Watching a Child Transform

Parents describe how service helped their children develop new qualities like confidence, determination and pride.

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David Smith: For me, the proudest moment was the day that we saw him at graduation, because you could see the transformation, and you could see that he now had a sense of duty, something that he was going to do, a job that he wanted to do.

Harold Stewart: Once graduation and you transform from being a civilian to a Marine, it was just one of the best things in the world.

Holly Clayman: He had pride of himself, and he hadn’t had that yet. He had respect for himself and respect for others around him — not only other Military but just the people around him.

Barbara Heinz: He was a little bit lost. You know, he was in college, but he didn’t really have any direction, and then when he graduated from boot camp he knew what he wanted to do, and he said, “Oh, I’m going to do this for 30 years,” which he may not do, but, you know…I mean, he — he grew.

Dawn Woodings: They’ve got a look on their face that says, “I am proud. I did it. I made it. I am a Soldier.”

Louis Arroyo: I mean, it’s just a remarkable transformation that happens from the day they leave your home to the day they graduate. They’re highly disciplined. They’re motivated. They’re proud.

Darlene Anderson: I saw my boy become a man. I could see the confidence.

Edward Smigelski: He’d matured an awful lot. I mean, just because he used to be a wild young man. He’s just very more mature, even more so now. This experience for him has really helped him grow up.

Rusty Mead: It’s made her a more responsible young lady. It has. I can see it in her. She’s just a more responsible person.

Marc Danziger: I think it grew him up. I mean, this is the classic thing that people say the Military does, and I think it really did for him, and I think he sees the world much more clearly. He sees himself much more clearly.

Mary McHugh: The transformation was immense, and yes, it did alleviate a lot of my apprehension. It was truly…he had become the man that he said he was going to become.

Monique Morris: He just changed a lot, like, I don’t know…it was weird just to see him grown up, I guess, grown up. It took my breath away.

Developing Determination and Character

Like Keith, Linda wanted to make sure her son was fully informed about the Marine Corps. She was also concerned about Keith's safety. She said, "I am a mother, and I don't know any mother out there who wouldn't have their heart just bend at the thought of their son or daughter being in a place that there's nothing they can do."

Keith also admitted that he wondered if Robert had the discipline required to succeed in Recruit Training. Robert reassured his parents that he knew what he wanted to do and that he wanted to see his plans through. Ultimately, Keith and Linda chose to trust their son's judgment.

It paid off. At Robert's graduation ceremony at Parris Island, South Carolina, Keith and Linda were amazed at how disciplined Robert had become. Despite a foot injury he sustained during Recruit Training, Robert graduated on time. Keith said, "I was very proud of Robert for sticking it out and showing determination and will. I saw a lot of character within him come out."

Proud of His Sacrifice

Once she saw Robert in uniform, Linda also noticed a few side benefits to Marine Corps discipline. She said, "His uniform looked awesome. I was saying, 'Your shirt, it's perfect. And where did you get this ironed?' The creases were incredible. And he said, 'What do you mean where did I send it? I ironed this!' And I said, 'Whoa! The Marines are worth everything to me! A man learned how to iron!' "

After graduation and further training, Robert deployed to Iraq twice, once as a machine-gunner and once as a Humvee driver. Linda admitted she had a hard time knowing that her son might be in danger, but she is proud of the sacrifice Robert was willing to make.

"The hardest part is the obvious part — the danger of it. The danger has got to be the hardest because you never know," Linda said.

Service That Matters

Staying in touch with Robert through the phone, instant messaging, email and care packages helped Keith and Linda with the strain of being separated from their son. Robert also sent pictures of himself spending time with an Iraqi family. Keith said, "There he is with this Iraqi family that looks like they're thankful that they're there to help them have the freedoms they would like to have. That's very much worth it."

In his line of work, Robert has faced challenges and danger. Keith and Linda have worried the whole way, but they remain proud of what their son has decided to do. Linda said, "He probably feels like he's making a difference. He's doing something that means something, that counts for something."

Robert hasn't made firm decisions about the future, but his parents are there to support him. Keith said, "I know he has enough respect for what he's doing that he sees a future in it, which I think is a good thing for him, and that he can take advantage of that and even get an education while he's in the Military. That will be the best route for Robert. And we are definitely behind him in that as well."

"I saw a lot of character [come out] within him."