• Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 148 other subscribers
  • “Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers” — Isaac Asimov

  • Recent Posts

  • Pages

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 176,923 hits

Four Weeks Ago – The Coin Ceremony

Four weeks ago, I woke up at o’dark thirty to begin one of the most emotional days of my life.

It was going to be the first time I’d seen and hugged my boy in eight weeks.

I carefully dressed, having picked out my clothes the night before.  “N” and I put on the pins I’d ordered a few weeks before.  These pins had our boy’s photo on them…the first look we’d gotten of him in his dress blues.  Trainees get their official photos taken during either week three or week four (I can’t remember which now).  Many people order the pins to wear during graduation as a show of support.

For the purposes of my boy’s safety, I’ve pixelated his photo.  🙂

As we ate breakfast in the hotel lobby, we saw others there.  They were obviously headed to the same place we were, their t-shirts evidence of the upcoming festivities that they, too, would be attending.

We had all of the things we would need for the day…camera, umbrella, and other essentials I’d heard would be good to have on hand.

We headed out.  It was dark, but our hearts were light.

The anticipation, y’all.

We arrived in record time and waited outside the Reception Center in a longgggggg line to get in.  The Reception Center is host to family and spouse briefings that give overviews of what the Airmen have been doing, what to expect during graduation weekend, and other bits of information for later.

We could see which heritage flights our Airmen had been placed into (different from the flights they’d been training with).  Heritage flights are named after notable Air Force people.  Airmen are placed in these flights according to the jobs they will be training for, and this is how loved ones can locate them during graduation exercises.  We already knew which flight Rooster was in because he’d told us during one of his phone calls home the prior week.

We had decided to attend the 7am briefing.  As we waited in our seats, clips from a BMT (the abbreviation for Basic Military Training) video were showing.  The video included snippets of newly arrived trainees getting the infamous haircuts, the first and second issuing of uniforms, and other glimpses into their training.

After that, we were treated to lots of information about photos, insurance, and other things I’ve since forgotten.

The most important thing we got was a hard copy of the schedule and a map of the heritage flights.  These would become as valuable as Siri during our weekend.

One of the cool things about the Reception Center was that when the briefing was over, the large windows in the front of the room we were in opened up, and we were able to walk out onto the course that would play host to the Airman’s Run, the Honor Grad Ceremony, and the Coin Ceremony.

Yes, y’all, it was going to be a busy morning!

As we walked out, I led our party to the spot I’d picked out for the run.  I had spent over two months reading posts in my support group (I mentioned this group in yesterday’s post).  I knew the best place to stand to see my boy.

Oh, but maybe I should first explain what the Airman’s Run is.

So, what happens with the run is that the Airmen run in with the flights they’ve been training with for the past eight weeks.  They wear either their flight shirts, which have a specific color and logo for each flight, or their PT shirts.  Most wear the flight shirts, which makes it easy to spot your loved ones.

As they run into the stadium area, those watching start yelling.  The Airman are singing their Jodies (military songs to keep them in tempo).

I’d seen the videos that other parents had posted in my support group each week, so I thought I knew what to expect.

Let me tell you…watching those videos and experiencing the run for myself…these were two completely different things.

I’m going to post the videos that the Mr. took below, but you have to understand that they don’t convey both the excitement and the pride that filled our hearts.  I imagine that this must be what it’s like to experience an Olympic event.

Yes, folks, it was that incredible.

Everyone yelled for every Airman.  We knew what they had accomplished…the angst of walking into an unknown world…getting yelled out by MTIs (military training instructors) whose only goal was to shape their charges into those worthy to wear the Air Force emblem…long security details…BEAST week…classes in weaponry and military history, with an end of course exam at the end…a final PT exam…expectations of loved ones back home…so much emotion wrapped up in that first opportunity to see one another, if only for a second.

Here are the videos (please excuse the woman standing to my right in the first video…she was a little cray-cray…LOL).

It was a little nerve-wracking…hunting for our boy.  They all looked alike!  We finally found him though.

Airmen run in, run past the stands that are arranged in a semi-circle, and then double back for a second pass (my video below).  Rooster caught the Mr.’s eye as he passed by the second time and gave a slight smile, which I have in a still shot I captured from the video.

The run was over much quicker than I wanted, but these men and women were headed back to their dorms to shower and change into their ABUs (camo) for the two ceremonies ahead.

While they prepared themselves, we secured seats in the stands.  I posted updates and photos in my support group and got to meet other moms I’d talked to online.  Hugging their necks and sharing the day with the people who I’d cried with the past few weeks was so special.  Technology is often blamed for the bad things in this world; however, these meet-ups would never have happened without it.  Strong bonds had been forged.  Forever bonds.

I also prayed that the rain would not come.  There had been dire weather predictions…lots of rain in the forecast…but I’d been praying all week that the rain would stay away.  Ceremonies can get cancelled or moved when it rains.

Around 10am, something very special happened.  We saw a small group of Airmen, in their ABUs, start marching across the concourse.  It was, we thought, the Honor Grad Ceremony.  We were upset, though, because Rooster’s girl was inside at a briefing.  Ok.  Actually, we were mortified that she was missing it.  It was strange, though, because their names weren’t announced, and it seemed…well…underwhelming for such a special occasion.  Coincidentally, N texted me during the “ceremony” and asked if I’d seen Rooster.  I had to confess that we were sitting in the Honor Grad Ceremony.  She was horrified and rushed out of her briefing to join us.  Yeah, we were mad.

This story ends well, though.

Let me back up a second though.  First of all, you have to understand what it means to be an Honor Grad.  This is a very special designation, awarded to only 10% of those who graduate from Basic Training.  It has stringent requirements…a high score on the PT (physical training) evaluation…a high score on the EOC…a certain number of points during inspections (demerits take away from the points)…recommendations from MTIs.  An Honor Graduate is awarded a ribbon that that will be worn for the rest of the Airman’s career.  Yeah.  It’s a big deal.

In addition, Honor Graduates get a town pass the Sunday of graduation weekend…more time off base with loved ones.

They are recognized during a special ceremony.

Rooster had set his sights on this award in the early days of Basic Training.  We knew he was smart enough.  We also knew that there would be tough competition for this coveted designation.

Well, y’all, he had called us the afternoon before…shortly after we had settled in the hotel…and shared that HE HAD MADE HONOR GRAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think other hotel visitors could have heard us yell out in joy.

There were quite a few in his flight who had earned this award.  He’d had a terrific crew during training.  They’d all pushed each other and worked together to receive extra patio time, which meant extra phone calls home, and other designations.

He really wanted that town pass too.  I’d like to think he’d been missing his mama.  The truth is that he’d been missing his girl the most.  I can’t blame him.  She’s rather sweet; they are good for each other.

And so it was that we sat during what turned out to be PRACTICE for the Honor Grad Ceremony.  Whew!  I later deleted the pictures I’d been taking.

At 10:30 on the dot, we saw drummers.

As they started playing, the Honor Grads began filing out.  The stands were full by this time.  THIS was the real Honor Grad Ceremony.

We watched as our Rooster marched out.

Oh y’all…how I wished I could run out and hug his sweet neck, but he was all business…his face set firmly as he’d been taught.  Everything was about maintaining military bearing.

They stopped, turned in unison, and waited while their names were called out (this was something that had not been done during “practice”).  Each Airman stepped forward.  The crowd waited to applaud so each name could be heard.

Then, the top graduating Airman was announced.  It was a young man from Rooster’s flight!!!!!  What an amazing guy.  We had the honor of meeting him later and ran into him several times during the weekend.  He was humble; his family simply delightful.  He’d changed his life around so much from when he was a teenager, his mom told me.  Rooster genuinely respected him.

The Honor Grads marched out to quickly join their heritage flights, and shortly thereafter, all of the flights began marching in.

The MTIs wore the brimmed hats…very intimidating looking…

With the help of my new telephoto lens, I quickly located Rooster.  I took a LOT of pictures…especially while the Airmen were getting coined.  The coin signifies an Airman’s official graduation.  It’s very similar to a diploma.  Airmen can get coined for a number of reasons and by different people.  Rooster got coined twice…once for graduation and again for his Honor Grad status.

During the coining, music played overhead.  I started crying when I heard Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.”  Watching my Rooster accept his coin and hearing the words in this song made for one proud mama.

After the coining, there was a special, special moment…the reciting of the Airman’s Creed.

Y’all.  These words.  They will forever make you grateful for those serving in the military…their willingness to sacrifice EVERYTHING for their country.

Right at the end of the coining, an Air Force plane flew overhead…an impromptu fly-over…

I was also growing eager.  My arms were twitching.  I need to hug my boy!  First, though, there was other business to be taken care of…the lowering of the flag.  The lowering of the flag marks the end of the working day.  That, in itself, was powerful to watch…the precision…the respect.

And then…the moment every single person had been waiting for…

TAP OUT!!!!!!!!

I’m not talking about the tap out that ultimate fighters do to say they’ve had enough.

I’m talking about what happens when Airmen are standing at parade rest and a loved one releases the Airman by tapping them/touching them/hugging them.

Google for videos.  I have my own, which I can’t share because I’ve been asked to keep my boy safe.

This moment…it is the most longed-for and one of the most emotional of the entire weekend.

There are actually two tap outs…one after the Coin Ceremony and the other after the Graduation Parade on Friday.

We’d agreed to allow Rooster’s girl to have the first tap out.  Our video, which friends and family have seen on Facebook, show her leading the way with me pulling on her purse strap to slow her down.  I had my phone out to take pictures, and the Mr. followed and videoed on his phone.

The reunion…in the midst of the other Airmen standing in formation…I have a whole new respect for families who have loved ones serving in the military.  The separation is hard; the joy when you see your family member is indescribable.

It’s a moment I will never forget.

Rooster’s face when he saw his girl…her head buried in his chest…oh my.

He quickly left the ranks to allow other Airmen space to hug their loved ones, and I dropped everything to hug my precious son.

I’m crying as I type this.  The memories are as fresh as if this hug had happened just moments ago.

My tall, camo-clad son had grown in stature.  His strong arms wrapped around me, and he patted me on the back as I clung to him and then kissed his cheek.

“Y’all are crazy,” I heard him say afterward.

I chuckled.

Yes, we were.  We were crazy proud of him!!  We’d been crazily missing him.  We were crazy-happy to be in his presence again.

We began to make our way to the Reception Center.  Rooster stopped many times to congratulate fellow Airmen.

You could see the relief on his face.

We now had our boy for the ENTIRE day for base liberty!  What that meant was that we could go anywhere with him on base…he could ride in the car with us…but we couldn’t leave the base.  Not a problem!  He had not seen much of the base because trainees weren’t allowed to go certain places.

He had to run an errand first, so we took him there first.  I think we then went to lunch at the Gateway Club, which served in a cafeteria-style setting.  The decor of the club was posh…so fancy.  It was the first chance we’d had to really talk to Rooster, and it was his first real chance to sit and eat slowly.  What a joy to be eating a meal with him!  You take such things for granted until those times are taken away from you.

Later, we visited a museum.  It has a large flag that is a photo op for many.  We also took photos in front of it, my boy’s closely shaved head something I was still getting used to.  The boy left with a head full of hair.

We also made our way to a couple of different BXs.

One was located at the mini-mall beside his dorm.  I loved driving around base with him while he played tour guide.

The following picture was his dorm.  I found it strange that it was built up on stilts, so to speak.  Trainees do a lot of drills underneath the barracks; the shade provides much needed respite from the weather, be it high temperatures or heavy rain.

We saw trainees walking around…some in two’s and three’s…others in full groups.  Rooster could tell which week many of them were in.  Trainees are paired with wingmen…other trainees who have their six, so to speak.  They cannot walk anywhere without a wingman.  Rooster grew close to his wingman.  His family was just lovely; the young man a gem of a guy.

I took this photo of the water tower because it had the Air Force name on it…another reminder of where we were.

While we were at one of the BXs, we purchased a new pair of boots for Rooster…a combo graduation/birthday gift.

Most new Airmen buy new boots.  The ones they are issued for BMT are extremely heavy.  The ones we bought Rooster (he would later take these back after we bought him a nicer pair off base) were uber-comfortable.  He was pleased.

We visited one of the larger BXs on base and had a lot of fun just being normal with our boy.  He was pretty tired but hung tough.

As we walked around, I was touched by other trainees we would cross paths with…the respect they showed toward my boy…them saying, “Congratulations, Sir.”  Just wow.

We ate dinner at the BX…fast food, which was fine…and basically just enjoyed our boy.  There wasn’t a lot to do.  Even though the base had a bowling alley and a movie theater, we followed Rooster’s lead and acquiesced to his requests.  The weekend was all about him.

The day passed quickly, and before we knew it, we had to bid farewell to our boy.  This goodby was easy, though, because we would be seeing him again the next day.

I slept better that night than I had in months.  I was a completely happy but exhausted mama.

%d bloggers like this: