The reason I waited so long to come home on leave was so that I could be home for Seth’s graduation. Almost 10 weeks ago I e-mailed his principal, played the sympathy card about being in Afghanistan for his entire senior year and asked if I could possibly present Seth with his diploma at graduation. Well within a day of sending the e-mail, I got one back telling me that they would be honored to have me present him with his diploma. I was so excited. Of course we didn’t tell Seth.
Well graduation was great. My parents came up from Arizona as did my brother Chris, his wife Kari and their daughter LoraLynn (who had graduated the week before). It was great to see them after so long. Of course Janae’s parents were there and it was equally wonderful to see them. Donna has been such a big support – writing me every week.
Anyway we had let the word out that we had this planned so we got a little bit of media coverage. Channel Two (CBS affiliate) was there and did a really great story. I wish I were not so technologically challenged and could load a copy of the story but you’ll have to take my word for it, they did a great job. I was so impressed with Seth when he was interviewed, he was so poised and confident. I wondered what happened to my little boy.
That afternoon a reporter from the Deseret Morning News came by the house and interviewed us. Once again Seth did a great job. Here’s the link to the article if you want to read it on line, otherwise, I’ll include the article at the end of this entry.
The next morning I got a call from a woman saying she was calling from “cable radio” and that Johnson and Johnson wanted to interview me. I had no idea what “cable radio” was, thinking that it was something new, like cable TV. Anyway about 15 minutes later they called back, again telling me that they were calling me from “cable.” The DJ’s asked me if I’d been listening to their show that morning. Not wanting to look like an idiot, I simply said that I had barely woken up and hadn’t turned on the radio yet.
Well the interview was fun. Of course they asked me what was the first thing I did when I got home. I laughed and told them that I couldn’t tell them that. They laughed and one of the DJ’s yelled out “I knew he was going to say that.” Oh, if they only knew!! They then asked what was the second thing that I did when I got home. That was a little more public worthy – we went for pizza at the Lindon Pizza Factory.
OK, this is not about graduation but I want to say thanks to the Pizza Factory. They comped us our entire dinner. Paul Tieman and his family were there – we always see several people that we know when we go there. Anyway Paul went to the manager and told them that I had just gotten home from Afghanistan – in fact I hadn’t been home for more than two hours when we were sitting in their restaurant. Well like I said, they comped us the meal, thanking me for my service. Once again, the support we soldiers receive is so incredible.
Well it wasn’t until a couple of days later when I was retelling this story that somebody said that it wasn’t “cable” radio but K-Bull. Of course I’ve heard of K-Bull but not being a country music fan it didn’t dawn on me. Boy did I feel stupid. So to Johnson and Johnson of K-Bull, I apologize for not realizing who you were!
Anyway, I digress. Graduation was a great experience. Presenting Seth with his diploma was such a wonderful experience. One he and I will never forget. I was vaguely aware of the audience but I was focused on Seth walking towards me. It was really cool. Having missed his entire senior year this was my way of participating in a small way.
Later that day Luke said that I needed to get deployed in two years and come back for his graduation so that I could do the same for him. I told him that I hoped that wouldn’t happen.
Anyway, Seth is a graduate. I can’t believe that our “baby” is a high school graduate, bound for college and then a mission.
Boy we’re getting old!!
The Deseret Morning News
May 31, 2007
Soldier Takes Leave, Hands Son Diploma
OREM — Lt. Col. Robert Church almost didn't notice the 2,000 people who stood, cheering in his honor Wednesday at the Timpanogos High School commencement exercises.
All he could see was his son, garbed in the traditional graduation cap and gown, headed toward him, ready to receive his high school diploma.
"I wasn't looking at the crowd," said the J.A.G. officer and attorney, who came home on leave from Afghanistan to present his son, Seth Church, with his diploma. "I don't know — did they stand up?"
Robert Church caught up his 18-year-old son in a bear hug after passing him the eagerly awaited diploma. The hug was long in coming: Robert Church left home for Afghanistan nearly a year ago.
"It was the perfect way to end high school," said Seth Church, who assumed his father would be catcalling from the stands with the other parents.
He was a little confused, he said, when the teachers ushering students onto the stage to receive their diplomas asked him repeatedly, "Are you Seth Church?"
Maybe he had done something wrong?
"When I walked out it was dark, and I was kind of blinded by the lights. I was just thinking about not tripping," Seth Church said. "Then I heard them say my dad's name and that he was giving me my diploma — and I was like, Wow!"
Robert Church missed a lot during his time overseas; his youngest son took up French and joined the school choir. His 15-year-old braved his first year of high school and earned his Eagle Scout award. His oldest got caught up in his first romance and earned a scholarship to Brigham Young University.
"This was my one opportunity to participate in Seth's senior year. Giving him that diploma was surreal, overwhelming, special — all of those adjectives," said the lieutenant colonel, who lit up like a small boy in a candy shop. "So cool."
Many of the lieutenant colonel's colleagues chose to take their leave during the holidays, but Robert Church said he opted to eat Christmas dinner alone in Kabul so he could see his eldest son graduate. The army grants only two weeks leave.
"Christmas comes every year, but graduation comes only once in your son's life," he said.
Although Seth Church missed having a father's advice as he dealt with the stresses of making post-graduation plans and delved into the befuddling world of women, he is in awe of the work his father does.
"You hear a lot of news about the war, and it's most all bad," he said. "My dad tells me a lot of good things that are happening in Afghanistan. He tells me how appreciative the people are and how grateful they are to have just a taste of the freedoms we have. Hearing him talk has given me a new appreciation for freedom."
Robert Church has spent the past 10 months helping jump start a new military justice program in Afghanistan. When he returns to the country in a week and a half, he will begin teaching a mini-course to bring Afghani officers up to speed on the skills needed to prosecute or defend someone in the courtroom.
"It is incredible to see the Afghani army moving away from beatings and harsh treatment of soldiers. It's inspiring to see these soldiers begin to realize they have rights," he said. "If this was a 9-to-5 job and I could go home to my family at night and on weekends, it would be a dream job."
Oh, I got a lot of grief from my boss, Paul Johnson, for that last comment about the “dream job.” I should have clarified, it would be a dream job, but only after my job at the city.