My Favorite Promotion of All Time
Promotions are a special part of our parents' and family members' military careers. If you have a family member in the military, chances are you’ve been to a promotion ceremony. Growing up, I remember how important the ceremonies had to be. How everything had to go according to plan in a strict manner. It was a lot like a checklist to me, where you completed one thing and moved onto the next in an orderly fashion. I thought that was how I was going to feel when my dad had his promotion ceremony this year, strict and immovable. This one was a very big deal to my dad and our family so I figured the over the top factor would be through the roof, as is true with most promotion ceremonies.
Oddly enough, this promotion was not at all what I expected, and I don’t think anything could have prepared my family for how insane this year would be.
The year started off like any other, but we knew we would only be here a year so it felt hard for us to make friends and connections. While we did, the friendships we made were few and far between. Then, the year 2020 fell upon us. What first started as a year of hope for many people, a real chance to start off new, turned on its side. The world fell less into chaos and more into silence, as everything shut down because of the spread of Corona. Everyone was stuck at home, and nobody knew for how long. This changed my dad’s promotion ceremony drastically and in ways my family, including myself, weren’t at first comfortable with.
But now I think that all the drastic changes made the ceremony even more special to everyone.
My dad is going to be officially promoted in November, so this was his frocking ceremony. People from the Meadows, from my dad’s War College seminar, his Army colleagues who I would now consider family, and people my parents have touched and welcomed into their lives gathered in a small crowd. My parents tried as hard as they could to make this as special as possible. While many family members, friends, and more Army colleagues of my dad could not make it, my parents were determined to make sure they saw the ceremony. They set up a Zoom call and a Facebook live so everyone could watch because this was so important. They hooked our computer up to the TV so that everyone huddled around could see.
We started off the ceremony in a way I will never forget. I got to do something special for my dad, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
I played the national anthem on my French horn. While not perfect, I was proud that I got to do something so significant for my dad. I never thought I would be able to because at typical promotion ceremonies someone else sings or plays. It felt so elating that I was able to do that for him. I always want to make him proud, and in that moment I know I did.
I resumed my position next to my sisters and my mom as we waited for the speeches to come. It was the first ceremony that I was so close to my dad while the important stuff happened. We stood almost feet away from him when usually we sit from afar and watch from chairs, something that doesn’t feel intimate. This did.
General D. Scott McKean usually delivers the speeches for my dad. I remember the story he always tells about when he first met my dad. I’ve heard the story so many times but it never gets old for me. The two of them have known each other for years and our families have been and done so much together. We’ve spent all sorts of holidays together, and this past November was the first time we had shared a Thanksgiving meal in many years. It was sad that this was the first time he didn’t deliver the speech in person, but that’s where my parents' brilliant thinking came into play. The two of them had spent the whole night before making sure it was perfect, which resulted in a lot of giggles and reverbs from the TV as we set up the call. He got to deliver his speech, and while not in the most ideal way, it didn’t make it any less beautiful. I still got to hear the same old spiel from my Uncle Scott (we are not biologically related but we will always be family) and got to laugh as he jokingly teased my dad, which we both love to do. As the ceremony went on everyone watched carefully as we each removed pins and ranking patches, something we also never get to do. I was so nervous when I did it because I really didn’t want to mess anything up. Turns out I was overreacting a lot and the ones who really should have been worried were my sisters, who had to get my dad’s pins from his hats off their “damnits.” Perfectly named in my opinion.
The whole situation felt so intimate to me, especially because sometimes promotions feel like a big show. From what I’ve seen, there was always the Cavalry, the loud gunshots, the marching, and the large speech my dad gave. All are beautiful, but sometimes it was hard to feel included in something that is so much bigger than you are. This time, the way my dad looked back at us when he mentioned my sisters and I choked me up. When he would talk about us he would always talk to a crowd, but this time he was talking to us.
That, to me, was the most special feeling in the world.
I do agree that Corona has changed so much about our world in the span of only a couple months, but I think what some people fail to realize is how much we’ve come together because of the tragedies we’ve faced. This I exactly how I felt as that small crowd of people gathered to watch my dad be promoted in the most simple but heartfelt ways. I feel as if I’ve gotten to experience my life and the world around me in a completely different way, from a whole new perspective. I think I’ve learned more about myself from being in moments of what felt like pure isolation. The whole idea of this promotion let me down at first. This wasn’t how I wanted the year to end, I didn’t want my dad to be brought down by the fact that this promotion, this graduation, was nothing like he envisioned.
And yet, I think that’s why it was so much more special.
The way our small community came together, whether over Zoom or socially distanced, with masks and large gaps in the crowd, was truly inspirational. It was something I’d never thought I’d see.
This promotion will remain in my heart as something life-changing. It made me realize that, even in times of despair, life goes on and we learn to adapt and grow. We find ways to connect, to get back on our feet. The smiles of friends and family as my dad stood there, happily taking another step in his life, showed that even though life is uncertain, the people we surround ourselves with and the things we experience and do help us find the strength to keep pushing.
We’re pushing. It may be a long and painful uphill journey, but we should never stop.