We stayed at the Carefree Inn Lackland – which ended up being a dive and I should have searched for a better place. But I went off the first one on the map that Mandy sent to us from BMT. It was located right outside the gate, however, and that turned out to be a good thing. There were a couple of times when Mike (my husband) had to go back to the room, especially on Sunday, to get some things of Mandy that we forgot – and she wasn't allowed off base during that time so having that hotel right there was nice in that respect. The room was clean and all, but was obviously run-down and well-worn.
We got up early. Everyone was excited and we headed to the Reception Center for the 7:30 a.m. orientation briefing, which is one of several they have scheduled throughout the day on Thursdays (you only need to attend one). Everyone else apparently had the same idea, so we ended up in a line, and stood there for about 45 minutes before they opened the doors. We signed in and several parents had no idea whatsoever what squadron and/or flight their kid was in. We listened to the briefing – or, I should say, Mike did – I just sat there and once in a while Mike would mouth the words of whatever funny stuff the speaker was saying. I liked the rule about the hugs – “Only 5 second hugs are permitted – then you take 3 steps back, then come back for another 5-second hug.” We got done with that orientation and headed outside to line up for the Airmen’s run.
NOTE: Family and friends NEED to know the squadron and flight their son/daughter/loved one is in.
Let me tell you…all morning long I was holding back tears, trying to control my emotions. I was getting so excited at getting to see Mandy – and I'm welling up again, as I write this!!! Anyway, I knew she was going to be in the 11th group back, but then we found out she was going to be in the gray t-shirts so that helped out. I also knew, with her being Element Leader, she would be in the front. What I was NOT prepared for was how different she looked – and how beautiful she looked – and here come the floodgates!! She was sooooo tall, so confident, so happy! Ear to ear grin, and dad standing beside me yelling, “GO MANDY!!!” She heard him too…and I know she was crying tears of happiness along with us. There were lots of parents up & down that run, and we were all crying – and we were all looking at one another laughing too. “That’s my kid!!” So many dads & moms wiping tears away…NOBODY was hiding anything…and they circled around the one parking lot and came back around for a second run. Just AWESOME!
There was nothing to really do for the next four hours so we walked over to the mini-mall to get something to eat and people-watch. At the mini-mall we looked at some souvenirs, and then walked back to the Reception Center, where we looked at more souvenirs. We didn't really buy anything because we didn't know what Mandy had and/or what she wanted us to have. I did order a small plaque for her. It said, “Amanda Drake – Congratulations on your Successful Completion of Basic Military Training – Failure Was Not An Option – You Stayed the Course And Graduated – We are Proud of You – Love, Mom, Dad, Melissa & Grandma. Lackland AFB, Texas 03 Aug 2007.” I felt this plaque explained it best -- the hell she went through and how much she struggled and wanted to get out, but how everyone, from the base chaplain, doctors, her MTI, mom, dad, military postings, etc., were all pulling for her and working with her to help her get through this. She’s planning to hang it up or keep it close by her when we ship her things to her at Sheppard. Plus, seeing her walk around base, so tall, so proud & confident, and so happy – that was awesome in itself. I couldn’t have asked for a better picture.
NOTE: Visitors should know that, while they can browse through the mini-mall, they can't buy anything there, unless they have a Military ID. I saw several parents picking up things to buy, waiting in line, only to get there and find out they couldn’t purchase it without a military ID. Visitors can, however purchase souvenirs at the reception center.
It was getting hotter and hotter and people were griping about the heat and we were wondering about the Coin Ceremony and whether it would be a short or long version. It turned out that they put the black flag up and gave a short version of the ceremony. However, there were, I believe, over 300 grads…only two female flights. Mandy’s flight, when they came down for the ceremony, were the only one in skirts. Very sharp looking bunch of ladies!!! Mike and I joked about who Mandy was going to hug first. We knew about the “releasing” bit, where you touch them, shake their hand, or something so they’re not left standing there alone, so we decided that we were going to stand in a row in front of her, and just tease her – “Which one of us are you going to hug first?” She just looked at us and DOVE RIGHT FOR ME! WHOO-HOO!!! Dad got the next hug and then back to me. Oh man…I could NOT stop crying. I looked around and could not see any other Airmen standing alone – oh, and backing up…the oath they say (for the Coin Ceremony)…yep, that brought the tears too!
We left the Coin Ceremony and I just kept touching her arm, touching her back, just touching her. Mandy said to me,“What are you doing?” I said, “Nothing – I just haven't touched my baby in over 6 weeks.” Then I told her, “You got some ‘splaining to do, Lucy…” She said, “About what?” and I said, “ANYTHING…I just want to hear you talk, so just start talking!!” We went to pick up her pictures, since I had forgotten about that, and her pictures came out BEAUTIFUL. I was really impressed and really liked them.