Natasha is joining the Army and my wife and I couldn't be more proud. Indeed, our 24-year-old has been through her share of fits and starts these past few years. She earned her two-year degree in general studies and built and nurtured a tight circle of clean-cut friends. But, in terms of her career, she was always a bit tentative. She yearned for something different. Meanwhile, she's never been above getting her hands dirty. Her résumé includes tours of duty at Pasta Plus, Office Depot and UPS.
Now, though, she is expected to report for basic training this summer at Fort Jackson, S.C. It means nine weeks of early-morning roll calls, rigorous workouts, Army chow and — this is critical — mentally making a break from email, texting and any other electronic means of communication, save the old-fashioned telephone (well, cell phone). But that, too, is limited to only one hour on Sundays.
"I know I can do it," she says. "It means getting to know people looking into each other's eyes and not on Facebook. That's so...artificial, so forced.
"True friendship," she went on, "goes much, much deeper. It has a spiritual foundation. It's taken me this long to realize that."
She's knows she's ready for action. And her reasons for joining are rock-solid.
"The Army provides education and a list of career choices," she said. "I want to get into military intelligence and work for the government, maybe the National Security Agency. I want a job I wouldn't mind doing for the next 25 or 30 years."
Natasha knows it would be a mistake to show up for training camp in lousy condition. So her weekends are filled with doing countless push-ups and sit-ups and running the track at Laurel High and Fort Meade at all-out speed.
"I actually keep a log of my exercise," she said. "Another future soldier and I work on the elliptical in order to improve our cardioid conditions. We also do the weights and strengthen our abs."
Our daughter's best friend since first-grade has been Erin Southard. Although young adulthood has set them on diverging courses, the two have managed to keep close tabs on each other. When they're together, strolling the mall or sharing lunch, Erin loves introducing her buddy to random people like cashiers and telling them that Natasha is going into the military.
Natasha said that really means a lot to her.
"Erin's helped me build my confidence. And I try to build her up whenever I get the chance," she said. "We'll always be close. I cherish that."
Natasha has been in our lives since 1994, when my wife journeyed all the way to Russia in the bitter cold, to a forgotten orphanage just south of the end of civilization. Natasha was 6 and ready for a change. So were her new parents. That fact resonates in her decision to choose to protect and defend her adopted land. "I'm glad I came over to the states," she said, a softness in her voice that I have come to appreciate as I get grow older. "I've had a better life here. I've been given a second chance. You and Mom have instilled in me honesty, integrity and morality. I would have never been given that opportunity back there."
Right after I chatted with Natasha, I was driving up Route 1. A young guy began laying on his horn and flashing me a thumbs up while pointing to the back of the car. At first, I thought one of my tires was flat or a window was broken. Then it dawned on me: He was giving his spirited approval over the yellow words on the ancient station wagon's bumper sticker: GoArmy.com.
You go, Natasha.