I don't know when Austin started calling me Big Brother but ever since he did, I've always referred to him as little brother. I'm lucky to have two.
A little over 11 years ago as I left on my mission my youngest brother, Austin, wrote me a short note to take with me. I'm not sure if he knows it or not but I carried that note with me for a full two years. If I ever got discouraged I would think of that note and it always made me smile. Here's what the note said:
'Dear Travis, thank you for helping
me with my math and jumping on the trampoline.'
I was impressed at how much those small and simple things meant to him. This week, as I sat on the bleachers at the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning Georgia and watched the same little brother march in cadence onto the field with the rest of his platoon, I couldn't help but look back at some of the 'little things' that I was thankful for.
I'm not sure how it happened but Austin and I have been really close over the years. I remember him laying next to me with a bottle in his mouth and listening as he would drink it slowly until he fell asleep. As the years went by there were the times he mentioned when we would jump on the trampoline or I would help him with his math. It seems like the older we got, the closer we became.
Despite the 10 year age difference we started hanging out more. We even had our own unspoken traditions, every Summer we made it a point to go to Raging Waters at least once, or we would get together and drink matte on the porch and talk about what was happening in each other's lives. We shared a love for "the number 6" at Wendy's, and we always washed it down with an ice cold Coke.
Of course there are the family vacations but he and I would plan our own vacations. Whether it was a weekend trip to Southern Utah or a surprise birthday trip for my mom in Hawaii we always had a good time wherever we went.
When Austin left a few months ago and began a new chapter in his life I think we both realized that we weren't going to have the same frequency of little moments that we were used to. However, that does not make the ones that we have had since and will have in the future any less meaningful. In fact, their scarcity makes them perhaps even more valuable now.
This week, after his graduation from Basic Training we sat in the hotel swimming pool and talked...my 'little brother' wasn't so little anymore. He described it best when he said that the only thing that changed was that he 'added a new personality setting.' After spending two days with him I agree. He's still the same fun-loving kid he's always been but now there's a more mature side to him. A side that has taken upon him the 'Soldier's Creed.'.
It was a truly unique experience to attend a Basic Training Graduation. As Austin's Platoon marched onto the field the announcer was narrating their training. It was one of those moments when you're overcome with a sense of pride knowing that the person he is referring to in his narrative is the same young boy you said goodbye to two months before. As the soldiers grew closer the narrator ended with these words:
'When called, the Army has never let the Nation down. We will continue to prevail...these victories are not won by technology, but by the sweat and toil and perseverance of the American Soldier. He is well trained, led and equipped, and he has the tremendous support of his Family, Friends, and Nation. He has the confidence and competence to accomplish the mission!'
They stood in perfect formation on the field as the ceremony progressed. Before they did their 'Pass in Review' they recited the Soldier's Creed...that same creed that Austin has so bravely taken upon himself. There is something about listening to 240 kids say in unison, 'i will never accept defeat, i will never quit, i will never leave a fallen comrade' and knowing that they mean it.
One of the things I found most impressive is that despite their different backgrounds and varying reasons for enlistment these men and women, young and old, have come to share a common purpose and work toward a common goal...maintaining the freedoms that we enjoy at whatever high price they may be asked to pay.
I have a greater sense of reverence and respect for all of those that serve in the armed forces and especially those that serve alongside my little brother. In the coming years as he advances in rank raises his hand to show respect for those with a higher authority than his own, I will always take my hat off to him and salute him.