The following is a guest blog post by Rue Mayweather, Army veteran, author and mother. She is one of the participants on the Veterans History Project (VHP) virtual discussion panel, “Motherhood and the Military.”
I still recall every detail from the day my bundle of joy arrived. In a moment, everything had changed. I had changed. I was a mother.
I knew that my son and I would forever be united, but I would never have guessed that little (or not so little 8.5 pound) boy and I would be spending a Mother’s Day in Iraq in the distant future. Life has a way of taking you directions you never imagined.
Do you remember the U.S. Army’s Recruiting slogan “Be All You Can Be?” I wanted that. I wanted to be my best self every day. I wanted to contribute to my country, my family and to set a good example of service before self for my son, Kenieth. My sister-in-law was a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and helped guide me along the way. Having her and an amazing support system of family and friends made the decision to join easier. Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training were tough, but I knew I could get through. I cherished the Sundays when I could hear Kenieth’s little voice on the phone and knew that gave me extra motivation. No matter where I was, or what I was doing, I made sure Kenieth felt heard, understood and loved. When I was with him, I was 100% present. We went on mother/son dates, during which I learned how to communicate with him through his interests and a language with which he was familiar, a soft skill I found useful in my military career as well.
Being a mother in the military is sort of like being an octopus. While this imagery may produce a chuckle or two, there is validity to this metaphor. I am a mother, a soldier, a student, a leader and a wife. Like many working mothers, I had to juggle all of these roles and make sure to not let anything drop. I felt I was doing well managing these different areas and had a good plan in place until the day came when I received my Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders for Korea. My report day was December 25th, one of the most important days in my seven-year-old child’s year. You can plan your life, you can plan your missions, but there are some things for which you just can’t plan.
Being stationed in Korea humbled me. Communication (well before Zoom, Facetime or social media) was spotty at best. No matter how many times we talked, it never got easier answering my son’s question about when I would be home. “Soon,” I would reply, knowing he didn’t fully understand that I was to be there for almost a year. We maintained our rapport as best one could via phone, but also made sure to get Kenieth a few “just because” gifts so that the mail carrier could deliver my love to help brighten his day. I learned later how much those tokens of my love meant to him. He even has a small tank I sent him still today, nearly 40 years later.
The day finally came for me to out process. I met Kenieth and his dad at the airport and couldn’t believe how big he had gotten. The photos his dad sent didn’t do him justice. They couldn’t capture the feeling from a Kenieth “forever” hug – the best feeling in the world. The moment was fleeting though. As excited as he was to see me, I acknowledged that it would take time for me to be a regular part of his life again.
During my terminal leave, Kenieth and I carried on our mother/son dates. We readjusted to our new normal as I started the next chapter of my career with the Army Reserves. As Kenieth adored my Battle Dress Uniform (camouflage), we made sure to get Kenieth a set as well so that we could have the full battle rattle together. I should have known right then the path he would follow.
When Kenieth was 11-years-old, I was deployed to Fort Hood in support of Desert Storm. I brought him down on a turnaround trip where he stood in astonishment watching the tanks and other equipment. Just as the pictures I received in Korea of Kenieth didn’t do him justice, nor did the small tank I had gifted him for these tremendous pieces of machinery.
At age 15, Kenieth officially declared his intention to join the military. We continued to save for his college in case he changed his mind, but as the years passed his intention didn’t waiver. At 17, Kenieth graduated from high school and left nine days later for Basic Combat Training. I was able to delay my training in order to see him graduate. It was one of my proudest moments as a mother. It didn’t matter what it was he had decided to do, just so long as he gave it his all. He certainly did that.
As a soldier, I have been blessed to attend his graduations, promotions and change of command ceremonies. He, in turn, has been my escort for my graduation from the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. We have always had a connection and worked hard to celebrate the special moments in each other’s careers and lives.
In 2010, I was deployed to Iraq for what was to be my last tour before retirement. Kenieth followed shortly after, although he was stationed in Taji, whereas I was in Baghdad. Not wanting to mess with our tradition of celebrating special days, I worked through the chain of command to plan a special Mother’s Day visit. Kenieth and I toured his facility where I got to see the AH-64 Apache attack helicopters he was piloting. Although there were no tangible gifts exchanged, this was the best present ever– time, love and the ability to see my son excel at what he loves to do. What more could a mother ask?
Months later, Kenieth was promoted to captain. I got to pin him and give him his first salute. When I had my farewell dinner in Iraq, Kenieth was my escort. Being deployed together had truly been a blessing for both of us.
I recognize the challenges that come with being a military mother – missing so many important events, but I wouldn’t change a thing. After all, how many mothers can say they served alongside their child, attended every promotion and now are confident to turn the reigns of service over?
Watch the premiere of “Motherhood and the Military” with closed captions at facebook.com/vetshistoryproject/videos on May 6, 2021, at 12pm ET. If you miss it, watch later at that site, at loc.gov or at https://www.youtube.com/loc/