Letters, calls, and the march from Jacks Valley

Life as a military academy parent is all about milestones and the USAFA Class of 2025 is no different. We (somehow) made it through I Day, a brief phone call that evening, and another call a few weeks later. Finally, letters began to arrive. Then, when we could divert our eyes away from hunting on Webguy or commiserating with other parents on Facebook, we zeroed in on the March to Jacks Valley.

Finding a positive photo is the highlight of the week.

For us, the letters have been interesting, if somewhat straightforward, though that’s no surprise given our Basic Cadet’s general demeanor. It’s like she has a checklist she feels she has to cover to placate our curiosity. She will always respond to specifics in notes we’ve written (“I’m glad the garden is going well” or “Tell Noah I’m glad he passed his test”) and give us a rundown on the food (“they served [insert meal here] and it was ok, but I wouldn’t touch the [insert food here]. It was nasty.”) She will always tell us she is tired of the yelling and stuff that is, “legit, ridiculous” as is the nature of a Preppie who has been through something similar to BCT. Oh, and she still hates marching because she is “legit, horrible at it.” She’s also keeping us updated on her attempt to make the cheerleading squad, which has her mother wringing her hands.

I love when other parents share their Basic Cadet’s letters – whether it’s pictures or excerpts – because it’s great to see “how the other half lives.” One parent received a hilarious illustration of BCT life. Another an invitation to a long-distance tic-tac-toe game. I love when Plebes (USNA) and Basics (USAFA) get creative in the midst of the high-pressure marathon of their summer.

Over the course of a Plebe Summer, a Preppie Summer, and now a BCT summer, we’ve seen consistency in letters, usually they are fairly even-handed and filled with random details. Phone calls, well, that’s a whole different story.

True story.

Our Basic’s calls have been semi-stream-of-conciousness, repeating some of what’s in her letters but also taking the time to share some funny stories. We mostly listen and when Mom asks a question, I usually know the answer before it’s given, because the answer is usually, “I don’t know, Mom. They don’t tell us anything.” But phone calls can be a little more challenging for us parents. Until letters, phone calls tend to be a real snapshot in time, sometimes catching the whole picture, but sometimes an outlying moment. I’ve read Facebook posts from parents who had phone calls that ranged from gut-wrenching to sad to uplifting.

The difficult phone calls are the biggest challenge. You don’t have the time to really talk through anything. You can make a suggestion or ask them to get more information, because there’s no “call me back later and tell me how it went.” As we all try to get used to really letting go and letting them figure it out, we are learning difficult lessons, too. I struggle with this one quite a bit because I try to talk through things with my kids. Rather than be prescriptive, I tried to help them look at all the considerations and possible consequences so they can make a sound decision. The hope is that you’ve trained them for moments like these when you are no longer there to walk them through the process, but as a parent, you know it’s going to be like them learning to walk. It’s exciting to see them take those first steps, but you know they’re going to go down at some point.

It’s against this backdrop that we wait for more milestones, most recently the march to and from Jacks Valley. I loved the mythical build up. Our daughter said her cadre told her that Jacks Valley “didn’t really exist.” Other stories ranged from nights sleeping under the stars with nothing more than your backpack, hunting and foraging for all of your meals, and 20-hour stretches of nonstop PT. In the end, the reality wasn’t quite so epic, but it was pretty cool.

I’m convinced that my daughter is part spider.

Our Basic’s brother said, “This is really going to be like a vacation for her, because she’s actually going to be doing stuff and not all that other stuff that makes absolutely no sense.” Given our daughter’s athletic profile, it was hard to argue with that. And the call after Jacks Valley confirmed it – she loved the obstacle courses, the lodging was pretty nice, and the worst thing about it was coming back with a cold (“and, no, I’m not going to medical for this, they take way too long. I’ll just be a sickly child for a few days.”).

Our March From Jacks Valley: How it started (dry, clear skies), how it finished (a little damp).

For our part, we did our virtual march, trekking 6.2 miles during a humidity-drenched afternoon. When I first heard of the idea (and saw parents posting about it on Facebook), I didn’t really give it much thought. But after we got the phone call upon her return, I turn to my wife and said, “let’s do it.” So I used Google Maps to sketch out an interesting route and we took off the next afternoon, joined by a brief shower at the midpoint and another burst near the end. We walked a lot of it in relative silence, but we also talked a lot about our daughter, the next few months, and the prospects for getting the family together for the holidays. After COVID stripped us of our son’s Commissioning Week and other activities we had put off until his senior, we had promised ourselves that we wouldn’t miss any opportunities with our daughter at USAFA; we know the clock is ticking and will move faster – a lot faster – once her Doolie year is over.

With that, a number of milestones are already in the books and we’re looking forward to the next two – A(cceptance) Day and Parents Weekend. We know that even though these past few weeks have dragged on, the time is flying by and we are trying hard not to blink and miss anything. We know that we can’t control much of anything these days, least of all the clock.

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