By Crystal Lewis BrownMarch 11, 2010
FORT JACKSON, SC -- My first week at Fort Jackson, I received some advice: Limit on-post driving on Thursdays and Fridays - Family Day and graduation.
At the time, I didn't know what Family Day was. But, for me, it soon became nothing more than a traffic hassle. Everywhere I went, from the PX to the Shoppette, it was packed. Quick errands took longer than usual. And forget about grabbing a burger or taco on Family Day; I'd either bring my lunch or eat off-post. But several weeks ago, a last-minute errand took me away from my ordinary routine, and into the PX, on a Thursday.
I'm almost always in a rush, but that day, I took my time looking for shoes for my son.
As I walked through the PX, I saw the usual throngs of family members, but this time, I saw something more.
I saw Soldiers, after nine weeks of wearing combat boots, trying on high heels. I saw dads being reunited with children - children who were at that age at which two weeks could mean the difference between having a crawling baby and a toddler. I could imagine that these children were much different than when dad left for Fort Jackson more than two months ago. I saw brothers shopping with sisters, moms hugging sons. And for the first time, I saw beyond my own selfishness.
Many of these brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, wives and girlfriends were experiencing military life for the first time. They had never before seen a military installation, let alone been to one. For those of us who live here, the pause of traffic as a battalion of Soldiers marches across the road is commonplace.
But for these visitors, who I see snapping photos of said Soldiers with their cameras and cell phones, it is something new and amazing. They are seeing through fresh eyes what we have come to know from our own Soldiers - the discipline, the strength and the courage.
I often peruse the Public Affairs Facebook page and am astounded at how many family members and significant others of our Soldiers in training reach out to each other. They thirst for information about their loved ones. They passionately follow, as much as they can, each week of their loved one's training. And they also become friends with each other, even if only online. So, as I looked around at these family members interact their Soldiers, I thought about the numerous posts I read each day. The posts in which a mother's baby boy is leaving the nest for the first time. The newlywed who will be reunited with his or her spouse at graduation.
These loved ones have poured their hearts out on our page as they fretted over receiving letters, mailing care packages and missing phone calls.
I won't say that I will never again complain about traffic on Thursday and Friday, but I will be more patient. Because now I know something about these family members that I didn't before: To me, Family Day was an inconvenience; to them, it was everything.