I'm an Army Reserve Veteran and Dad of 3 Military Officers—Here's How I Support Them

Being a military parent causes its share of anxiety but also provides satisfaction in supporting and seeing young people learn enduring life skills. Here's how one dad supports his own military sons.

From Left Braden Jeff KoiKoi Devlin
From Left: Braden Jeff KoiKoi Devlin. Photo: Courtesy of Nelligan

Military service is one of the most difficult jobs a young person can hold out of high school or college. At the same time, the service provides a meaningful experience, developing resilience and confidence that last throughout a veteran's life. I know this because of two things: I'm a former 14-year enlisted U.S. Army reservist and the dad of two Naval officers who have deployed around the globe. My third and youngest son just graduated from West Point and is headed to Fort Benning for infantry officer school.

My three sons grew up hearing about their grandfathers' combat naval experiences in World War II and Korea, and their uncle's service as a decorated Marine infantry platoon commander in Operation Desert Storm, a U.S.-led military operation that liberated Kuwait from Iraq in 1991. As a reservist, my service tales about typing up duty rosters and changing the oil on Humvees were less prosaic but often shared, nonetheless.

This may seem counterintuitive, but I took great comfort when each of my sons entered the profession of arms; two went to military academies and the third to Officer Candidate School. I knew they were receiving top-notch education and training and, most importantly, were around strivers like themselves. These schools and the various deployments were going to demand the best of my sons—their leadership skills would be tested and enhanced.

But I knew my support was paramount too. Here's how I've been supporting my sons through their military journey.

Sending Care Packages

My two eldest have been on naval deployments all over the world, including the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, Philippine and South China Seas, Indian Ocean, and South Korea. Wherever they were, I always found ways to support them. Using their Fleet Post Office (FPO) addresses, I would send them large packages full of beef jerky, licorice, candy, Doritos (yes, junk food!), but also sunscreen, high-quality socks, magazines, books, and other daily essentials. My sons knew the packages were not only for them but for everyone in their unit, allowing them to share with those who maybe didn't receive such stuff and support. My sons have told me that these care packages allowed them to understand how important it is to look out for others and helped strengthen the bonds of their units. Looking out for the needs of others and a "we're all in this together" attitude is at the heart of leadership and sustaining morale.

Keeping in Touch Through Letters

I wrote my sons letters about all the goings-on back home—NFL news, what the neighbors were up to, how their old high school teams were doing. Yes, gossipy, old-school handwritten notes (not emails), a personal touch from home and something they could hold in their hands, keep and read again during the long hours that every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine faces on deployments. My sons let me know that my loose, jokester-style missives were a nice break from the serious stuff they dealt with daily, even if their old man was a bit corny at times.

Chronicling Their Journeys

I have followed the boys' naval journeys on maps and researched the regions they visited. I also put together binder scrapbooks filled with photos and articles from their units' social media sites and other publications. Indeed, each kid has a detailed chronicle, however homemade, of their military service.

Fighting Through the Anxiety

Every military parent knows that even if their kid is not in a combat role or situation, they are still in an active, up-tempo environment, often around lots of equipment and sometimes ordnance. There is always a low-grade anxiety. Family members always will warily glance at a ringing phone, which is kept on day and night.

I know this firsthand. Indeed, I never turn off my phone at night, especially when I suspect any of them is in a dicey situation. When my boys can, they check in with a brief email to apprise me of how they are doing. But often, I only know where they are weeks and months after they've been there.

If something really awful happens, you're made aware of it fast in this digitally connected age. For example, one of my sons was on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific on which a plane crashed and there were injuries. Through social media, all the parents of those men and women on the carrier were almost immediately made aware of it with assurances that the wounded had been airlifted to safety. My humble advice, born of experience, to parents whose kids serve is that staying calm and having faith will sustain you through anything. I rely on both every day.

Remaining Proud

Military parents know their kids serve in the most admired institution in the nation. That's because military life builds steadfastness and confidence and provides a constant personal and professional path forward. It is an ongoing educational and vetting process—from basic training to occupational schools to units and deployments—where this knowledge is used and constantly refined. Along the way, the military demands certain behaviors: personal responsibility, toughness, and savvy problem-solving, all of which contribute to America's civic society when the servicemember enters civilian life.

Collectively, my two eldest, now 25 and 26 years old, lead dozens of enlisted servicemembers who work with complex equipment (some of it lethal) worth hundreds of millions of dollars and have been in tight situations that are unfathomable to their nonmilitary peers. My youngest is on his way to do the same exact thing.

But let me emphasize: This hardly is boasting. These kinds of endeavors are performed by more than a million military members every day. Yet, military service is not for everyone and 7 out of 10 young Americans don't meet basic enlistment qualifications because of medical issues, educational shortcomings, or law enforcement records. Servicemembers are already a select group amongst their peers! Military life demands a high standard of conduct and accountability; it trains young people to lead and respond with confidence to any situation they may encounter.

Supporting my sons and their peers is a privilege. And while there are times when the reports back to the home front can be disconcerting, military parents rightfully take pride in their children. These young people serve all over the country and on the frontiers of the world and they and their parents deserve the thanks of a grateful nation.

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