Open, honest, and humorous. These are three words that I would use to describe my relationship with my brother. Ever since childhood I can remember my brother and me being good friends. Jared has always been the stubborn and loud little brother while I remain the older and compassionate sister. We grew up playing games, hanging out with mutual friends, and even participating in after school sports together. Rarely argumentative or mean to each other, Jared and I tend to embrace our similarities and common interests. Within the past couple of years our relationship has without a doubt gotten stronger.
I currently live and attend school in Milwaukee; Jared lives in McFarland with my parents. Between our busy schedules and the distance Jared and I have to take advantage of anytime we get to spend with each other. We talk on the phone regularly, meet each other for lunch or dinner when in the same town, or plan outings to meet at. Although Jared is done with school he still lives at home, which often leads to frustrating phone calls and long drawn out conversations on how he needs to move out because “mom is driving me nuts!” These conversations humor me, but again make me grateful for our open and honest relationship. I try to give him encouraging words of advice based on my own experience growing up. It wasn’t until recently, however, that we kept in touch this often. It was after Jared decided to become part of the Air Guard that I feel we officially became best friends.
After graduating high school he found himself on the path of pursing heating and cooling with a small independently owned company. While attending night classes and working full time Jared became burnt out and uninterested in his profession. The majority of Jared’s friends went off to four year colleges, leaving him home alone. He had reached a point in his life where he felt helpless and deserted. Unsure of what he wanted to do he began to discuss the possibility of joining the military. It was through careful research and time that Jared decided to consider the possibility of joining the Air Force. Prior to committing to anything he wanted to get his facts straight. To do this he met with family friends who were or still are committed to the military and discussed the pros and cons that come with being a service member. He toured the Truax Air Base in Madison to develop a better feel for what would be his future work environment. He even attended multiple introduction meetings to discuss the specific job opportunities in the Air Guard. Confident in his research and with a gut feeling, Jared decided to officially sign the paper work and commit the next four years of his life to the Air Guard. I can remember the day he came home from the recruiting station. He approached our kitchen door with a grin from ear to ear; his face was beaming with happiness. His first words were, “I know I made the right decision.”
It was in June of 2010 that Jared left for San Antonio, TX to attend boot camp. For three months the only form of communication I had with Jared consisted of written letters. It was during these three months that I not only feared for my brother’s safety, but also became the proudest sister ever. Never before had I been exposed to Jared’s personal writing. It wasn’t until I received my first letter that I became aware of Jared’s honest and emotional writing. He began his first letter with “I got your letter a couple days ago but haven’t gotten the time to write till now. You have no idea how refreshing it is to hear from you. I miss everyone so much, but the weeks are flying by. You’d be proud, I can run 1.5 miles in 9 ½ minutes. I think that is pretty good considering I’m not an avid runner. I’ll run that race with you when I get home.” It was through words and honest text that Jared expressed his emotions, accomplishments, frustrations, and stories. For the first time Jared told me he was lonely, sad, and frustrated. But he also told me that he was motivated, proud, strong, and taking on the role of a leader. It was through pen and ink that Jared and I developed a strong and extremely powerful friendship. As the next three months passed by Jared and I continued to write. Receiving mail became an anticipated daily routine; I always had my eye out for letters from Texas, but before I knew it I was on a plane to see Jared graduate from the Air Force in San Antonio, TX.
I will never forget the day that I watched Jared graduate from boot camp. For the first time in 90 days I saw my brother’s face. I can remember the day like it was yesterday. My family and I woke up at the crack of dawn and arrived on base at 5:30 am. The graduation ceremony wasn’t scheduled to begin until 12 pm, but we arrived early to catch a glimpse of the airman’s run. This was the morning run that Jared and his flight participated in every morning; normally this run isn’t open to the public, but today it was open to viewing for family and friends. I was especially excited for this run because Jared was fortunate enough to be picked out of his flight to represent his group as the guide on bear. This role meant that Jared would have to attend extra training and commit to additional responsibilities. Ultimately he was what his commander viewed as a top and superior airman; he would lead his flight in march and carry the flag during all of the ceremonies preceding the airman’s run. It was on this particular morning that hundreds of families and friends lined a two mile stretch of road, all anticipating the same anxious emotion of seeing a loved one. I remember staring at the hill to my left, desperate to see any sign of movement. It was at 7 am sharp that we saw the top of an American flag peak over the horizon. My heart raced and my eyes glazed with tears of anticipation. I looked to my right to see my mom and dad holding each other, both expressing emotions of pride and excitement. As we awaited for the runners to pass us minutes seemed to turn into light years. The warm and humid heat became overwhelming. Sauna like rays struck down on my pale and freckled face. I recall peering down at my dusty flip flops. My toes were covered in reddish tinted sand. I kicked some rocks and leaned against the curb, suddenly reacting to the sound of chants. Before I knew it groups of men and women in mesh shorts and different colored t-shirts were passing me. Jared had informed us prior to flying down that he was in flight 407 and that his group would be wearing neon yellow shirts; he would be the last person in the group carrying the flag. The only problem was there were multiple groups in yellow shirts; I feared missing his group. I quickly thought of something that I might recognize. I recalled that he bought new Nike tennis shoes prior to leaving for boot camp. I stared down at the black pavement in attempts to pick out a single pair of tennis shoes amongst the hundreds of stomping feet. Suddenly I spotted his yellow tennis shoes! I glanced up to a young man holding a flag and saw my brothers face. It was strong and determined. It was sun kissed and cased in sweat. His eyes. I will never forget his eyes. They were courageous. It was at this instant that I became overwhelmed with emotions. This was the first time I had seen my brother in over 90 days. It was only a quick and sudden glimpse, but it was my brother. As I turned to watch his flight continue their run toward the South I exhaled. I exhaled happiness, pride, nervousness, and satisfaction. Jared did it! My younger brother did it. My heart was racing with excitement and relief.
After the run we met Jared in a large and open parking lot. Hundreds of family members and air men circled the lot, all in search for a familiar face. I thought to myself, “How in the world will I find him?” It was at this point that I wished I was ten feet tall. I contemplated climbing a tree, but objected to this embarrassing action. I looked at both my parents; they shrugged their shoulders and said, “Guess we’ll just have to wait for it to clear out.” Not sooner did my dad finish his sentence that I saw Jared along the far edge of the cement. He peered out to the crowd with a frustrated and anticipated look. Without thinking I ran. I pushed through groups of families and streamlined it in Jared’s direction. I looked up again and recognized that he noticed me. He smirked and shook his head in embarrassment. Within seconds I embraced my brother with hugs, laughter, and tears. I recall my brother pulling away and reaching for his sleeve; his face smeared with tears. His first words were “Hey. I’ve missed you.” This short phrase and statement will always remain in my heart. So simple and common, but in the moment, ever so powerful.
Reflecting on this empowering and emotional day makes me realize the amount of respect and pride I have for my brother. Today I can still look in Jared’s eyes and see the dedication and passion he has for his career. I can tell he is truly happy and confident with his current lifestyle; he is now working full time at the Truax Airbase in Madison, WI and has been awarded three honorable airmen awards since his return from boot camp. As the youngest airman on his base, Jared has earned both respect and value from his colleagues based on his dedicated and passionate work ethic. Just the other day Jared called to tell me he had been offered an advancement in his office. I could tell from his voice and rapid speech that he was extremely excited. As I congratulated him over the phone I couldn’t help but feel somewhat flattered that he had called to tell me about his achievement. He knew that I would want to be updated on this opportunity and it made me happy to know that he was thinking of me. Jared will always be my hero and inspiration; just a year ago he was lost and unsure of where he wanted to go with his life and today he is making advancements and strides in a field he is truly passionate about. He found who he was and has done nothing but prospered from his initial decision. Scenarios such as these have led me to appreciate the close bond that we have. Jared is my brother and best friend and I know that he is someone that I can always turn to.