During Christmas morning 2017, Avery’s dad gave him a challenge coin.
On one side, a prayer inscription reads:
Lord, watch over me as I perform my duties and serve my country.
Please grant me the courage, strength and determination to face my responsibilities with a hero’s valor.
The other side is the reason Avery has the coin — a reminder that the United States Army is his career for the next six years.
A Coin and a Connection
Avery’s closest loved ones all have the same Army challenge coin, including both sets of his grandparents. There are coins in California, Michigan, Illinois, and Canada — all in support of Avery’s choice.
They wanted Avery “to feel that he has an anchor back home,” his father says.
When Avery’s dad, Dan, gave the coins away, he wanted to create a circle of safety and love around his son. Included in that circle are two Marine friends, uncles, and a pastor as well.
“This pact, we’re all in this together,” says Dan. “And we carry this in honor of Avery. We’re praying for Avery and thinking about his experience and hoping he’ll be able to grow in wisdom and stature and also that his character will be intact.”
No matter where Avery’s Army travels may take him, the coin will serve as a reminder that his loved ones are thinking of him. He’s currently training as an unmanned aircraft systems operator in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
When 18-year-old Avery told his parents he planned to enlist, they were surprised. Other than grandparents who served in WWII, they didn’t have any immediate family military members serving in the military.
“We’re a new military family. It’s a whole different lifestyle and culture,” says Dan. “Honestly, I was scared. Not unwilling to let him do it, though. I didn’t send him. It was his choice. It’s open-handed. I support him.”
Shortly after his high school graduation, Avery left for Fort Jackson. His younger brother, Aaron, also left the state to do summer work.
It left a sudden and empty nest for Dan and Kate who found a very quiet household surrounding them.
“We went from parenting raccoons to senior citizens overnight,” Dan jokes.
Letter Writing Connections
Over the summer, Dan also had hip surgery, leaving him little to do other than recover and discover a new hobby of writing letters to Avery.
“It was super cool to have a season of time where there was no technology and no communication, which may sound odd,” Dan admits of the limited phone calls and texting.
But he also found technology like Sandboxx to be super helpful in getting letters out quickly.
“To be able to handwrite letters and type them out on Sandboxx and send pics, and being able to have that sort of technology connected to the devices I was already using was super helpful,” he says.
For the nine weeks of Avery’s Fort Jackson training, Dan wrote letter after letter. Once, when Avery had a stack of 12 letters waiting to be opened, his drill sergeant made him do 120 pushups before he could read them.
When he got letters, each one was always different and full of information about the world outside of his training command.
Dan never wanted Avery to get homesick, but he also didn’t want Avery to get boring letters, either.
He’d write about a new topic with each letter.
How the Cubs were doing.
What an empty house felt like.
Silly things that happened throughout the day.
“It was just fun and super easy,” Dan says of writing Sandboxx letters.
A Word of Advice
When he thinks about his son being independent and serving in the armed forces, Dan can’t help but take pause.
His son, a private second class, is following his natural ability to lead and move into a world that Dan doesn’t quite understand, but is still excited to hear about.
“I’m excited. I’m proud. I’m surprised,” he says. “I’m appreciative that he’s found what he loves to do and that he’s found his tribe.”
A Safe Stumbling Place
While some parents find it heartbreaking to see their children enlist, Dan and Kate believe it’s an opportunity for their eldest to soar.
Dan’s advice to parents?
Let your kids live and learn, especially in boot camp and beyond.
“People need a safe place to stumble and soar,” he says, “And so give them that opportunity. The military is not trying to wreck their lives, kick them out, or find ways to make this hard for them. They really are trying to unify all these different people from all these walks of life so they can be the best of the best. And they are going to stumble and they’re going to soar.”