by David T. Bruce
The war in Iraq or the war against terrorism or the war “by whatever name history will call if” rages on. Our 22-year-old son, Derek, has been a soldier in the United States Army for 4 years and was stationed in Iraq supporting his unit and serving his country. We have kept in touch, though not as often as we would like. We send letters regularly, while he prefers to send an occasional e-mail message or make a phone call. Regardless of how we communicate with each other, we let him know what transpires in our world, and he lets us know (as Uncle Sam allows) what transpires in his.
In spite of the controversy that exists in regards to the role of our military forces in the Middle East, Derek maintains a healthy attitude and perspective about his current lifestyle, acknowledging that the heat and the desert are not necessarily to his liking but still making time to talk about those activities he enjoys instead: movies and videogames. Some things never change.
What has changed is Derek’s outlook on and desires for his future. Prior to his graduation, we often wondered if Derek wanted to leave his room, the house, or the village of Bath, New York, for that matter. He seemed content going with the flow. His communication to us provides a glimpse of a part of our oldest son that we had not seen before.
Derek is happy with his role in the Army. His 18-month tour in Iraq and subsequent change of station to Japan for three years does not discourage him. In fact, he agreed to reenlist early in order to spend time in Japan. Furthermore, he wrote that he wants “to see the world.” What? Wow. We were shocked. What happened to the young many who wanted to be a math teacher and never leave his small town?
Without trying to take any credit away from Derek, we didn’t think he was interested in seeing anything beyond a “virtual reality.” His world consisted of the latest action movie and video game tie-in. He showed minimal interest in the myriad of opportunities available to him. At first, this was a major concern for us. As parents, we wanted him to see the “real world” (No. Not the one broadcast on what used to be a music video station). Eventually, we came to accept that Derek was who he was, and no amount of nudging would change his priorities. The Army has seemingly accomplished what we could not.
In many ways, Derek is still the young boy we grew up with in Boise and Bath. Today we can see the person that Derek is becoming based on the choices he is making. As always, we are proud. At times now, we can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that while Derek (and the Army) has much to accomplish, our mission, as parents, is somewhat complete.