September 30, 2023
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By Gail M. Williams
Muleshoe Journal Correspondent

Seven men stand in front of a gray, wooden-sided house. The lawn is neatly tended, and a spreading shade tree can be seen. They are dressed in T-shirts, jeans, shorts, caps, casual dress for a summer day.
They might be any group of men, anywhere in America. They are not special, nor exceptionally heroic. They are, however, proud.
A portly man in his late 40s stands to the right. He served in the National Guard during the war in Afghanistan and is currently working on a master’s in chemistry.
Next to him is a tall man with a trim mustache and close-cropped hair. He has a twinkle in his eye and stands so straight you think he might fall over backwards. He has made a career of the National Guard, serving in northern Iraq among other places. At this time he works full-time for the Guards as a budgetary manager.
A laughing man wearing a Marines cap stands next to him. He is part Filipino and a third generation Marine. His hand is companionably placed on the shoulder of the long-haired fellow next to him. This one is retired Air Force and works as a truck driver in the oil fields.
Next to him is an older gentleman, who looks quizzically at the camera. He served in the Navy in the early 60s. Like many young men of that time, he dropped out of high school. However, he acquired his GED and went on to become a federal meat inspector with a high GS rating.
The man at the end of the line is bearded and mustachioed, wearing suspenders and a Yankees cap. Although now he could play Santa without the suit, he once served in the National Guard.
All of these men served honorably in the U.S. military, through the Cold War of the 60s to the deserts of Afghanistan. None of them served with any particular distinction, except, perhaps, for the career National Guard, who doesn’t care to talk about it.
Between the older gentleman and Santa Claus is a boy who recently graduated from high school. The party is in his honor. He has decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps, completing some of his training while still in school. He will soon be on his way to boot camp in Ft. Pendleton.
At any family gathering, someone will mutter, “But he’s so little!” “He looks so young!” And indeed, he is much shorter than his grandfather, former Navy, who stands next to him. However, he may be a shade taller than his father, the truck driver, former Air Force.
The young man was a pole vaulter in high school, a sport that requires speed, skill and upper body strength. At the time of this writing, he has made it through hell week and boot camp and is on furlough waiting for his next assignment. He expects to learn electronic communications skills in the Marines.
His uncle, the tall career National Guard, and his wife attended the boy’s graduation ceremony. The commanding officer told the group he didn’t want anyone to hold hands.
“This,” he said, crooking his arm to one side. “This is how you escort a lady.”
And that is how the boy escorted his aunt around the base.
When he flew back into town in the middle of the night, two people were at the airport to greet him – his dad and the former Marine, who is a second cousin by marriage.
“I had to be there!” he says. “This is my boy, a fellow Marine!”
“But he looks so young!” his grandmother murmured at the boy’s homecoming party.
Of course, he does, because he is. And in her words is an echo of fear. She has no idea what will happen to her oldest grandchild during his military service.
The military is a dangerous occupation, and people all over the United States are watching another generation enter into it. We pray for them, we think of them, and we talk to them, beyond just a glib, “Thank you for your service.” They have stories to tell, and we serve them best by hearing them.



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