Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 14 years. She currently serves as an advisor for the Military Family Advisory Network.
Written by Shelley Kimball
While new recruits are focused on honor, respect and devotion to duty, their moms are awash with pride, worry and anxiety.
Some brand-new Coast Guard moms shared their experiences about what it is like to watch their children transition from civilian to military life.
Jodie Daughrity’s son, Brody, entered the delayed entry program in April, a few months before his high school graduation. She and her husband also had to sign to allow him to enlist because he is 17 years old.
“We were a little apprehensive, but not surprised,” she said. “He had made it clear from a young age that he was very interested in serving his country.
Although her grandfather was in the U.S. Army’s tank division in the 1940’s, military life is a new experience for the family.
“We are fairly new to all of this and are learning a lot,” Daughrity said. “Boot camp so far was the toughest, only having minimal contact with him.”
She said she has met other Coastie parents and they have been a great support as they commiserate over worries about their kids’ safety and training. But they look forward to the opportunities ahead.
“Proud does not even come close to explaining how I feel,” she said.
Lisa Van Dyke is still just getting used to all of this. Her son, Hayden, graduated from boot camp a little more than a week ago. Right now, she’s hanging on to hope to quell her anxiousness.
“As a Coast Guard parent it comes with, of course, a little anxiety but you have to have faith that his new family will watch over him and that he will excel at what he has set out to do,” she said.
Hayden is the first in his family to join the military. Lisa said he talked about joining for three years, so when the time finally came, they were ready. They had long discussions with Hayden, and they realized he was truly vested in joining.
Now she is looking forward to seeing his progress.
“We think him serving in the Coast Guard is awesome, and we are so proud,” she said. “The career he has set out to do will be life changing, and that is what every parent wants for their child.”
Nisia Melendez Collazo has been a Coast Guard spouse for 22 years, and now she is a Coast Guard mom. Her son, Emmanuel, is in basic training at Training Center Cape May.
Emmanuel’s grandfather and great-grandfather served in the U.S. Army. Emmanuel’s father, Chief Warrant Officer Hector Melendez, had the honor of swearing his son into the Coast Guard.
And though they are used to seeing the uniform on a regular basis, seeing it on their son was a whole new experience.
“Last week we received pictures of him marching in the Sunset Parade with his boot camp company and for the first time we saw him in uniform,” Collazo said. “It brought a tear to my eyes and filled my heart with joy to see him take his first steps towards his new endeavor in life.
She said she and her husband are so proud to see their son follow in his father’s footsteps to serve in the Coast Guard.
“We miss him dearly,” she said, “but we know he is fulfilling his lifelong dream and we will always support him.”
Susann Keifer’s son, Paul Berger, graduated from boot camp in May, and he is at his first duty station in Kodiak, Alaska. Keifer’s grandfather was in the Coast Guard from 1941 to 1972. He was a chief warrant officer during World War II and worked as a radio electrician using morse code. Keifer’s father was in the U.S. Navy for 22 years. But all of that did not prepare her for seeing her son off to military service.
“I wasn’t sure how my heart was going to feel, but it has been broken and so very, very proud he chose to take the oath that so many will never understand,” she said.
As she has followed along on her son’s journey, she said she has been gratified to meet and build friendships with those connected to the Coast Guard community.
“I am absolutely so proud of the choice my son made to join,” Keifer said. “I’ve told him to go as far as the Coast Guard will take him.”
Kelli Spurlin has been a Coast Guard mom for just a few weeks. Her son Justin Michael is in the middle of basic training. Justin’s dad served in the U.S. Navy, so Justin has had military service in mind since he was very young. Joining the Coast Guard was a natural step, Justin said.
“I am thrilled that he took this step that he has been waiting his whole life,” she said. “He is just 18 now, and has so many opportunities available for him. I’m looking forward to seeing his career and his future unfold.”
It’s a bit rough right now, she said, not being able to talk to him regularly.
“But we have received letters, and they are exactly what you’d expect to hear from a recruit that is about to start week five,” she said.
While she is worried, the support has made the experience as a Coastie mom better than she anticipated.
“So far it has surpassed everything I thought being a military parent could be,” she said. “From the amazing support that you receive from other parents and spouses is something that I can’t really put into words. We feel very lucky.”
Misty Miller is no stranger to military life. So it came as no surprise when her son, Quinn Miller, was 10 and decided he wanted to serve like his father, his great-grandfather and his great uncle.
Quinn is currently assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Venturous and hopes to specialize in maritime enforcement.
Misty said her son originally wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps to become a Navy SEAL, but after they encouraged him to forge his path based on his own goals, Quinn chose the Coast Guard.
“When he told us he had selected the Coast Guard and why, we were extremely proud and pleased with his decision,” Misty said. “It was a smart choice for him that allows him to have a career doing what he has always wanted to do.”
Now the family is relying on social media to keep in touch with Quinn and to connect with other members of their new Coast Guard family.
“If there was a word bigger or more profound than pride, I would use it,” Misty said. “The motto of his first assignment on the Venturous is ‘Nemo Supra,’ which means ‘None Better.’ That motto describes how we feel about Quinn’s choice to serve with the Coast Guard. Not many 18 year olds are doing what he is doing.”
Janice Steinhagen in embracing her role as a Coast Guard mom. Her son, Paul, graduated from boot camp Sept. 4 and he reported to a small boat station in Maine on Sept. 11.
But Paul had aspired to join the Coast Guard since high school. His journey took a college detour, and after completing his bachelor’s degree, he enlisted.
“The day he was sworn in was one of the proudest days I can remember, only to be surpassed by the day he graduated from Cape May – completing basic training with the company he formed with,” Janice said.
Paul’s grandfather and great-grandfather served in the U.S. Navy – the latter retiring as an admiral. So while maritime life is in the family blood, Janice and her husband are still trying to get used to it.
“We’re still getting our sea legs about being a Coast Guard family,” she said. “Since we have no experience of military family life, this is all new to us.”
One of the great benefits of this new life has been joining the community of Coast Guard families both in person and online, she said. She has used Facebook to connect with other families, find pictures of her son at boot camp, and even find another Coastie mom’s son who was in port near her to bring him cookies. And to tell his mom he was okay.
“I can’t thank the online community enough for all the information, sympathy and support it has provided to help us get a handle on this whole Coast Guard parallel universe,” she said.
Paul originally intended to aim toward Officer Candidate School, Janice said, but now he would like to become part of Coast Guard search and rescue efforts.
“I am in awe of his courage to tackle such a dangerous and demanding job, but I’ve seen him persevere through so many setbacks and obstacles, large and small, that I know he’ll succeed,” she said. “I’m amazed by his determination, and I’m comforted by the warm circle of ‘virtual family’ that we’ve acquired through the Coast Guard.”
Do you have a son or daughter who recently joined? Share your experiences in the comments below!
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.