As many 2013 high school graduates begin the first steps of the rest of their lives — furthering their education in college, starting careers, or pursuing other goals and dreams — some others are leaving home to serve their country in the armed forces.
And with that decision, their families are beginning a journey of their own.
Jimmy and Saba Tanner’s son, Nick, 18, recently left Covington to attend basic training for the U.S. Marine Corps at Parris Island, S.C.
Nick, who graduated from Eastside High School in May, enlisted in the Marines in August, and he signed an eight-year contract. As to why he joined the Marines, he said: "Freedom is always a good thing to fight for. And it’s definitely worth fighting for."
Jimmy said Nick was 15 years old when he told his family he wanted to be a Marine. That announcement, during dinner, left Tanner and his wife "surprised," he said.
"We were very proud and excited, but at that point we said, ‘We’ll see how he feels a year from now and see how he feels when he graduates,’" Jimmy said.
Now that the Tanners’ son is officially enlisted, both parents are pursuing information about their son’s new journey. They are finding support and information at home and beyond.
Saba, who comes from a military background, with her father and other relatives serving in various branches, remembers coming across a letter online from a mom whose son had just gotten out of training.
"That was very helpful to me to read what she experienced," Saba said.
Jimmy also said their church family at First Baptist Church in Covington has supported the family.
"They (the FBC church family) did acknowledge. … We came forward and they asked people to come up and pray," Jimmy said. "It was really moving to have people come up and pray with you, and ask God to protect (Nick), and ask God to guide him and lead him and also to provide for us, too."
As the Tanners have leaned on their church family for support, Stephanie Lindsey, whose son Shaquille Lindsey, 20, joined the U.S. Air Force July 2012, said friends, family and Facebook groups have helped ease her family’s anxiety about her oldest child’s decision to serve.
Shaquille, a 2011 Newton High School graduate, graduated from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas in May. He attended school for a year in South Carolina before deciding he wanted to join the Air Force.
Stephanie said she and her husband, Christopher, are proud of their son’s choice to serve, but she admitted that at first she was nervous about the life-changing decision.
"He came up to my office one day and he said, ‘Mom, I’m leaving out Nov. 17.’ I said ‘Before you leave out, you have to go through a process. You have to be sworn in. You have to do all these different things.’ He said, ‘I’ve already done it,’" she said.
"I was shocked, because that showed me that he was very serious about it. … The next day, after I kind of said, ‘Yeah whatever,’ his form came in the mail saying that he was leaving out on that date in November. So, it was very shocking, I was very depressed."
"You already know the sacrifices that military people make and there are serious sacrifices. Because at any time, you can be shipped off to war. And from a mother’s standpoint, anything can happen," Stephanie said.
"But the fact that you would make that kind of sacrifice for people who don’t know you; for people who don’t care about you. … I kept saying to him, ‘You know you don’t have to go into the military. There are other things that you could do. But it was something he wanted to do, and I wanted to support him."
Stephanie said she has followed a group on Facebook that helps families deal with the transition, but said she really found support from a local friend and mother whose son was scheduled to leave for the Air Force at the same time as Shaquille.
"She was a big, big help," Lindsey said. "She explained to me what I needed to prepare for; she told me about the website. That was a big help for me because her son was going through it at the same time. She helped me kind of understand."
Teri and Chris Haler’s oldest son, Justin, 22, signed up to join the U.S. Navy in October 2012. Like Stephanie Lindsey, Teri said the military wasn’t the career path she’d envisioned for her son.
However, after watching her son work at several local restaurants after graduating from Eastside High School, she said that she and her husband casually mentioned the military as an option to consider.
"I was always fearful when the recruiters would come to the high school and talk to the students. I’d threaten them practically, ‘Don’t you dare sign anything,’" Teri recalled saying to her two sons.
"But after seeing him graduate high school after 2009, there just weren’t a lot of options locally for career paths. I think that’s even tough as a parent to see your child struggle to get started."
"Once he announced he enrolled in the Navy, I was like, ‘Maybe it’s not so bad after all. It provided direction in his life and great benefits, regular pay and they get to travel and see the world and they get to meet and make lifelong friends."
Justin went to the Great Lakes, Ill., naval base and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for training, and is now stationed in Kings Bay, Ga. Teri said through his journey, she has found a website for Navy moms to be helpful with finding groups and forums.
"They have any topic you can think of; they already have documents of what to expect week by week when they are in boot camp, when they are in A-School, which is apprentice school. And then even, as far as what career path that they choose, you can find forums depending on the career path," Teri said.
"If you were to go to the graduations, like boot camp graduation or the school graduation, they even have meet-ups beforehand, (where) you get to meet some of the other parents, and then you can keep in touch afterwards."
Teri said she felt her son’s decision was, "a huge life-changing choice for the better."
The local families, like other military families, know that they are in this for the long haul. As long as their children are serving, they’ll be watching world events, reaching out to other parents, and swelling with pride.
"I’m excited that he’ll get to have that experience of seeing something other than Georgia," Saba Tanner said of her son, Nick. Nick’s dad Jimmy added, "We feel very proud of Nick for wanting to do this. I think it’s a very wise choice. We are very proud that he feels the patriotism that he wants to serve his country."