressing through my Army career."
On the hard side, Young points out a particular struggle for many service members, both active and reserve: keeping a balance between military duty and taking care of family.
"Continuing in the reserves was going to be a commitment for my wife as well. We talked about whether my staying in the Army was something we wanted to keep in our lives," Young says. "But she loves the military and public service, so she was completely on board."
According to Bush's staff, these same sentiments about service ring just as true for the former leader, more than 20 years after he stopped being commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Though schedule and other factors make his participation in these kinds of events fairly rare these days, his staff cites the many efforts the former president has made over the years to recognize those who serve both in and out of uniform.
After the swearing of the oath and the signing of the re-enlistment document, Bush looked first at Young, and then at the gathering of family members and friends. Nodding in the direction of Young, the former president expressed his take on the moment simply and directly.
"I'm proud of him."