By Caroline GotlerFebruary 17, 2009
The Edmonds are an American military family like any other - hard working and dedicated to service. They're ordinary, yet extraordinary in their own way. And on a February morning, Rosa, SFC(R) Nathaniel II and three of their five sons sat down in a Fort Benning food court to share their family's story.
Even though the Edmonds brothers are in their late 20s and early 30s, their conversation is sprinkled with phrases like "please," "thank you," and "yes, Momma." They shake hands, hug and ask their mother if she would like something to drink.
"I raised men," said Nathaniel II.
There's Aaron, the youngest child. A former Marine who graduated at the top of his boot camp class, he's now attending Officer Candidate School. He credits his brother Whitner with pushing him to further his career through OCS.
"When I was stationed at the Marine Corps base in Hawaii, Whitner was stationed at Schofield Barracks," he said.
The surprise people expressed at seeing a Marine and a Soldier enjoying each other's company only served to amuse the brothers and strengthen their bond.
"Every opportunity we had in Hawaii to hang out with each other, we did," Aaron said.
Whitner, the second oldest Edmonds son and a sergeant first class, followed his own advice and is also attending OCS. Though the brothers are not in the same class, both are set to graduate in April.
Whitner wanted to attend OCS to make a positive difference in the Army, he said. He credits his parents with instilling in him a desire to strive for excellence.
"To this day, I bless my mom and dad," he said. "My parents did an outstanding job raising us."
Whitner is working toward earning a bachelor's degree in management from the University of Phoenix.
"All my other brothers have a degree," he said. "Like any child, you try to please your parents, and I wanted to show my mom and dad that I have a degree."
Whitner and Aaron are not the only Edmonds brothers to wear the black and white ascots of OCS. Keith, the fourth youngest received his commission through OCS in September, and is completing quartermaster training at Fort Lee, Va.
A former Columbus police officer, he left the force in 2008 to pursue a career in the Army.
"The military is a part of me," he said. "It's like a call we all try to fulfill."
Whitner and Aaron both credit Keith with helping them prepare for OCS.
"I got most of my information from him," Whitner said. He told me to be friendly with everyone, he told me which exams are the hardest, and he gave suggestions for studying for the tests."
Nathaniel III, the middle child, is working on an MBA at Troy State University. After receiving his bachelor's degree from Troy State through the ROTC program, he served a year in the Army, but spent a long period afterward not accomplishing many goals, he said.
"I observed my brothers and their character and how they did things, and I started following that path," he said. "I had to do a lot of soul searching and observe them to get myself straightened out. I think that if it weren't for my family and my brothers, I wouldn't be in the position I am now."
Carlos, the oldest Edmonds brother, is a former Air Force officer working as a Department of Defense contractor in Maryland. He received a football scholarship to Alabama State University and received his commission through the ROTC program.
The family agrees that his example paved the way for the rest of the brothers' achievements.
"I do believe that if my oldest child, Carlos, had gone astray, I think I would have lost all my sons," Rosa said. "But because he was so dedicated to his education and to playing football, all of them wanted to be like their older brother."
Rosa's stern, loving eye kept the boys on the right path when they were children, Nathaniel II said.
"Being a Soldier, I was gone a lot," he said. "She kept them in line, doing what they needed to do. They were brought up to respect themselves and other people. They had no other choice but to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem."
Rosa visited the boys' schools at least once a week.
"If they looked up, I was there looking in at them," she said. "I didn't need to go to all their classrooms, because when one saw me, they let the word pass - 'Momma's in school checking on us!'"
Though the boys sometimes got into mischief, they were generally very well behaved, Rosa said.
"They did little boy things, but they didn't get into big trouble," she said. "They were just good kids. I was proud of my babies."
Rosa said she never once allowed her sons to settle for anything less than their best.
"If they brought me a B on their report card, I'd say, 'That's good, but don't you think you could do a little better'' she said. "And usually they'd try harder."
When Rosa's boys grew up and began to leave home one by one, each one made a promise to her when he left.
"I said, 'You've got to promise me that once a year, you're going to see each other,'" she said. "Even when they're 50 years old, I still want them to take that time to be together. I believe for them to remain strong and close they've got to be together once a year and enjoy one another."
Though the Edmonds brothers now live in different parts of the country, they have remained true to the promise they made to their mother.
"When I hear a Soldier say they're not close to their mom or dad or brothers, it hurts a little," Whitner said. "I'm surprised, because that's all I've got. I can call my brothers four or five times a day for advice."
"No matter what, I just want each one to achieve what they want out of life and be happy, and always stay close," Rosa said. "Each one of them is special."