29: The Mailman

29: The Mailman

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

The Mailman

A mother is the truest friend we have when trials, heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity.

~Washington Irving

In the summer of 2013, at the ripe age of nineteen, I left home to spend nine “wonderful” weeks in Army Basic Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Prior to leaving, I solicited advice on how to survive basic training from active duty soldiers in our church who were stationed at a nearby Army base. I also received a lot of unsolicited advice from several retired soldiers who had “been there and done that” many years ago. As the advice piled up, I noticed that no matter where it came from, young soldier or retired veteran, there was always one common admonition: avoid the attention of your drill sergeant! I was repeatedly told to keep a low profile, avoid the limelight, and try to make it through basic training without my drill sergeant ever knowing my name. So that’s what I set out to do.

During the first week of basic training, I was so good at keeping a low profile that I was virtually invisible. But then, Mom intervened. After I had left her crying and waving goodbye on the doorstep when I departed, she anxiously awaited the first letter from me to give her my address. All “new soldiers” were required to write home on our first day at Fort Sill to provide anxious parents our address and to hopefully avoid having our anxious parents call our drill sergeants. As luck would have it, my first letter got lost. So back home in Alabama, Mom was convinced that something terrible had happened to me. After a week of not hearing a single word, Mom wore down my stepfather (a retired Army officer) until he finally called Fort Sill and spoke to my drill sergeant. I was then called out of my platoon, by name, by my drill sergeant, and escorted to an office where he instructed me to call home—now! He listened intently as I assured Mom, “All is well. Don’t worry.” So much for keeping a low profile!

After that, I crept back into “stealth mode” and succeeded at melting into basic training anonymity, at least for one more week! Because that’s when Mom learned that my long-time girlfriend had sent me a “Dear John” letter, breaking up with me. That’s all it took for my anxious mom to turn into a “mama bear” determined to make sure that her little wounded cub was okay.

So once again, Mom went to work on my stepfather, pressuring him to use his knowledge of the Army system and any connections he had to contact Fort Sill to check on me. I don’t blame my stepfather; a man can only take so much nipping at his heels from an angry, anxious “mama bear.” Finally, knowing if he didn’t do something, Mom might hop in her van and drive 1,200 miles to see me, my stepfather caved and called an officer he knew at Fort Sill. Within thirty minutes of his call, I was again called out of my platoon by the loud, booming voice of my drill sergeant. “Private Waterman, come here right now!”

With a pounding heart and wobbly knees, I ran to stand in front of my drill sergeant. He gestured to an officer standing nearby and told me to go with him. The officer was a chaplain. Oh no, I thought, something bad has happened at home and the chaplain has come to give me terrible news. Instead, the chaplain said, “Your mother is worried about you because of the Dear John letter and somehow she contacted my superior officer and he ordered me to check on you.”

After assuring him I was fine, the chaplain prayed with me and said he would contact my mom to reassure her. Then he sent me back to my drill sergeant. So far it was proving very difficult for me to follow the sage advice to stay off my drill sergeant’s radar. Now, not only did he know my name, he knew my mom’s name as well!

After that, Mom didn’t initiate any more calls to Fort Sill. Instead, she shifted her focus to keeping my spirits high. I appreciate her for doing that, but how she went about it for my remaining weeks in basic training didn’t help to lower my profile. She gave my address to everyone she knew, told them about the “Dear John” letter, and asked them to write to me. As the wife of a pastor of a church with over 2,000 members, Mom knew a lot of people! And if that wasn’t enough, she also posted the same request on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! The result was that instead of overcoming the phone calls and being an invisible soldier, I started to receive a lot of mail. It was ridiculous—and embarrassing! I got letters from people I didn’t know, from places I didn’t recognize, from somebody and anybody who read a random post about a broken-hearted young soldier and wanted to encourage me.

Every day in basic training, usually at the end of the day, there was a “mail call,” the only time when all 200 of the soldiers in my company were assembled. A sergeant would read the names from the letters and then pass them through the group to the lucky soldier. Again, so much for keeping a low profile! After Mom started her letter writing campaign, I got so much mail that I was ordered to sit next to the drill sergeant, the one I was doing my best to avoid, in order to save time passing so many letters to me through the group.

Instead of going through basic training quietly and unknown, I became one of the best-known soldiers to my drill sergeant. He told me, “You’re the new record holder at Fort Sill for the number of letters received during basic training, over 400 letters in just nine weeks, an average of over ten letters every day! Congratulations!”

Even though it disrupted my plan to be an “unknown soldier,” I must admit that Mom’s concern and love lifted my spirits and enabled me to successfully complete basic training. Once again she proved that she is always there to help me, and I will never forget how she did it.

Oh, by the way, I may have been a bit invisible after all. I don’t think my drill sergeant ever remembered my name because he just always called me “The Mailman.”

~Zachary Waterman

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