The problem with uniform policies is that everything doesn’t always fit in a tidy box and it becomes difficult to find a workable solution when challenges arise.
The Dalles High School came across that issue recently when two Marine families requested that their sons be allowed to wear dress blues when marching with the Class of 2018 on June 9. Seniors Brayden Anderson and Zain Hartsook finished classes early to undergo three months of basic training at Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego, Calif.
The school’s graduation dress code requires all seniors to wear a traditional cap and gown. The reasoning of administrators is that uniformity keeps the focus of the ceremony on the academic years of graduates.
Initially, Principal Nick Nelson offered to let Anderson and Hartsook wear red, white and blue military cords to denote their service; and to have them identified by rank when they received diplomas and were listed in the program.
Veterans in the community were upset about what they viewed as a slight to young men who are willing to risk their lives to protect millions of Americans they don’t even know.
Marine moms Jennifer Anderson (Brayden) and Heather Davis (Zain) felt Nelson’s proposal was unacceptable because their sons would still be prevented from wearing dress blues.
Nelson then found a way to accommodate the Marines and still adhere to policy. He offered to allow Anderson and Hartsook to join the color guard in their uniforms and walk up the aisle. They will then slip into another room to don their cap and gown before joining classmates. The moms liked this plan.
“It’s a beautiful compromise,” said Davis.
Kudos to Nelson for coming up with a win-win solution. He has taken a defensible stance given that Anderson and Harstook have answered a higher calling. They are likely to see and endure hardships (and already have) that only 1 percent of the population serving in the military, and their families, can truly understand.
In fact, as I write this, Anderson is undergoing his first day in the Crucible, the 54-hour test that every recruit must overcome to earn the title of Marine. The Crucible involves food and sleep deprivation and over 45 miles of marching. Teams of recruits are pitted against a barrage of day and night obstacles and must work together to solve problems and help each other along the way.
The event is considered a rite of passage by the Marines because it teaches recruits what they can accomplish through shared sacrifice. Teams cannot succeed without everyone doing his part.
For those of you who don’t know, I am a Marine mom. My son has been through the rigors of boot camp in a branch of the military that refers to itself as “Modern Day Spartans,” a warrior society in ancient Greece.
I fully understand the anxiety that Jennifer and Heather face because I, too, had to rely on letters to communicate with my child during three months of grueling training.
This is an example of those worrisome letters from 2002: “I’m still a squad leader. We had to dress down a couple of recruits the other day. One of them, only 17, snuck out during his fire-watch, made a call home, and got caught. The other told the senior drill instructor what to do with himself. Both of them spent two days getting smoked, curled up on the quarterdeck crying.
“But crying doesn’t help anyone here. I’ve almost broken twice, once during a rifle workout in the sun and the other yesterday when the squad leaders got ITd (Incentive/Individ-ual Training for discipline) three times because we messed up in Initial Drill. We spent over an hour total time on the quarterdeck, most of it doing pushups.
“We also had a recruit go down during the Physical Fitness Test a couple days ago from heat stroke. He collapsed and crapped all over himself with a temperature of 107 degrees.”
That cheery little note caused me plenty of angst — and that was just the beginning of the stress.
There will be only a few times in this life-changing journey that Jennifer and Heather will have their sons agree to show up in a uniform for any type of civilian ceremony.
Things get very real and warriors distance themselves from people who do not understand their world when they have to cope with the brutal realities of war and military life. They become increasingly focused on their mission: Keeping America safe.
My son deployed five times to Iraq and Afghanistan during his nearly 13 years of service. I had to get used to calls in the middle of the night from a satellite phone with gunfire in the background.
One time my son called and was clearly upset, although he was not allowed to share what had happened. He told me to watch the news.
“It’s big, mom,” he said.
The next day, I saw a TV report about a huge explosion that had taken place in Afghanistan and reduced a building to rubble, killing eight Marines. I knew that my son had been there.
Then, there was the day when a vehicle my son was traveling in hit a roadside bomb and he sustained a traumatic brain injury. No stress there!
“Civilians” cannot understand what it means to send a loved one into harm’s way. In addition, military families often become political targets. People feel free to vent their angst with the war. Some even insult your child’s service — I was told that it was “immoral” for Jesse to participate in an “illegal war” while he was going three months without a shower and camping out in 130 degree heat surrounded by the enemy in Iraq.
Jennifer and Heather have given America their sons and this community has the opportunity to thank them. Zain and Brayden earned the title of Marine while in high school and their willingness to take this hard road should be rewarded.
There is no greater achievement than the willingness to lay down your life for others. I pray that day never comes for Zain and Brayden, but I honor them because I know what the cost of their service could be.
Thank you Principal Nelson for easing the burden of my Semper Fi sisters.