Our son Ethan, who turned 25 at the end of last month, is home visiting us for a week. It happens that it was exactly a year ago this week that he signed papers to join the army. He was excited and energized, and more than a little nervous about what lay ahead for him in his five year commitment to become “Army Strong.”

So thinking back on that time a year ago and having him here now, has prompted us to think about the changes we see in him. Now that he has a year of military service under his belt, was joining the army a good decision for him?

Absolutely. I think that the army has…and I believe will continue to…develop his best qualities such as perseverance, focus, respect for authority, teamwork, and his physical capabilities. Steve and I often talk about how until now, Ethan really had never found out what he is made of. The army is guiding him towards uncovering his potential.

You know the how some kids in high school really make a strong impression –either positively or negatively – with their teachers, classmates and coaches? That wasn’t Ethan. He went to class regularly and got decent grades, but overall, I would describe his high school experience as “light.” He was just another one of the hundreds of kids who are carried on the wave that moves them through the public school system.

In college, once he transferred from the JC to San Francisco State, he started to find himself more as he participated in the clubs and productions in the cinema department. However when he looks back on his college days , he says a good chunk of it was spent drinking beer and playing video games – we are very happy that those activities didn’t interfere to the extent that they prevented him from earning his college degree.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression of him; he has never been lazy; he had his first job at Togo’s when he was 15 and has worked ever since. But he is the first to admit that he never took on the kinds of challenges academically, physically or emotionally that would really test his mettle.

Has he faced the kind of testing that happens when a soldier comes face-to-face with an IED or is caught in the middle of a desert firefight? No. And of obviously, we are thankful for that.

During the past year, he has discovered that he can meet the challenges of staying motivated and focused, first when he had to meet the demands of basic training and now, in his current assignment of eating, breathing and sleeping Korean – punctuated by plenty of physical training. It makes us proud to see his growth. How far he chooses to push himself in his next four years in the army? We look forward to finding out.