For over a year I’ve been proud to be a part of one of the greatest teams you’ve probably never heard of. I work at the Boise Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). There are 65 MEPS across the country and each one assess the aptitudes, physical capacity, and background history of the young men and women wanting to join the armed service of their choice. It’s not possible without the great crew dedicated to fairly applying DoD standards as efficiently as possible. Boise continues to rank among the top-tier across the nation for efficient processes and customer service.
One of the many roles includes serving as the swear in officer. A few times each day I ask these young men and women to raise their right hand and repeat the words of the oath of enlistment. At this point I’ve conducted several hundred of these ceremonies and enlisted more than 1,900 people into the service. It didn’t take me long to memorize the oath of enlistment:
I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
The transition into military life isn’t for the faint of heart and the oath isn’t for those of thin character.
At the end of the oath ceremony I’ve been asked several times to pose for a photograph with the military’s newest enlistees. I gladly comply if asked, but over the months and weeks I’ve learned to have the applicant stand with the seal of their chosen service in front of the nation’s flag. I call this the “Mom Photo” because it’s the photo that moms are happy to post of their children. If parents aren’t available the recruiters will step in as the photographers and send the photo later to the enlistee’s family.
For several weeks I had been teaching recruiters to take and share these photos when something out of the ordinary happened.
It started with quite a normal scene. I walked into the ceremony room with our red carpet and inside were two applicants, a young man with his family and a young lady with her recruiter. They were both dressed respectfully and immediately went to attention when I walked in the room. (This is done out of respect for my authority as an officer and the oath, not who I am as a person.)
The young lady, sharp as a whip and ready to go, finished the oath and stood proudly as her photo was taken. In the process of helping her pose for the photo I explained that I nicknamed the photo, the mom photo and suggested she send the picture to her mother.
Her countenance quickly changed. I could tell I created a difficult moment in her life. I wasn’t sure what I had done wrong, but after taking the photo I stepped out of the room and she remained in the room with the other applicant and his family.
When I saw her next to sign her paperwork I could tell she had been crying. My heart sank. I felt that I must have done a terrible thing. We finished the paperwork for both applicants and I stood up to walk down the hall to follow-up and apologize.
One of the recruiters stopped me and he too had an emotional expression on his face. He told me what happened after I left the ceremony room.
The young lady shared that due to her mom’s poor choices her mom was living over 2,000 miles away and not a part of her life at the moment. She said she wouldn’t be sending the photo to her mom. When she was coming back in a few months to ship for basic training mom and dad wouldn’t be there.
The other family heard this and without hesitation stepped in and offered to attend the ceremony and write the young lady while she’s off at basic training. One moment she didn’t have a bit of family in the room. The next she had been adopted by one of the many families I’ve seen in that ceremony room during my time administering the oath.
That day’s circumstances were extraordinary, but I think extraordinary is typical of the people in this state.
In my official capacity it would have been inappropriate for me to write down names or dates. You see, she leaves to put on her uniform after I’m done wearing mine. I don’t remember when she’s coming back to ship out for basic training, but I know that people in this state mean what they say, and say what they mean.
Somewhere in Florida there’s a mother out there who’s unaware that her daughter is being loved, and I couldn’t even tell you who’s doing it, but I don’t know of anyone I’ve met at the MEPS who wouldn’t have stepped up and done the same thing as this family.
There’s an obscure regulation in the MEPS that advises me to share some life advice before administering the oath. Sometimes I tell the applicants in front of me that the State they represent when they go off to start their careers might be famous for its potatoes, but the real gems of this great State are the people.