WELCOME!

Welcome to Son to Soldier. We started this blog as a way to journal our son's journey to become a soldier and a medic in the U.S. Army (HOOAH!) This has been and continues to be an exciting adventure for our entire family. We have covered lots of new territory and continue to learn more and more every day. We will be posting son's letters, pictures, and will try to keep you updated. And I'm sure we'll also have lots of posts from Mom since she's just a tiny bit proud!! I LOVE being an ARMY MOM!

(*I absolutely hate having to put a big ole watermark on front of my photos. In order to keep from doing this, I ask that you please ask permission before copying or downloading pictures. Thanks :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Christmas Welcome Home!










My heart is full to the point that I'm actually speechless!!  I know, who'd a thunk??!!  I can't tell you how it felt to see him step out of that gate and what it felt like to hug that boy again.  I want to make this the best Christmas ever (even though we have to celebrate early before he ships out), and yet in the back of my mind all I can think about is him leaving again...and where he's off to this time, but I'm bound and determined to make it awesome!  It's just that I can only hope with every ounce of my being that people truly understand and appreciate what these men and women are doing.  I was in Walmart the other day talking to a friend and she was utterly surprised to hear me say he was set to deploy.  She asked why.  I had to explain it all to her.  She had no idea we were at war.  I went numb.  And then the fire set in (No..I didn't let her see the fire...At least I don't think I did!)   Although she did sort of dare me to go up to a stranger and ask them if they thought we were at war.  She wanted to see what they thought.  Maybe she didn't take my word for it.  Are people really that naive?  People really don't watch, read, or listen to the news?  Then the thought came to me....Do they care?

Maybe they would understand more if they came to my house one afternoon this week and washed his uniforms, saw the several pairs of battered combat boots lined up in his room, opened the closet and rubbed their hand over his dress uniform with his ribbons and medals, or saw the pile of combat gear, gun cleaning and medic equipment that mom put in a box in the corner so she wouldn't have to look at it.  Maybe that would make it real to them then.  One can only hope....and pray!

For now....this family is going to have Christmas.  A VERY Merry Christmas!  And mom has lots of shopping to do in order to have it all done in time.  We wish you a Merry Christmas where ever you are!  And if you run into a soldier or a soldier's family.....wish them the same.



Be Safe - Be Good - Be Strong


A Soldiers Night Before Christmas


Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all a lone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster and stone.
I had come down the chimney with presents to give,
And to see just who in the home did live.

I looked all about - a strange sight did I see.
No tinsel.  No presents - not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of far distant lands.

With  medals and badges - awards of all kinds,
A sobering thought came to my mind.
For this house was different - so dark and so dreary.
The home of a solider I'd found....once I could see clearly.

I'd heard stories about them.  I had to see more.
So I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping; silent...alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one bedroom home.

His face was so gentle.  His room in disorder.
Not how I pictured a United States soldier.
Was this the hero of whom I'd just read?
Curled up in his poncho - the floor for a bed?

His head was clean shaven.  His weathered face tan,
I soon understood this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
Owed their lives to these men who were willing to fight.

Soon round the world the children would play,
And grownups would celebrate a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom each month of the year,
Because of soldiers like this one, laying right here.

I couldn't help wonder how many lay alone,
On a cold Christmas Eve so far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

The soldier awakened and I heard a rough voice,
"Santa don't cry.  This life is my choice.
I fight for freedom, I don't ask for more.
My life is my God, country, family and Corps."

With that he rolled over and drifted back into sleep.
I couldn't control it, I continued to weep.
I watched him for hours - so silent, so still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night's chill.

So I took off my jacket - the one made of red.
And I covered this soldier from his toe to his head.
And I put on his t-shirt of gray and of black,
With and eagle and Army patch embroidered on back.

And although it'd not fit, my heart swelled with pride.
For one shining moment I was US Army inside.
I didn't want to leave him on that cold dark night,
This guardian of honor so willing to fight.

Then the soldier rolled over and whispered with a voice clean and pure,
"Carry on, Santa.  It's Christmas Day.  All is secure."
One look at my watch and I knew he was right.
Merry Christmas my friend, and to all a good night.
~Lt. Col. Bruce Lovely, USAF

Monday, November 19, 2012

Army Parent's Creed



I am the parent of an American soldier. 
 I will support, respect and honor the protectors of this great Nation, this team we call Army. 
I seek to serve by word and deed not only my soldier but all soldiers. 
I will always treat a soldier respectfully, always defending their service with pride. 
I will never accept disrespect or dishonor of my soldier or any soldier from anyone.
 I will never abandon a soldier, injured or otherwise and I will always fight for their right to be treated fairly and honorably, even by those with whom they serve. 
I will privately bear the pain of loss and separation from my soldier, always striving to be uplifting and positive in their presence for their sake. 
 I will always acknowledge an Army soldier in public or private, commending and praising them for their service to us. 
 I will never let them forget that we are proud of them nor of the deep appreciation we have for their sacrifice. 
 I will stand by my soldier and those who serve with them, confronting anyone seeking to harm, dishonor or deny them basic human rights. I am the mother or father of my child, I am an Army parent.
 
Be Safe - Be Good - Be Strong

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Call

So, as near as I can remember (it still seems a little surreal and cloudy), it went like this.  Picture, if you will, a busy, chaotic, way too much energy in this house, Halloween night.  It was 6:45 p.m.; prime time for trick-or-treaters, Halloween feast FINALLY spread out on the table, doorbell, dog barking, T.V. blaring, and yells of "your turn to get the door".  The phone rings.  I see son's cute little picture pop up on my cell (he'll ALWAYS be that cute little boy to me!).  Of course even in my holiday chaos( yes, Halloween IS a holiday..NOT an event as hubby would like us to believe ;) I quickly answer the phone.  Halloween is one of his most favorite times of year.  I thought the sad reluctance I heard in his voice was due to the fact that he wasn't home for Halloween.  I was trying to cheer him up a little and started telling him my lame Halloween jokes (I'll spare you all the details as I'm told there are times that I'm not NEARLY as funny as I think I am!), when the bomb drops.  In the middle of my joke (okay...now I just gotta share it.  What do you get when you goose a ghost?)..he stops me (Sorry to leave you hanging...I know your'e dying for the answer to the riddle!) he says, "So...Mom.  There was a change on my orders today.  Deployment."  I froze.  Okay...this was not a funny Halloween joke.  And if it was, MY joke was much funnier!  (Answer...a handful of sheet!).  I froze.  Did he really just say the "D" word?  My Army Strong instantly changed to Army Sucks!  I looked straight ahead and said, "Where?"
"Afghanistan."
"When?"
"It's pretty vague, Mom.  It doesn't really give an exact date.  Some time after the first of the year.  The 1st and 3rd Brigades are returning and xx00 troops from the 2nd and 4th are deploying. It says to report earlier, Dec. XX. (So much for Christmas at home.  Army TRULY Sucks!!!)  It says prepare to deploy."
I couldn't get out my next question..which was...WHY???  I knew why.  I still know why.  Because it's his job.  Because it's what he wanted to do with his life...what he was called to do with his life.  Because "they" need him.  After sitting in a freeze frame position for what seemed like an eternity, I snapped to.  I started to relay the information to his dad across the room.  Dad calmly looked at me and said, "I know."  I just kept talking.  Again, he said, "I know."  I kept talking louder and faster.  Finally he said, "Honey, stop!  I know!". I said, "How can you possibly know?  Can you HEAR him on the phone from across the room?"  He answered, "He's been texting me all afternoon.  He didn't know how to tell you and was worried about how you'd take the news."  Frozen....again.  That's my boy!  Worried about his mom.  Forever my little protector.    Change to Army Sad.  A snap back into reality.  
Son said, "Mom, it's going to be okay."
"I know, Bud.  It's going to be fine.  We knew this was a possibility."
"But...right out of the gate? Wow."
It's because you scored 100% on your final assessment, isn't it??!! (chuckle)
"Mom, you're taking it much better than I thought you would."  Oh...if  he could only hear how fast my heart is racing.  If he could see the pictures that are flashing through my mind.  Thank heavens he can't!
I assured him that I knew it was coming.  (I did. I truly knew. Mother's intuition? I just didn't want to believe it.)  I assured him that all would be fine.  He would be taken care of.  His "brothers" will always have his back and his Heavenly Father will always protect and watch over him.  He knows him and loves him and knows his needs and desires.  (My heart is still racing.  Am I even remembering to breathe?)
He's nervous.  I can hear it in his voice.  I ask him how he's feeling.  He tells me he's worried he doesn't know enough....hasn't had enough training.  He's worried he'll mess up and that the guys won't respect him.  He tells me if the guys don't have faith in you and respect you as a medic then the entire morale of the company is lost.  He said, "I want to be the one the guys call "Doc", not the one they're sorry to have to have follow them on patrol."  Then he said, "What am I going to do the first time I lose someone?  Mom, we all lose someone. It comes with the job.  It's inevitable even for the best.  We've had training for that, but how can you prepare for that?"
I answered him the only way I knew how. ( Army Strong again?)  I said a quick prayer in my heart.  Then I told him to rely on his Heavenly Father; ask Him for help and guidance and always stay close to Him.  To remember that he prayed long and hard before he enlisted so he would know, without a doubt, that it was the right thing for him to do. I told him to rely on his knowledge and his training; he is of the best of the best.  Be confident.  Be a good example.  Be a friend.  I told him he could do this.  He's got this.  He was a natural at this.  (He really is...and I'm amazed at how quickly he's picked it all up.  Amazed!)  And I told him not to worry about his old Mom!!  Then he said, "But who will protect you when I'm gone.  I've always protected you, Mom.  It's my job."  True.  Why is he so protective of his mom?  Why he's always thought it was his job I will never know, but I think it's sweet.  With that, he had to leave for formation.  I told him I loved him and not to worry.  We've got this.  We've ALL got this.
The next morning....after every one left....Mom was finally able to have her moment...and the tears fell like rain.  (Welcome back to Army Sad).  I turned where I often turn when I need help and reassurance and I feel like I have no where else to go.  I said a prayer, opened my scriptures and read:

"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear.
But of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."
2Timothy 1:7

Back to Army Strong!  We got this, Bud!

Be Safe - Be Good - Be Strong

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fort Campbell Here We Come!

The awaited day arrives!  Son received orders to Fort Campbell, Kentucky with the 101st Airborne (Air Assault)!  Home of the Screaming Eagles! The 101'st has a TON of history behind it.  It also holds the record for the most deployments.  We're all a little excited and anxious...Son included.  He's hoping this means he can be an inflight medic.  No word on further training, but being assigned to the 101st is a good sign!  He was the only Private out of the company to be assigned there.  All the other guys were Specialists.  He has no idea what this means exactly, just thought it was kind of cool.  One of the other guys pointed it out to him. 

And the best part of all???  Ready???..........

HE'S HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!   HOOAH!!!!!

Congrats on the NREMT: FSH Update!

I'm not sure what's worse....car trouble or computer trouble....UGH!!!  But we are once again up and running thanks to our friends at Office Depot (gotta love those little boys!).  I don't know about you, but I feel like we're in need of an update and some good news from Son and the good ole boys at FSH!!!

First on the udpate...a BIG congrats to the guys that passed their NREMT certification last week.  HOOAH!  This means they are official EMT's and have completed the first step to becoming "official" combat medics.  It was a long, exhausting and stressful haul and quite the hurtle to jump.  Now it's onto "Whiskey Phase"!  Boys, if you were thinking the stress was long since passed, think again.  The first few days of Whiskey Phase proved to be just as stressful as the last four months, and from what we've seen on YouTube (which I'm quickly gaining a love/hate relationship for) I don't know that we can say you're in for a treat.  LOL....Definitely not MY kind of treat anyways!  First couple days consisted of learning injections (yes...on each other...GROSS!  And to the poor gal that messed up on him...he'll be fine...once he can move his arm again!!  :)   Lots more homework and learning to do blood draws on the second day.  This week has been extra draining as they've had some long days learning suicide prevention.  How sad it is that this has to be part of the training and has ended up being such a devastating affect for some of these soldiers and their families.

For family and friends.....Son is doing great and hanging in there.  Some days are better than others, but then isn't that how it goes for most of us?!  He would feel soooo much better if he had a Battle Buddy to go to church with on Sunday (Hint hint for any guys in his company that don't have much going on on Sunday morning and need to get a good deed in for the week  ;)  *wink wink
Seems they can't do much of anything without a Battle Buddy these days...and it seems way different than when he was in BCT at Benning.  Like Son said, at Benning all you had to do on Sunday was clean so guys were all sorts of willing to go to church with him.  Here at FSH they have a little more freedom.  Okay...a LOT more freedom.  Sort of tempting to choose a sports bar at the River Walk over going to church to sit in a hard chair while trying to stay awake... and takes a lot more convincing.  So kudos in advance for anyone who would be willing.  As soon as you're allowed goodies, Mom will gladly compensate by keeping you in carbs for the remainder of your Army careers!  Ha Ha

Son found a way to keep himself and a few of the guys busy on the weekends when they need a break from studying...it's called "Welcome to football season!" Not sure what they'd do without it at this point!  He bought a projector and shows the games in his room.  Aye yi yi....he looks at it as an investment and being frugal and cost effective as it saves him money from not going out on the town.  LOL...way to justify it son!  ;)  LOL...I guess as long as it keeps him out of trouble.  Then again, he did get yelled at by the Sgts for waking everybody up at the end of a not so good BYU game the other night.  Yes, he gets a little feisty when his team loses.  Apparently they thought a fight had broken out in his room.  LOL....maybe it's a good thing his roommate never seems to be around.  Literally...where does that boy go?  Nobody seems to have a clue.

That's about it for the update.  As always letters, cards, jokes, pictures, words of encouragement etc. are ALWAYS welcome!  He texted me with an "I LOVE YOU MOM"  around midnight the other night (getting a little homesick maybe?)  Ahhh...sweet!  Dad thought maybe he was drunk and it was meant a little slurred..ha ha..NOT!  When I asked him about it the next morning, he said they were watching "Saving Private Ryan" and in the middle of it he said, "I need to text my mom."  He said most the other guys in the room followed suit.  Have I said I LOVE THESE BOYS???!!!!!

Be Safe - Be Good - Be Strong


Monday, September 10, 2012

Shame On You!

As a new Army Mom I think one of the first things you realize/learn is to stay away from the news (oh, and YouTube videos...yuck!).  LOL...it usually just causes "UA"...unnecessary anxiety (which is not good for my OCD or as my kids call it...CDO!) Not to mention it has been known to cause a few bad dreams and nightmares every now and then.  (Oh come on now, you Army family members KNOW what I'm talking about! As strong as we are, there's some things we just have to take in small doses!)  I've been pretty good about this if I do say so myself.  I've learned the art of deciphering the real reality from the media sensationalized reality, and if all else fails I've learned to just tune it out or turn it off. That is until this weekend when I came across an article from FoxNews.com on how our nation's enemies are using social media networks like Facebook and blogs (yes, much like this one) to get information they can use against our soldiers.  Seriously?  That's pretty low to use someone's little ole family blog to try to get information that could be potentially damaging to our soldiers. So much for freedom of speech :S
I was taking this with a grain of salt until a post from a friend and fellow army mom told a story of how a gal from Pakistan contacted her on Facebook and told her she  knew a lot about her and had some information on her son and wanted to know more.  She said she didn't realize he had left to BCT and wanted his address.  My friend looked her up on Facebook (see kids....the best of moms know there are times that "Facebook Stalking" is warranted  ;) and saw that she was from Pakistan.   At first my friend didn't give it much thought as her son had done some traveling out of the country before he joined the Army.  My friend did not give her the information and contacted her son to let him know. (Again, so thankful our boys have their cell phones back!!)  He told her she was right in not giving this gal any information and that there is no way she would "know a lot about her).  Crazy!  After hearing this, I thought...hmmm....let's check the stats on our little soldier blog.  (There's an "audience" link you can click on to see where in the world people are viewing your blog from.)  This makes it quite exciting to think your little blog has been halfway around the world...and then some!  When I looked at the stats I saw "hits" from around the world in places such as Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  I'd like to think maybe this was from fellow soldiers, or at the very least far away friends of our U.S.A.  Now I'm beginning to wonder.  Isn't that sad!  Something as simple as sharing one of the greatest achievements of your child with your family, friends, and others that are going through the exact same journey just became a source of anxiety!! And yes...I'll admit I did have horrible dreams last night.  And then, well, I just got mad.  I'm mad that something I'm not even really sure of could make me that worried.  I'm mad at the feeling of possibly being stalked and, in a way, violated.  I'm mad that something valued and precious to me could possibly be used for something deceitful, corrupt, and horrible.  I'm mad that you (whoever YOU are) made me feel frightened, timid, and small.  I guess I'm mad that I felt something was taken away from me.  That's it! Shame on you...whoever you are. Shame on YOU!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Combat Medic's Prayer


Oh Lord, I ask for the divine strength
to meet the demands of my profession.
Help me to be the finest medic,
both technically and tactically.

If I am called to the battlefield, 
give me the courage to conserve our
fighting forces by providing medical 
care to all who are in need.

If I am called to a mission of peace,
give me the strength to lead by caring for
those who need my assistance.

Finally, Lord help me take care
of my own spiritual, physical,
and emotional needs.
Teach me to trust in your presence
and never failing love.

Amen.

(Author Unknown)

Monday, August 27, 2012

What Do You Love About Being a Military Mom/Dad?


Last week we went to our military families on FaceBook and asked them what they love about being a Military Mom/Dad.  Here's some of their responses:

"Better future for my son and his future family."
  ~L. Velez

"I love seeing the pride in my son's face and hear it in his voice when he talks about what he gets to do in the Army.  I love knowing that he is strong, and brave, and honorable; all the things I've tried so hard to instill in my children as they were growing up.  The love and compassion he feels for the human race and all things living makes me a very proud mom period!!!"
~ S. Hixon

"I love that my son has taken a step that he is proud of, that he is taking control of his life and reaching for a goal and a dream instead of wishing.  Mostly I am proud to hear him say "I believe" and is willing to show it in God and country."
~J. Guderian

"I love that my son is there for our country and our freedom if needed, and that he grew up even more than I thought he could.  I love how he looks and how he enjoys his family even more than he already did.  I love that he is there to help all other soldiers out if needs.  Most of all...I love that I'm so stinkin PROUD...HOOAH!"
~ S. McQuillen

"Besides meeting other wonderful military moms?  ;)  I love it when neighbors, friends, etc tell me; please tell your son thank you!  We appreciate his sacrifice and courage.  I am so proud of his decision (even though it wasn't an easy one on me and I still have days) and the soldier he has become."
~ D. Marble

"Even though my son has made it past BCT, I still listen to him tell me about the PT tests that he still has to pass, about the higher ranks that still give them a hard time...But I also HEAR the sense of pride in his voice that he's doing this.  He hasn't...and he won't give up.... 

It's an HONOR and a PRIVILEGE to be part of this elite family, and my son and the other soldiers make me such a proud mother."
~D. Davis

"What really struck me is how proud I was that "B" had and felt such a huge belonging and purpose.  My heart swells with pride when I see "B" in his uniform."
~C. Pajeau

"Proud to see my son become a man.  But as most parents, always worried because I'm not there to help if needed."
~J. Kent

"See how hard my son is working to achieve his goals makes me a very proud Army Dad."
~M. Dudash

"...Oh my, look how far our boys have soared!  Each moment of every day is filled with thoughts of love for our children.  But we can take solace in knowing they have grown into the men we were striving to help them be all through the years.  I've never been more proud and he always knows I am 100% with him no matter what!"
~ B. Mehelcic

"Watching son become the man he is ...and watching the soldier he is becoming has been a priceless "mom moment" that I wouldn't trade for the world...good days and bad!  I've said this a hundred times before....the Army didn't make me a proud mom...it just made me the proud mom of a soldier.  I love that he has direction in his life, that he gets to do what he has always wanted to do; help others, and that he puts his love for family, God, and country above all else.  He's a great example to our family and those around him.  He is by far one of my greatest blessings and one of my greatest teachers."
~K. Schofield


Friday, August 24, 2012

Home of a Soldier


This is the home of a soldier.  It's a humble home.  From it's walls you can hear the typical sounds of family life.  It's not not always blissful and is sometimes a bit chaotic, but at the same time it's full of love and laughter.  After all we are a family, and like the saying goes "Sometimes we may not have it all together, but together we have it all."

A proud family lives here.  They are proud not only for their soldier's sacrifice and accomplishments, but for the sacrifices and accomplishments of each other as well.  They are a family that loves each other, their country, and their Heavenly Father.

This home has a mom...a proud mom.  The Army didn't make her that proud mom...she's always been that way.  The Army just made her the proud mom of a soldier...just one of the many of her children's accomplishments that she's proud of.  She loves her husband, her children, and her Heavenly Father.  She has a big job to do and is more than happy to do it.  She tends to cry a little (some days maybe a lot) but it's just because as big as her heart is, it just isn't big enough to hold all her emotions in.  She is tough but she is gentle. No matter how busy she is, she always has time for you.  She loves unconditionally. 

This home has a dad....a proud dad. Just like Mom, the Army didn't make him that way... he's always been that way.  He is loving, kind, a great example, a hard worker, and a fair disciplinarian.  He is sometimes soft when mom thinks he should be hard, and hard when mom thinks he should be soft but is the perfect mix of tender and strict.  He offers words of encouragement and advice, protects, defends, and supports us. His arms are always there to surround and assure you.  In a way he's a soldier too. 

Brothers and sisters can be found in this home. They love each other, but there are times when they may not like each other very much, which is just part of growing up and being a family.  They support and encourage each other just as much as they tease and taunt each other.  As they go about their days filled with school, sports, and a busy social life, their soldier brother is never far from their thoughts and they are never far from his.  And, yes, he's always in their prayers.

Our soldier is tough, strong willed, compassionate, kind, focused, and brave. He has a love of family, God, and country. Though he may not be with us in person, we know he is never truly far away.  We are reminded of that every day when we walk by that flag in our window. We know that no matter where he is or where we are, we are always a family and this will always be home.  We know he has a job to do and we respect that, accept that, and try to be understanding and supportive.  We know he LOVES that job and this is what he wants to do right now more than anything.  Knowing this makes being a family of a soldier so much easier. We know that God will bless our soldier and that he will return with honor. This also makes it easier.

Yes, this is the home of a soldier.




Be Safe - Be Good - Be Strong

Monday, August 20, 2012

Stress + Tests = Welcome To AIT!

Update on  Fort Sam!  Along with AIT came the use of modern technology.  And while we have absolutely LOVED the phone calls and text messages from our boy, we are definitely missing those long descriptive and heartfelt letters.  It is so nice to be able to hear his voice  and makes it much easier to sense his sarcasm.  Ha Ha  But it might also make it easier for him to complain. (LOL...no, he hasn't been too bad).  He is LOVING being able to text his brothers and sisters!! 

All the boys are missing Benning.  And that seems to be pretty much unanimous around the other bases as well from what I gather from the other moms.  Son described Benning as that annoying girlfriend that you just can't stand to have around anymore, but once you break up with her you can't wait to have her by your side.  Benning...the one that got away??  Really?  Funny boys~  

It seems stress combined with tests is the new lifestyle at FSH.  Son was pretty uptight that first week of homework and tests.  They have to score an average of 80% on all tests to pass.  There's only one chance to makeup a failed test, and if you mess up the second time then the Army will automatically reassign your MOS (job).  And they can pick anything they want from a janitor to a truck driver.  Thus the stress.  He did awesome on the first test and even better on the second, so hopefully that's a sign of things to come.  The stress is still there, but I think he's settling into the swing of things.  I did have to remind him of a famous quote from Whinnie the Pooh, "Remember, you're braver than you know, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."  I told him not to diss Whinnie, that's one smart bear!  ;) His requests this week was for some of his movies (Saints and Soldiers, Indiana Jones, and Saving Private Ryan.  He said he needed something to do when his brain turns to mush from studying) and basketball shorts/shoes (he's really hoping to earn gym time this weekend...AND civilian clothes!)

He was also happy to be "awarded" a 4 hour on post pass this last Sunday.  They've been pretty much confined to their barracks, DEFAC (cafeteria), and classrooms until now.  He said a PX never looked so good.  I think he was most excited about the pizza and Mt. Dew!  Passing his third test and doing great on his PT (exercise) test this week will grant him an off base weekend pass! Fingers crossed for this one!!!  He's also looking forward to seeing the new Saints and Soldiers:Airborne  movie (it was going to be playing at the National Infantry Museum on the IMAX, he was a little bummed) and being able to go to church on Sunday.  He's only been able to attend once since being at FSH and says there were only 5 others from his unit that went as well....and all girls.  I told him that was pretty good odds....5-1.  Then he told me they were all married.  LOL....well...so much for those odds, but good to know he had someone to go with.

That's about it for the update.  Not too much going on except studying, testing, and more studying.  He was hoping Mom will be able to pull through with a HotSpot for the internet this week.  You'd think Uncle Sam would help supply these guys with free Wifi...but no go.  In fact, if you don't sign a contract then it's a whopping $10 a day ($300 a month).   Hmm....just wondering....does congress get free Wifi?  ;)  He is still happy to be where he is and is doing what he loves.....stress, tests, and all.  He says to tell everyone back home hello and letters and words of encouragement are still more than welcome  ;)

Be Safe - Be Good - Be Strong

Friday, August 17, 2012

OPSEC....Spells Teamwork!

Family and friends of Son to Soldier, with the success of Son to Soldier in the past few weeks (we've been getting up to 50 views a day on our site and have friends and viewers from all over the world including the U.S., UK, Netherlands, Poland, Germany, India, Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia,  and Russia just to name a few.  This is so exciting for us!  We love to receive your comments and questions.  Please keep in mind that as you post your comments and questions, there are some things that we just don't know the answer to or can't post the answer due to OPSEC Rules (Operational Security Rules).  We are posting a list of these rules so you know what we can and cannot discuss.  We appreciate your support and hope you understand.

These OPSEC rules aren't meant to limit free speech or restrict liberties - that's exactly what our Men and Women in uniform fight to protect.  However, they are designed to help ensure the safety and security of the Service Members in your life.

Remember, no matter your affiliation, status, rank or age - you have a part in the security of your loved one! 
(And I can't for the life of me figure out why it's posting in all CAPS...LOL...it must know it's important!!!)
OPSEC Rules:

by U.S. Army Future Soldier Family on Friday, November 4, 2011 at 7:46am ·


1. Do not post exact deployment dates or redeployment dates
2. Do not reveal camp locations, including nearby cities. After the deployment is officially announced by Military officials, you may discuss locations that have been released, normally on the Country level.
3. Do not discuss convoy routes (“we travelled through Takrit on our way to X”)
4. Detailed information on the mission, capabilities or morale of a unit
5. Specific names or actual nicknames
6. Personnel transactions that occur in large numbers (Example: pay information, powers of attorney, wills, etc)
7. Details concerning security procedures, response times, tactics
8. Don’t discuss equipment or lack thereof, to include training equipment
9. Don’t speculate about future operations
10. If posting pictures, don’t post anything that could be misconstrued or used for propaganda purposes. A good rule of thumb is to look at your picture without your caption or explanation and consider if it could be re-captioned to reflect poorly on coalition forces. For example, your image might show your Soldier rescuing a child from a blast site, but could be re-captioned to insinuate that the child being captured or harmed. (it’s happened!)
11. Avoid the use of count-up or count-down tickers for the same reason as rule #1
12. be very careful if posting pictures of your loved one. Avoid images that show significant landmarks near their base of operations, and black out last names and unit affiliations
13. Do not, ever, post information about casualties (coalition or enemy) before the official release of the information.
14. Do not pass on rumors (“I heard they’re coming home early”, etc)

Be Safe - Be Good - Be Strong

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mom, Do You Know Why?



As we were sitting with our son waiting at the USO in the airport the other day (What a surprise that was!  Oh....and a BIG shout out to the USO!!!  They REALLY take great care of our boys!  I was more than impressed and I've never seen so much food!  It was like a church potluck!) he turns to me and says, "Mom, did you notice my flag patch?"  I replied with sort of a laugh, "Yes, son.  I noticed your flag patch."  He smiled and said, "I meant, did you notice it's backwards?"  I turned him around so I could see his right arm and take another look.  No, I hadn't even noticed it was backwards.  He said, "Mom, do you know why?"  Stumped, I just looked at him and shook my head and sort of shrugged my shoulders.  He said, "We wear them backwards because it signifies running into battle.  Think of how a flag were to look if you were holding it high in the air and running forward into battle.  It blows back, right?  Yep, that's why we wear it that way."  And he sat back with a proud smile on his face.  I, in turn, gave him a huge hug and had a proud smile on my face....and tears in my heart.  I love that boy!  I love all those boys!!!!

And as they have now moved on to training at their different AIT's, today I want to quote Whinnie the Pooh when he said, "Always remember:  You're braver than you know, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."  You got this boys!!!

Airport Surprise Package!!!

Be Safe - Be Good - Be Strong

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Army Mom

A special post for the Army Moms of  Ft. Benning's former
 E 1/19 198th...and for Army Moms everywhere.

Proud Army Mrs.Tepper and son PV Tepper

One day, my dear boy said to me, "A decision I have made."
The words he spoke went through my heart as if they were a spade.
"I want skills, education and money" were some of the words he said,
But all the thoughts of "what if" kept spinning through my head.

I quickly regained composure and told him I'd agree

To support whatever decision he thought best to be.
I'd love him so, not matter what, he determined he should do,
Even it if meant him leaving me to serve the Red, White, and Blue.

The spring passed way too quickly and we tried to cherish the time.

Soon the day came I'd been dreading, to say goodbye to that boy of mine.
We talked alone and shared last thoughts then I hugged him oh so tight.
His words still ringing "Don't cry, Mom" as tears were blurring my sight.

The weeks have dragged by slowly as I've waited impatiently,

For every single letter or call from that boy at BCT.
With each line he has written, I've come to understand,
The boy who left two months ago has grown into a man.

Many angels I've had help me, through these tough weeks I've endured.

They've kept me sane and every day my boy's state have assured.
Without them I'd be wondering "Where?" and "How?" and "When?"
I love these other Army Moms.  Better friends there's never been!

Mere days until he graduates from this phase of his new life.

He has endured so very much in physical and mental strife.
But it's helped to form that little boy into an Army man.
A soldier he'll be named that August day as he stands.

He'll swear again to fight for freedom and defend us at all costs.

All the innocence of his childhood will be near completely lost.
So now to wait a few days more, until his face I'll see.
At Family Day, a man will stand, but my boy he'll always be.

He'll appear out there before me and my heart will swell with pride.

And finally, I'll want no more - no longer be denied.
At last be allowed, released to go to him I came to see.
And be reunited after all this time with that boy so dear to me.

I'll run to hug him tightly and again he'll likely say:

"Don't cry, Mom" but tears of joy will be cried that happy day.
We'll spend the day together, then again he'll have to go.
Again my heart will break, and again the tears will flow.

I'll wish he could stay, just a little while, to share more time with me.

But duty calls and he's sworn an oath to our Land of Liberty.
So leave he will, and once again, his decision I'll support.
And he'll travel on to his next base - for AIT he will report.

Yes, I'm an Army Mom, and on the homefront I'll remain.

As he spends these next years of his life in some unknown terrain.
I'll write him words of encouragement at every chance I get,
While tears of heartache, pride and fear may get the letters wet.

I'll keep him always up-to-date on family and on friends

And let him know their words of thanks as their freedom he defends.
I'll praise and support each step he takes on this journey he is on,
Because the Soldier is a piece of my heart, and I'm his Army Mom.


Original By Melissa Murphy
(Edited by K. Schofield)

Be Safe - Be Good - Be Strong

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Did You Really Just Say That?



Excuse me Ma'am, but did you really just tell me I can't fly a "Service Flag" on behalf of my son because we are not at war? Well, let me give you a little history lesson.  On September 20, 2011, President George Bush declared war on terrorism.  I heard it with my own ears.  I saw it with my own eyes.  I witnessed the anguish in his face as he said those words and the determination and fortitude as he meant them.  And I saw the determination in the men and women soldiers that stood at attention in the background.  I will NEVER forget that day as I will NEVER forget the events that preceeded that day.  He said, "Tonight we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution.  Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done."  He also said it would be a "long, invisible and open-ended war."

Since 2001, over 2 million troops have served and fought against the war on terrorism.  Over 6,500 soldiers have lost their lives.  That means over 6,500 mother's lost a son or daughter.  As of 2011, more than 26, 000 purple hearts had been awarded and more than 80,000 troops received severe concussion (which as of this year, concussion qualifies for a purple heart).  Don't even get me started on the number of family members and loved ones that have been affected.

Serving in time of war ribbon on the left.
We just had the honor and privilege of witnessing the graduation from BCT of 200 plus young soldiers, whom upon graduating and completing the rigorous requirements were awarded a service ribbon for serving in time of war.  Maybe you need to tell them, as well as the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security that we're not at war.  Tell those boys they can't display that ribbon on their chest.  Let me know what kind of response you get, I'd be interested in hearing about that one.

While you're at it, why don't you go tell the soldier that just lost a buddy that he's not at war. Why don't you go tell the soldier that's been deployed for over a year, hasn't seen his family, has been living in a dust bowl eating nothing but dirt and MRE's for the last 12 months, living with the constant sights and sounds of war, sleeping next to his M4 rifle, has seen sights that no one should ever have to see and hopefully most of us never will see, and has been away from his family and some of the things he loves most in this world.  Yeah, you go tell him we're not at war.  And then YOU take a little vacation to a place called Afghanistan.  Go on a little road trip while you're there.  Just tag along with a unit that's doing a little patrol in a humvee that just happens to take out a few I.E.D's before the I.E.D's take them out.  Let me know how that little vacation goes for you.  Take lots of pictures so you never forget those precious moments.  Take time to talk to the people you meet along the way.  Enjoy your trip.  And when you come home....why don't you...just one more time....tell me I can't display that service flag in my window because, according to you, we're not at war.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Welcome to Fort Sam!


Welcome to Fort Sam!  Home of the Combat Medic and the next stop on our journey where they will be cramming what is equivalent to 2 years of nursing school into just 3 short months.  (I say 3 short months, but we all know it's going to seem a lot longer!!!)

Son was excited to finally get to Fort Sam and begin this next chapter in his life.  He called when he got there (YES!!  Cell phones are back!!)  and the first thing he says is, "We can breathe FRESH air!  And it smells like churros!"  Churros??  He couldn't possibly be hungry!  After all that eating he did on graduation day I thought he wouldn't be hungry for a month!

A second phone call yesterday (Sunday) gave us an update on what he'll be doing this week.  He's been assigned a new company and platoon.  Welcome to Alpha Company 5th.  He said the first thing they realized is they can't call any cadence that talks about killing or uses swear words, so ALL cadences they used in infantry BCT are banned.  He said they didn't know a single cadence they could use.  LOL...sorry...but they did mom's heart good!  He said about the only thing they can do is cheer for their mascot.....the gator...so they have to yell "Go go Gators!"  He said it's really lame after calling off all their infantry cadences!  He said the food is great (fresh waffles with fresh blueberries for breakfast) and he was beyond relieved to not get served MRE's!  Their rooms are nice....twin bed (yes, REAL beds), walk-in closets, study desks, 2 guys to a room and they have their own bathroom.  

He expressed concern over the intense classwork and training.  Like I said, they are cramming 2 years worth of studies into 3 months and it's not going to be easy.  They have access to internet, but it's WAY expensive. Really Uncle Sam?  No free WiFi for your nephews?  What's that all about??  But when I was talking to him on the phone we both decided that not have the internet would be less of a distraction.  They do get access to cell phones during personal hours, but he said he'll be using most of that time to study.  (Wow...I just can't get over some of the changes in this kid!!!  ;)   He said they're all worried about their PT scores going down as PT there is much easier and more infrequent.  They have to pass all their PT levels and score at least 80% in classes or else they get kicked back to day 1.  You don't want to get kicked back to day 1.  And no trip to the PX for at least 3 1/2 weeks.  It's like being slammed right back into Red Phase.  He said it is VERY quiet there and it makes them all nervous.  There is no one constantly yelling at them and calling them names.  (He told me some of the things the drill sergeants yelled at them.  Hmm.....lost a little of that respect that I'd earned for those sergeants.) And they have more time for chow.  He told a funny story about how he and another guy were eating chow (more like snarfing chow) when a girl PV came up to them and dropped a napkin down in front of them onto the table and said something like "That's attractive.  No need to hurry boys and you have a little sumpin sumpin on your face."  Son said the kid next to him just said, "Yeah, I'll get that when I'm done" and continued hurrying to eat.  LOL...He said he'll work on finding his table manners again.  

I don't know that we'll be getting those awesome letters like we did before...even though I did stress to him last night how much I LOVE my letters.  He just said, "I know Mom."  And, yes, I could tell he was giving me that funny smile that says "Mom, you're such a dork!"  He promised to call by Wednesday.  Probably more for a sports update than to check in with Mom, but I'll take what I can get!

Thanks For Your Support!

Son to Soldier has received over 1000 views since the 4th of July!  We appreciate your love and support and are happy to share with you.  We hope you'll continue on our journey as our son goes on to complete his training at AIT in Texas.  Yes, he'll be receiving what is equivalent of 2 years of nursing school into just 3 short months of medic training.  There's bound to be lots to talk about!

Echo Company 1/19th 198th Graduation Day!



.

I am still so emotional about this day that I'm not even sure I can put my feelings into words.  I don't know what I can say to you that will convey the feelings and emotions, the love and devotion, or the depth of gratitude I feel.  

The day was beyond hot. (91 degrees at 7:30 in the morning and 80% humidity!)  And it was so humid outside; it was like stepping into a steam shower as soon as you went outside.  We drove the few short miles over to the National Infantry Museum where they were to have the ceremonies on the Parade Field.  This field is unique in that it's soil is composed of soils from some of the most famous battlefields throughout the world includingYorktown, Corregidor, Hill 180, LZ X-Ray, Korea, Vietnam, the beaches of Normandy, and multiple locations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This field honors soldiers both past and present. 

As we were walking towards the bleachers to find a seat (yes, if you know Dennis we were there plenty early.  But I have to say it was probably hard for him to hold me back from getting in the car 2 hours early!) so...as we're walking up to the seating section, the boys are doing a rehearsal march around the field.  I spot our boy right off the bat.  Second row from the back, right on the outside edge.  My heart literally stops for a second.  All I can do is look at him in awe.  Literally!  He sees me out of the corner of his eye...doesn't smile but I can see the brightness in his eyes and he gives me a little wink.  You don't know how incredibly hard it was not to shout out his name!!

After an hour or so wait the fun begins!!!  All of a sudden there is machine gun fire, what sounded like grenades exploding, and then lots of different colored green smoke rising in the distance.  As you looked at the smoke you could see soldiers emerging.  Not just any soldiers.  These were U.S. Army Infantrymen...in full gear....coming towards us in a V formation.  The second time my heart stopped that day.



After this presentation and a description each of their weapons and the jobs of each of the 8 men in the Rifle Brigade, the boys (okay, just know I'm probably always going to call them boys when I talk about them....but they are men in every sense of the word!) start to march out on the field; Echo Company on the left and Alpha Company on the right.  They march in by platoons (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th).  Our son was in 1st platoon, and having seen him marching earlier I knew just where to look.


After a beautiful program and presentation, they were marched in front of us off the parade field and in front of the National Infantry Museum where they took the company photo in front of the "Iron Mike" statue.





Ready for my heart to stop for the 3rd time that morning, we are excused to go find our son.  We make the walk (which seemed like it took forever!!) and there are just tons of people everywhere.  When we get up to where the boys are, I think it took us less than a minute to find him.  I'm not sure if we spotted him first or he spotted us first.  He ran over to us and lifted me up with a hug that said more than a million words could ever say.  We didn't want to let go.  My heart stopped....again...and I cried. So many thoughts...so many emotions.  This was my son, my baby...in uniform...and HUGE!  LOL...he had gained 20 plus pounds of pure muscle!!  I can't tell you how handsome and grown up he looked.  And he just had this different air about him...his countenance was changed.  It was strong, it was reverent, it was regal.  

After meeting several of his friends and their families, we spent the next couple hours touring the museum, which in and of itself needs a full post of it's own just describe!  The first thing he wanted though.....was a cold drink and a hotdog!  LOL...he was starving and all he had had since 0430 that morning was an MRE.  He said it was the best hotdog he's ever had.  The rest of the day was spent touring, eating, shopping, eating, watching "Batman" at the IMAX theater in the museum, and..yes...more eating!  The day ended way too soon.  We had to have him back to barracks by 2100 (9:00 p.m.).  Another emotional goodbye.  I asked him how many times he was going to make me say goodbye to him like this.  He answered, "Probably at least a few more."  And then he laughed at me for crying.






Once again, I am so thankful to a loving Heavenly Father for keeping him safe, for giving us all the strength, courage, and faith we needed to get through this part of the journey. After seeing him, talking with him, being with him, seeing how much he's grown and how happy he is..I just can't imagine him doing anything else with his life right now.  I'm thankful to my son for letting me be part of this adventure with him.  I'm thankful for his unconditional love.  I'm thankful for being given the sacred and joyous opportunity of being his Mom.  And I'm thankful for the U.S. Army for helping him become what he really wanted to be........a soldier.

And....the journey continues....


Where brave men fight...there fight I.  In freedom's cause...I live, I die.  From Concord Bridge to Heartbreak Ridge, from Arctic to the Mekong, to the Caribbean...the Queen of Battle!  Always ready...then, now, and forever.  

I am the Infantry! FOLLOW ME!



Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Having a "BLAST"!!!

Hey Mom!

Mama still needs to get used to this!
This week has been AWESOME!  A total BLAST..ha ha....get it?!  But, really, we started off the week with getting to shoot the M249 SAW Gun (Squad Automatic Weapon) and we were going to shoot the 240 Bravo which is even bigger but lightning storms hit and we couldn't stay out longer.  Then we finally got to throw the Grenades.  We really lucked out and got to throw two of them!  Most BCT's only get one.  It was way cool.  And, of course, being left handed I get to do things different from everyone else.  Left handers have to hold the grenades upside down so you can release the safeties the right way.  That was really fun.  Kinda like being allowed to light a really big firework and then throw it at something.  (Can you tell his Mom NEVER let him do things like this??!!)  Yesterday we started Urban Operations training, which is tons of fun.  It's mostly breaching doors and clearing rooms, but it looks way awesome when we stack up and file in.  At the end of the Training Day we had to clear a building as a platoon and half went down as "casualties".  So we had to secure the area, retrieve the casualties, and get everyone to safety so that we could call a "Medevac".  It's been awesome!  Tomorrow starts Mounted Assaults where we get to ride on Strikers...at least that's what I've been told.

Lance while serving his mission.
 It's kind of a bummer that now we're finally getting into all the really fun stuff that there's only a week left.  Makes me a little sad.  And then I remember...oh yeah...I'll be free from this place and be able to eat and drink something other than warm water and the occasional Gatorade from the Gut truck.  Yeah...but honestly, I'm mostly excited to see you guys and be able to graduate!  This has been one of the hardest things I've ever done besides serving a mission and it's been totally worth it.

Church today was really cool.  Instead of regular Sunday School we watched a video from Elder Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman about how to be faithful members while in the military.  It was really cool.  And then I was able to give someone a blessing and it made me think about just how awesome it is to be one out of so many that has the priesthood and is able to give blessings, but at the same time makes me wish there was at least one more in the company because if I get hurt (knock on wood) I'd need somebody to give me a blessing.  Thankfully that hasn't happened.  It's crazy to think that it was my last Sunday at church at Fort Benning..well...at least at Basic.  Who knows if I'll end up back here. I would hope not, but that's only because I'm not a fan of the humidity.  I'd much rather be stuck in 3 feet of snow all the time, but that's because I'd much rather be cold than hot.

Can't wait to see ya'll in a week!  I don't know what all ya'll got planned for the family day, but I think lunch, Batman (I KNEW he was going to say that!), the NIM (museum), and dinner would be good.  We don't need to do anything special.  I just wanna have family time and treat it like a regular Saturday.  I freakin miss you guys!  And tell Nerm Happy Birthday for me!

I love ya'll!
Lance

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sacrifice = Blessings


We are on the single digit count down to graduation day!!  I can't tell you what an exciting event this is!!  Again, reflecting on the many many lessons learned and the experience we've had with our son...all I can say is we are so blessed!!  On a post on the E 1/19 Company Facebook page, I asked parents and loved ones to share something that they or their soldiers have learned during this 10 week experience.  The response was overwhelming!  I wanted to share a few of the comments with you.


" I've learned that even though we may not understand something that we can accept it with our whole heart and give love and support...then from the accepting the understanding will follow.  (Does that make sense?)  I've learned patience.  I think Lance and I have both learned that love really can be thicker than blood as we've seen total strangers become close family.  Neither one of us could have done this without ya'll.  In watching my son I've learned to follow your heart...it won't ever lead you astray.  I've learned prayer works!!!  And I thank you all for your prayers on our behalf.  I've learned it's okay to cry...as long as you remember to laugh as well.  Find joy in the journey!!!  Thank you all for your love and support!!!"
~K. Schofield

"I have learned patience and how to be more dependent on myself.  I know that sounds silly, but before  my hubby left he took care of everything.  And now that he hasn't been here, it has been up to me..."
~S. Brock


"Dreams do come true, with faith and perservence.  Sacrifices are made with everyone involved and support from home is very important.  Life changes everyday and even though a loved one may be far away, they are always close in your heart.  Good things can come from change, and you can literally find unknown strength in your weakest moments.  Although my life will never be the same in the day-to-day life with my son, I know he is doing something he loves, he'll be awesome at it, and I can't wait to see what the future brings.  There is diversity in this world and even though we all come from different walks of life, we have learned to pull together and support one another, even though we have never met - that's kinda cool!"
~S. Whitney

"I have learned to to take one day at a time.  I have learned to be supportive.  All soldiers need that from their family and friends.  I have gotten strong.  I am an Army Girlfriend and that's a hard job but I have learned that being away from each other just makes everything stronger.  I have learned that we have family and friends that we've never met that our soldiers have been with them since May 21st and they will always be close in our lives..."
~M. Castle


"For him, I think how to be part of a team.  For me, patience."
~H. Miller


"Patience!!!  Lots of it.  I would always be so "ancy" when my soldier said he had a surprise for me and would eventually break him down to the point where he would tell me the surprise early.  Waiting for his letters and stalking my mailman (who by the way comes at inconsistent times anywhere between 1-6) has allowed me to gain that much needed patience.  I've also learned to not take a single moment for granted and cherish all the little things.  Whether it's being able to have a milkshake or to enjoy each other every second I'm with him....  Every letter I get makes me fall deeper and deeper in love with my soldier and despite only being 19, has given me the strength to keep strong for both of us."
~G. Gabzzs


"I have learned that distance does not create void especially when you are talking about the heart.  We always knew our son was our world, I think now he truly knows this.  We have all learned to appreciate the small stuff we once took for granted."
~C. Lee


"I have learned that I am stronger than I thought."
~J. Ruthner


"I have learned to write a letter, and I have learned what time they empty the mail box so that way my letter makes the cutoff.  In this world of technology, I have learned how to rely on the mail carrier who has my message waiting for me and not my cell phone..."
~K. Wright


"...That the tears, sweat, integrity, morals and character I have tried to instill on him as a child was not in vain.  That when I didn't think he was listening to me, he really was...that he has developed into a wonderful young man that has goals, dreams, loves is country, family, adores his mom, and reverences  God...  I've also learned in this process to trust and open up to strangers and become part of a family (because that's what we are) that will truly embrace, support and uplift each other as we accept the path our soldiers have taken.  We've accepted each other blindly and unconditionally."
~B. Carter


"...I cried when I received my son's letter Saturday, not because I was sad.  Simply because he has grown into a man in the time that he has been away..."
~D. Davis


"...I've learned that I can rely on my Army family when every one has left and I felt alone.  But I've learned to trust God.  And that love conquers all if worked hard for.  I've also learned determination and how to be independent, and perseverance and have a lot of hope."
~K. Santos


These are just a few of the many, many comments.  In your prayers tonight will you please bless those who are sacrificing so we can enjoy the freedoms that we have.  Bless our soldiers, their families, and their loved ones.

Be Safe - Be Good - Be Strong