Private Andrew Woodard Jr.
It was a long drive to Oklahoma that night. After watching the first half of the Memphis Grizzlies game, Jon and I sped down I 40 in an effort to arrive in Oklahoma by 10:00 AM. My friend Andrew was graduating from Basic Combat Training that morning in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The drive through Arkansas was a blurry dream. Jon and I traded shifts sleeping and driving. Late night Jazz and the occasional BBC news story spat out of the crackly radio, keeping each of us company as the other snored. The ride was calm until we hit an April Thunderstorm sweeping its way through the Western part of the state. Even with the delay of the storm we made it to Lawton, OK with plenty of time for a quick nap in the local gas station before graduation.
I hadn't seen Andrew since February before he had shipped off for Basic; I was eager to see what the intense military training had made of him. I found his Dad and girlfriend inside the chapel with the numerous other military families patiently waiting for the ceremony to begin. Drill sergeants in formal uniforms, hats pulled low on their foreheads that gave them the aura of unquestioned authority, paced the chapel as the new soldiers waited in the hall to enter. The ceremony began with a boisterous song from the soldiers. As one of the Drill Sergeants led them into the chapel, he called to the soldiers. And with each call the entire battalion called back in unison, their chants echoing off the inside of the high chapel ceilings. As my old friend walked past us, his eyes were forward, uniform pressed and flawless, his head shaved. I almost didn't recognize him. It crossed my mind that three months in the military could really change a man, but I had to see for myself.
The ceremony carried on well organized and efficient. The guest speaker, being a retired US Naval Captain, spoke well, telling each of the soldiers to take great pride in their training and the lessons they learned: to look out for one another, and to remember their reasons for joining the Army. Listening to this Navy Captain's words, I scanned the crowd for Private Andrew Woodard, the same hilarious, awkward kid I had met in Mr. Bab's sophomore Algebra class seven years ago.
Since then Andrew and I had practically become inseparable, competing together on the Varsity Soccer and Volleyball teams in High school and paralleling each others journey's throughout the Western United States during AmeriCorps NCCC. We even headed to Europe in the Autumn of 2014 to explore and work, picking olives, harvesting fruit trees, and hiking the Italian coast.
You could've asked anyone if they thought these two free wandering souls would ever sign up for the military. They would've laughed! It wasn't the thought that we couldn't do it. We were way to cocky to think that. We would never join because of the lack of freedom, the tight uniforms, and the obvious shortage of women. And now, here I was, watching my old friend cross the stage before his fellow soldiers and reciting, with them, the Soldier's Creed & Warriors Ethos...
I am an American Soldier
I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Army values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.