For this week's article I've decided to share a narrative essay I wrote for my AP English class. I chose to write it on my beautiful sister Rachel's commissioning ceremony. Hope you enjoy!
When I was twelve I joined a group. That “group” was a squadron, and that squadron was in a program: Civil Air Patrol. It was a military thing, but I’m not military. I’m school whiz, soccer-playing, joke-telling dork. The opposite of military. And, actually, I never would have joined if it weren’t for my sister, Rachel.
Rachel was a maverick. All boys’ baseball team? Star hitter. Straight A’s? Piece of cake. Joining CAP, something none of the siblings prior to her would have even slightly considered, was not out of the ordinary for this trail-blazer of a girl. She joined CAP first, years before I, and my brother followed. They together paved the way for my entrance into that Air Force world, and I adored it.
I was nervous when I first entered the program, as any kid would be. There were a lot of people I didn’t know, and a lot of things I didn’t understand: like uniforms. Rachel deemed it her role in my life to pester me on the quality of my creases and the reflection of my boots. This was because Rachel was, and is, military. Ever since she was able to comprehend what camo was, she knew exactly what she wanted to do: she was going to be a Navy pilot, just like our Dad. She was gonna be in the Navy, and fly, and be a big, shining officer. This dream led her to join Naval ROTC at UVA, and to her commissioning as an officer. She was military. So, naturally, she cared about uniforms. So she cared about mine.
It’s a good thing, though, because I was gonna need it.
It was a warm April day in my sophomore year when she asked me a question. We were in the family room, her visiting for a reason I don’t recall. She was on the floor, shuffling a deck of cards, while I was scrolling through various social media on the couch. As I double-tapped Instagram pictures and she dealt aces and spades, she asked me to be her First Salute.
In the Officer Commissioning ceremony - which for her was to take place in a month - each Ensign chooses a person to swear them in, pin on their insignia, change their cover, and, lastly, render their first salute as a new officer. Saluting is a courtesy only bestowed upon officers. Being asked to fill any of these ceremonial roles is an enormous honor in the eyes of the military. I said sure. Mom almost cried. Rach and I aren’t like that, so we just nodded knowingly at one another. Deep down, though, I was paralyzed with emotion: flattery, sentiment, honor, excitement.
Then I started getting nervous.
For weeks I fretted over images of tripping girls and failing sisters. This was Rachel’s big moment, everything she had been working over a decade for. Who would I be to ruin it for her with a slip of words or a lousy salute? Not to mention, after this ceremony, she would be gone. Shipped off to flight training and out of my reach. I couldn’t be responsible for the destruction of this last goodbye.
So for weeks I fretted.
One week away. I needed to find my blues coat. Five days. I’d have to borrow a friend’s. Three days. How much makeup is appropriate? One day. Just breathe.
It was an unbelievably gorgeous May afternoon in the Charlottesville mountains. A blue so vibrant coated the sky as I made the pebbly trek up to the outdoor venue. I was taking deep breaths.
Family crowded with warm hugs and small talk, each one present to witness Rachel’s dazzling moment. Camera flashes. Uncle David questioned me on my “future plans.” I took deep breaths.
Finally, we were seated, and the noisy pavilion softened to murmurs, and then to silence as the opening remarks commenced. A few people in high places offered loud praise and kind words, apparently appropriate speeches. I didn’t hear them.
Then, the introductions started and things got real. Grandfathers swearing in granddaughters. Dad’s pinning on sons. Although each audience member was really only there for one cadet, we all cheered and teared as if each new officer were our own. Rachel’s turn approached.
My Dad was to administer the oath and swear her in, while my Mom, Uncle Mike - another Naval officer - and Grandma were to change her insignia and cover. Then me, with the oh-so renowned Salute. The time for us to fulfill our roles grew near, and we arose. My father, looking twenty-something in his Dress Whites, led the small platoon of hand-picked family members as we quietly walked to the side designated for ceremony participants. Rachel’s name echoed over the sound system as she marched in front of the audience, and her time slowly arrived. Commander Dad met her halfway, and began the oath.
“Raise your right hand.”
I can’t believe this is happening. Faintly, I heard Dad reciting the first line. Rachel, concisely and firmly, repeated the words, speaking as if they were the first thing she had ever believed in, and the last thing she would ever say.
“I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” My father stumbled as they moved through the pledge, a sign of his emotion in this paramount moment.
Messing up works for him. When I do it, though, I’m gonna blow the whole thing. I struggled to soften my quaking body as I scanned the platform for any and all objects on which I could trip. I looked up not to find my father, but my grandma, struggling to reach the top of Rachel’s head. I breathed as I stood as an onlooker, anxiously awaiting the time to make my contribution to this glorious ceremony.
Standing at the front right, I was in clear view of the audience. A family seated near me took note of my shaking build, and offered smiles of encouragement. I smiled back. I breathed. I adjusted my posture. It was time.
All my worries melted away as I began the march, closing the gap between the new officer and myself, and allowing the familiar drill movements to take the lead. Rachel and I locked eyes as the commentator introduced “Sergeant Rebecca Boelsche of the Civil Air Patrol, Rachel’s sister, giving her first salute.” My arm raised to my brow and I teared as she returned the gesture. I barely choked out the customary “Good Afternoon, Ma’am,” returned with an emotionally weighted whisper, “Afternoon, Cadet.” I grabbed my Navy sister and collapsed into the most powerful embrace I’ve ever felt. Suddenly, the salute, the audience… none of it mattered. I didn’t trip. The world refrained from imploding. What mattered was that she was my sister, my friend, my hero, and I didn’t want her to go.
I walked back to my seat with tears softly streaming down my face. Aunt Kathy took pictures. A family friend patted my shoulder.
The rest of the night flew by in a beautiful whir of snapping cameras and jokes about cheese. As it turned out, she wouldn’t have to depart for a few more months, so the pressure of goodbye gracefully lifted as we enjoyed the evening. That day was insanity. But what mattered was that my sister was amazing; and for one, perfect moment, we were closer than we’ve ever been before. And it was spectacular.
I took in the scene. I breathed.