34: The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday

34: The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday

This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.

~Elmer Davis

“ISIS isn’t even very close, Mom. They’re fifteen to twenty miles away.”

“Thanks. I feel so much better.”

Such is the mentality of a Navy SEAL and the life of a SEAL mom.

The SEAL motto reads “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.” When my son joined the service, I learned the truth of this motto, for my journey has been every bit as hazardous as his. Landmines lay ahead, emotional explosives capable of detonating at any time.

The journey started early. At the end of his junior year of college, my son felt God was calling him to the teams — the SEAL teams. Cream of the crop of the special ops community. The dropout statistics alone were staggering. He’d kicked the idea around before. But now, he trained in earnest. His upper body regimen alone made me shudder. I told him that his dad and I needed the year to prepare, too. He gave me a blank look and asked, “Why?” I couldn’t find words to answer him.

A SEAL contract enables a sailor to go directly to SEAL training following boot camp. To earn one, a potential candidate must pass a battery of tests, one of which involves a timed swim, pushups, sit-ups, and pull-ups, ending with a timed run. Hence, the extreme exercise routine. When he tested in January, his scores were good, but we both knew he wasn’t quite there. Awfully close though. Two weeks later, he tested again, and I knew he would nail it. He did. I was so excited for him. I shared the news at church that night — and promptly burst into tears. Reality hit like a two-by-four to the head.

My son and I had planned to hike the Grand Canyon the weekend after his graduation from college. He left for boot camp instead. Leaving him at college for the first time paled in comparison to dropping him off at the recruiter’s office. I tried not to cry in front of him. His poor dad got stuck with mascara streaks, a runny nose, and a heartache that has never quite healed — even as Dad choked back tears of his own.

From then on, anytime I saw a uniform, my head turned, and my heart twinged. I wrote letters and scrambled any time the phone rang, fearing I would miss a precious five-minute phone call. Eight weeks passed, and we flew out for boot camp graduation. Our baby was a man in uniform now. We couldn’t hug him enough. Still the same, but different too. We left for home while he stayed to prepare for the first half of SEAL training in California.

Special ops present unique challenges both for the wannabe and for the family. Trainees endure the joys of BUD/S, specifically Phase 1, the infamous weed-out phase for potential Navy SEALs. Salt water, sand, and suffering. For families? Lots of prayer and lots of waiting. If you want to improve your prayer life, this will do it. Hourly we wondered if our son had survived another day or had added his green helmet to the long line of those who dropped. A short text would tell us he was still in.

I’ve read more Navy SEAL books than any mom should. I scoured Dick Couch’s The Warrior Elite daily. In the book, Couch, a former SEAL, tracks a class through BUD/S. It became my other Bible. In Hell Week, SEAL trainees receive about four hours of sleep over a five-day period. At home, we played, “What Do You Think He’s Doing Now?” because we knew he was up. Still. Pray without ceasing took on new meaning. During Hell Week, no news is good news. Half of our son’s class quit that week. When the news finally came that he’d made it we celebrated. He slept.

When our son came home at Christmas, the only time we saw him during BUD/S, he looked like a human action figure. We stared at him in awe. Who was this person?

BUD/S graduation passed with little fanfare, and SQT, Part 2 of training, initiated. Jump school. Cold-weather training in Alaska. (They also ran a marathon there — just for fun. It takes me three months to train for one.) My heart swelled with pride. No one receives better training than potential SEALs and that helped this mom sleep a little better. Until…

Until someone has an accident, and you’re reminded that, with SEALs, even the training can kill you.

It was a cold day in San Diego when Class 298 graduated. Walking on the legendary Grinder gave me chills. Little white flippers stared at me from the blacktop, and I wondered which spot had been his. We heard stories from friends in his class. One told of how our son had saved his life in a medical close call during Hell Week. Class 298 rang the famous brass bell to celebrate their graduation, and nineteen of the original 167 class members received their Trident.

Now we await the end of his first deployment. Birthdays and holidays have piled up like wrapped gifts as we wait. We know where we think he is. And what we’ve been told he’s doing. But even when he’s stateside, we don’t see him nearly enough.

Military life is tough. Distance is no friend to family. The job demands much from spouses too. As we trekked to San Diego for his wedding, the bride and groom sections were decidedly lopsided. Half of the groomsmen couldn’t make the ceremony. They were active duty SEALs who had to work, though our youngest son was more than willing to take up the slack and escort two young ladies down the aisle instead of only one.

With all of its flaws, the big machine of the U.S. military turns by the blood, sweat, and tears of the awesome men and women who serve and that of the families and friends who support them. Our children shed the blood and sweat, and we at home make up the difference with tears.

My shipping guy knows me when I come in. Last time, as he printed labels for Iraq, he asked me to describe the contents of my boxes.

“Cake.”

“And this one?” he asked.

“More cake.”

He smiled.

As for support, it’s been humbling. Relatives deluged our son with boxes at Christmas. Many more have prayed for him. Those closest to us check in often, especially during deployment. Then there are those who have never even met him. World War II vets. DEA agents. Dance moms. Soccer moms. Friends from church.

This is the America that makes me proud. The America that values service and sacrifice. The America that understands that if it’s worth having, it will come at a cost. The America that fights from its knees in prayer, while its sons and daughters take their weapons into the fray.

This America stands for something, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

~Gayle Veitenheimer

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