Posted by Samantha Cook

Samantha's military familyRed mesh seats hung from dull steel bars with the loud hum of the aircraft filling my already ear plugged ears. I sat quietly with my bag between my legs, glancing around the cargo hold at my classmates. We all wore freshly ironed khakis and dark blue NJROTC (Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, which prepares students interested in the military for service) t-shirts proudly displaying a Navy emblem. On the back of our shirts a fierce wildcat pinpointed our school of origin's location. The peers surrounding me were perhaps the most calm and collected high school freshmen. Inside, I was nervous and excited watching the Navy crewmen in their pickle-colored flight suits prepare everything for take-off. I had been on many planes before but this was the first time flying on my own, alongside Navy cargo no less. We were headed to Rota, Spain for a mini boot camp for first year NJROTC students. This was one of the turning points in my verve for military life and when I started to comprehend the dynamics of my childhood.

I have spent my entire life in the military community. My father joined the US Air Force as a commissioned officer after attending Virginia Tech where he met my mother who was also attending on an Army scholarship. The United States armed services have a long history in my family and runs deeply in my own veins. My mother's father was a World War II Pearl Harbor survivor, serving in the Army-Air Corps and my father's father served in the US Army during the Korean War era. My own father served in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was old enough to remember watching him pack his camouflage-adorned bags and suit up into desert fatigues as he headed off to a region of the world that perhaps the majority of Americans only hear about on the news.

I have memories from early childhood of my father being gone for extended periods of time. Fish sticks, kid cuisines, or "Hey! Let's get another mini beanie-baby from McDonalds!" emerged into the daily routine with my mother and siblings. I cannot recall the struggles my mother faced when taking care of a four-year-old and a new infant (me) when my father was on constant navigational missions out of Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. She tells me of the lows she hit being a new mom, alone in the Fairbanks tundra where the long twilight days certainly don't aid the feelings of solitude. Despite the help she received from other military wives who could relate to the difficulties of deployment and post-deployment, there weren't support groups quite like what military families have now.

It is a very large testament to my mother and father that I maintain a positive view on military life and relationships as a whole. They have been married for 31 years through many deployments, TDYs (temporary duty, a briefer assignment away from home), raising three children, and countless moves. Their strength, dedication, servitude, respect, and patriotism are traits that have been passed down to me and I couldn't have asked for a better upbringing or family dynamic. Due to these sentiments and my own thoughts on how important service is, I volunteered for Shoulder to Shoulder, a new JF&CS program. I look forward to helping those who need the simple support of someone who gets it and can listen. Having a shoulder to lean on can be exactly what the doctor ordered, and a little can go a long way when compassion and time are invested!

Samantha CookSamantha Cook is a JF&CS Shoulder to Shoulder volunteer. She currently works for a health and fitness facility in Bedford, MA as she awaits a position with the United States Air Force. Samantha has a BS from Virginia Commonwealth University in biological anthropology and a minor in French. Her experiences as a military child led her to the field of anthropology, a discipline that takes a holistic approach to all the aspects of the human condition. She hopes to continue to serve others using her skills as a means to maintain healthy and happy lives for all individuals that want to reach their full potential.