Monday, February 27, 2012

Our Freedom and those who fight for it!!!

   Some of you may know that my brother Peter left for boot camp on Halloween to become a Marine and just a few short weeks ago my family was able to go out to San Diego, CA to see him graduate.  Through his being away at boot camp, I watched my family connect on a different level.  We are all very close, so his 3 months away was really hard on everyone, not just that he was away since at some point the oldest kids have been away for extended periods of time, be it college, vacations, study abroad programs, etc, but rather the fact that the only communication we could have would be letters.  For a while we sent letters and letters without any response - it's very hard to keep up a one sided letter conversation.  But I watched as my family readily jumped on board with Peter's request for letters, each of the older kids had a specific day of the week that a letter had to be put in the mailbox.  Every Sunday Mom would hoard the computer from the kick-off of the Bears game down to the final play - giving Peter a play-by-play of the game... ultimately I think it really helped her fantasy football team this year!  Eventually a letter would come and Mom would call the kids who no longer live at home and fill us in on the letter.  She would re-read the letter numerous times - I'm convinced she memorized each of his letters!  The few times I got a letter I would send a text message to the family, which was quickly followed by a phone call to my mom to either read the letter or fill her in on any added information. 
   He was gone for 3 months in which he missed, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, numerous birthdays and other family events.  But in each of his letters he remained positive.  Knowing that he wouldn't be around for Christmas, he wrote each person in our family a letter as his Christmas present to us.  Because we all wanted to go out for his graduation, which is no small feat for a family of 9 kids, we cut back on the Christmas presents this year and made other sacrifices throughout the holidays.  My mom was concerned that the younger kids wouldn't understand the cut backs but my 9 year old brother, Nick, who is clearly wise beyond his years truly understood.  He asked for a real Christmas tree - something we have had for the last few years - for Christmas this year.  My Mom said that we are trying to save money and that it would cost at least $50 whereas the artificial in the attic would be free.  His immediate response was, lets put up the fake tree then to save money so we can see Peter, I can't wait to see him!
    Next thing we knew the 3 months were up and it was time to see him graduate!  The overall excitement in the family was palpable as we boarded our flight to San Diego.  Sam and Nick had never flown before and were brimming with excitement at being on a plane, but the true excitement was knowing we would get to see him so soon.  
We arrived late Wednesday night and went straight to the hotel and fell asleep.  Thursday we woke up bright and early to a BEAUTIFUL day in San Diego - the high was almost 80 degrees, talk about a big change from Chicago weather!  Thursday was the first day that we would get to see Peter in 3 months - it was the motivational run followed by Family Day.  We got to base very early and walked around exploring the place Peter had lived for boot camp.  Around 9am we had a Drill Instructor (DI) come and tell us the very important rules.  He was hysterical but man, if he was yelling in my face during boot camp, I'm not sure I would have survived.  Then close to 10am the recruits came out!  They stood just feet from us, trying to keep a straight face while they see their families for the first time in many brutal months. 

First sighting of Peter!!!
   Nick was having a hard time seeing Peter so I put him on my shoulders and stood on my tip toes so that he could see.  I think that was the first time Peter really saw where we were standing.  We watched as a few tears (of joy - of course) slipped down his face.  I don't think there were any dry eyes in our family when we finally saw him, including my Dad.  He finished the run and then we had an hour or so of down-time until he could be released to his family.  Hugs were spread all around, and the joy and excitement on his face was incredible!  We hung out with him all day, hanging on his every word - the poor kid had a hard time eating lunch because he was talking so much!! 
The family, minus Katie, all together for Family Day!!!
   Friday was graduation day, so we arrived really early so that we could have seats for the color ceremony.  It was an amazing ceremony that left me feeling extremely patriotic.  The respect and reverence for the Flag and everything it stands for was truly incredible.  Then we got to see Peter graduate and officially be recognized as a Marine - even though he had been a Marine since completing the Crucible. 
Graduation Day!!!
 We learned so much history of the Marines, really all branches of the Military as well as history of the United States.  Peter got to have 10 days of boot leave to come home and hang out with his family and friends before the next stages of training and military life. 
   I was shocked and still am shocked at the changes I saw in my brother during those 10 days.  He was physically in MUCH BETTER shape, he lost 30 lbs and gained some muscle mass.  He stood straighter, took more care of his appearance and got rid of some horrible habits.  But the most important changes I saw were, the fact that he was more disciplined, more patriotic, more faith-filled and extremely family oriented.  These were all traits that my parents instilled in him as he grew-up but somehow they all seemed to have clicked into place in these last three months.
   I truly could not be more proud of him!!!  Now he is gone again for more training and I miss him so much.  I often think of him and of all of the military men and women that sacrifice so much to protect us and to provide our freedom and I wish that there was something I could do to thank them.  No words of thanks will ever seem to be enough but it's a start.  So when you see a military man or woman thank them for their service, you have no idea the kind of sacrifices they have made or the sacrifices they may make in the future.  They essentially give themselves completely to our wonderful country to help keep it a safe place for every citizen.  Say a prayer for their safety and for their families. 
 I've been trying to think of a way to give back to our military families ever since going to San Diego maybe it's because I'm technically part of a military family now - I actually was before too since my cousin is also a Marine.  Maybe it's the patriotism that I felt while being on base.  Maybe it's the fact that every time I see a flag or hear the National Anthem I think of my brother and all the other service men and women.  Whatever the reason is, I finally figured out a way to say "Thank You" and to hopefully impact their lives.  I've decided to run the Chicago Marathon this year for Team Salute.  Team Salute is a non-profit charity that helps military service members and their families by providing financial, physical and emotional needs.  Their motto is "Honor the Service and Remember the Sacrifice."  If you would like to donate to help me raise my goal, you may do so here:
Or if you can't donate at this time but know of a military member that you would like me to remember in a special way please let me know their name!
To all the military men and women - I THANK YOU for your service from the bottom of my heart!


  1. Great Article Emily!

    As being a Marine already in the family it makes me proud to know that not only Peter joined but he did so during a time of war, the biggest question everyone asks a newly joined Marine was "why did you join?" and even tho you receive so many different answers each is the thing that person held onto during those 3 grueling months, after being in for 7-1/2 years later, I still tell the same story of why I joined, growing up in a family of 7 kids, I felt as if someone had to do it, I would rather it be me than anyone else in my family and I'm sure he feels the same way, as far as running a Marathon for the organization is awesome, an organization that ive seen a large support for within the Marines is called the wounded warriors, you should take a look at them.

    1. What is so great about Team Salute is that the money that is raised goes to many different aspects. So they help with financial assistance, the Nightingale Program, the Wounded Warrior Program, Builders of Hope and also Therapeutic Adaptive Sports Camps/Activities.


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