Here’s What I Learned When My Brother Joined the Military

Growing up, my brother and I were inseparable. I would hold his little chubby hand and walk him to his kindergarten classroom to make sure he got there safely. We would shoot BB guns and play baseball with the neighborhood kids together, laughing until our stomachs hurt.

In high school, we weren’t as close. I was the nerdy bigger sister, and he cared more about hanging out with his friends, which doesn’t quite make the best pair. We would constantly be quarreling and even go days remaining mad at each other. I missed how close we were, but at the end of the day, I knew we would always be there for each other.

When he first said he wanted to join the Air Force to serve our country, I was ecstatic for him. After all, it was the perfect fit. He had always wanted to travel and couldn’t find a particular field that interested him, so I thought it was the perfect choice to explore his options. After surmounting the barriers of the pandemic, he was finally able to enlist.

While at first I was excited for him, that feeling seemed to be waning. After learning we wouldn’t be able to talk to him in boot camp except for once-a-week phone calls and then the possibility of him serving overseas for years— I was terrified. I had constantly had him in the room down the hall for 18 years of my life. Even when I had gone off to college, I still came home a lot and he even came up to Gainesville, Florida, to go to football games with me. How was I going to get through three years of not being able to see him?

When he first left for bootcamp, it was hard. The calls were sporadic and there was no set time, so my mom would have her phone by her side constantly. Because of COVID-19, he was able to have a couple more calls than they would usually allow, so sometimes I would be able to hear his latest triumphs. But I also got to hear his voice cracking as he said how much he missed us and how hard boot camp was. It was difficult knowing he was struggling but not being able to comfort him.

Typically, once bootcamp is done, the family can travel to the graduation ceremony before the soldier is sent off to technical school, where they learn skills they need for their assignment. However, with COVID-19, family wasn’t allowed at the graduation ceremony. Instead, we all coordinated to watch the Facebook livestream and take screenshots when we would see my brother on-screen.

It sucked missing out on such an important moment for him, but I was beyond proud that day. I bragged to everyone at work that I was using my break to watch my brother graduate and finally be recognized for all his hard work.

After that came his new assignment: three years in Okinawa, Japan. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited for him (and definitely jealous). But him being stationed overseas meant that we likely wouldn’t see him until he came back. He was able to surprise us to come home for two weeks over Christmas, which made my mom both elated and annoyed as she wasn’t able to get him many gifts in time.

I noticed something in those two weeks. One, I noticed how much older he looked, even though it had been less than a year since I had last seen him. Two, I noticed that he and I got along much better, like how we did in the past. The phone calls, FaceTimes, and video chats definitely couldn’t make up for the real thing, but it drew us closer as siblings. While there are still some fights that he may pick or I get annoyed, we are more supportive and generally open with each other about our lives. Even now as he is in month three of being in Japan, I make sure that we FaceTime or call each other to keep updated on our lives.

In high school, I took advantage of the fact that he was always going to be there. Now that he wasn’t, I realized just how much I missed being close with him; like when we would try to drive normally while playing Grand Theft Auto or staying up late watching SpongeBob. This has made me less reactive whenever we have a disagreement and more receptive to learning how to be a better big sister.

If your friend or loved one has plans of going into the military, or if you are simply finding yourselves disagreeing a lot lately, don’t take them for granted now. There will come a time where you can’t just drop by and see them. There will come a time where facetime is the closest you can get to comforting them during hard times. There will also come a time when you may regret not making more of an effort previously, like me.

While I likely won’t see my brother for three years, I feel better knowing that this experience has made me want to be a better sister. Especially in the future when we each have families of our own, I am excited to let them play baseball with the neighborhood kids while my brother and I gossip about the latest drama.