When Ethan was in college, we often didn’t see him for months and it really wasn’t a big deal. We were quite sure that he would look and act the same as when we last saw him; the Cinema Studies department at SFSU isn’t known for producing dramatic changes in its students. But this time, our expectations for reuniting with Ethan were much different. Even though only three months had passed since we said goodbye to him in the parking lot at the Ocean Army Recruiting Center in San Francisco, we couldn’t wait to see if 10 weeks in Army Basic Training had been a transforming experience for him.

We are very fortunate that Ethan’s post for the coming year – the Defense Language Institute – is in Monterey so he doesn’t have to buy a plane ticket to come home for leave. So last Thursday, we made the drive south to pick him up for Christmas.

The DLI is situated on some prime real estate in Monterey, on a hill overlooking the ocean that was the site of the Spanish Presidio in the late 1700’s. The DLI website says that the foreign language center was originally established at the Presidio in San Francisco but was moved to Monterey after WWII where it expanded. Not surprisingly, the age and style of the buildings reminded us a lot of the Presidio in SF.  When we were there, it was a beautiful sunny day and the view was spectacular.

We stopped at the Visitors Gate, presented our ID, called Ethan, and were given a pass so we could get on base to meet him at the designated place; he told us to meet him at the very literally  named “Soldier Field.” As we looped around the base a couple of times trying to find Soldier Field – the DLI is so confusing that the roads must have been laid out by drunk Spanish conquistadors – I enjoyed looking at the groups of soldiers walking purposefully around the base. Because it’s the “Defense” (as in Department of Defense) Language Institute, all branches of the military are there. It was fun identifying the various branches. The Marines have darker camo uniforms, the Navy has tiger stripe camo, but most of the soliders we saw were wearing the muted digital camo Army Combat Uniform.

We finally found the designated meeting space and called Ethan to let him know we were waiting there. In a few minutes, Steve says “there he is” and I see someone walking towards us who walks like Ethan but doesn’t look anything like him. Sometimes my contact lenses don’t fully focus – I’m sure I blinked five times trying to match the image of Ethan I had in my mind with the soldier I saw walking towards us. He looked so different; thinner, fitter and taller with a lot less hair.

There weren’t any hugs exchanged between us because PDAs aren’t allowed while wearing ACU’s so we shook hands and he quickly threw his duffle in the car and hopped in. I was looking forward to the three hour car ride back to Sonoma County so I would have a chance to get to know the new Ethan.