By Elyssa VondraOctober 12, 2018
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Each week hundreds of Families crowd Hilton Field to be reunited with their trainees during Family Day.
One Family Day reunion on Sept. 3 was unexpected. Erica McDaniel surprised her son, Pvt. Patrick Nap, 18, from 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment, at the celebration.
Neither mother nor son thought McDaniel would be able to attend. Initially, McDaniel couldn't afford the trip from her home in Green Acres, Florida. However, the Fort Jackson online community sprung into action to make sure she didn't miss her son's big day.
McDaniel had trouble making travel arrangements after having her work hours cut in May. She was also taking care of her 80-year-old adopted mother and biological grandmother in what she described as her "priority."
Since transitioning from her job, money has been tight, she said. "I ended up with $14 to my name."
She called her son at Basic Combat Training one day, sobbing. She told him she likely wouldn't be able to attend graduation.
Since his mom had been out of work since his senior year of high school last spring, he understood, she said. Nap promised he would catch up with her during Thanksgiving.
McDaniel couldn't let it go. She called his unit -- 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment -- and asked for help. They sent her to Nick Salcido, Fort Jackson's social media manager.
He redirected her to the 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment Family group on Facebook, who sought to bring her in time for Family Day. Roughly $100 of donations poured in from members of the Army community.
"I was so blessed," McDaniel said.
With the additional support of her mom and aunt, she saved enough to make the trip. A 15-hour journey -- complete with a bus, car and taxi ride -- landed her on post late late at night on Oct. 2.
She said she still couldn't believe she had actually made it. The experience on the field Oct. 3 was one she will never forget.
Nap had no idea she was there. She said she snuck right up behind him, but he still didn't notice.
It wasn't until McDaniel said, "Hey Nap, fall out" -- a regular catch phrase the two use -- that he noticed her. He was awestruck.
"I was very surprised," Nap said. He was thrilled, saying his only thought was, "Wow. I can't believe she's here."
"I knew she didn't have the money (to attend)," Nap said. Though he claimed he had accepted that his mother likely wouldn't come, he said her being there was "more of a motivation."
McDaniel was relieved everything worked out. "I was really anxious about this week," she admitted.
She was dedicated to see her only child walk across Hilton Field.
When she arrived at the installation, the Florida native said she felt right at home.
Twenty-one years ago, she came to Fort Jackson for a similar occasion -- she watched her then-husband graduate from Basic Combat Training.
McDaniel said he was one reason Nap was inspired to join the Army as an Abrams tank mechanic.