When Wendy Brownfield’s son Dillon came to her and her husband and told them he wanted to join the military, they were surprised. “Fortunately,” says Brownfield, “my husband had served in the Army, so it was easy for him to talk to Dillon about life in the military.”

Brownfield says her son did not choose the military immediately after graduating from Ringgold High School. “He worked for a cellular company for a while then went to college for a while. Finally, he decided the Air Force would be something that would help him get into shape and grow into a more responsible person.”

Brownfield had her concerns and says the military was not an option she or her husband would have chosen first for their son. But, she says, “We support his decision and we’re proud that he decided to serve our country. He’s viewing this as a career choice and would like to become a pilot.”

Having her son in the military won’t always be easy Brownfield, who teaches at Ringgold Middle School, knows. “He’s already been gone for several weeks and we miss him. My plan is to write to him every day while he’s in boot camp. Then we’ll probably switch to phone calls and email.”

In this age of social media, Brownfield has been able to call on her community of online friends to add their own pieces of advice and encouragement. She asked her Facebook friends to send messages that she could pass along to her son in letters. The response was enthusiastic.

“Son, keep your head up and one foot in front of the other. I’m so proud and love you with all my heart!” wrote Dillon’s dad on his wife’s Facebook page.

“Dillon, you are doing amazing things! Keep your trust in God, he will not fail you!” wrote a friend.

Other comments included:

“Hey Dillon! You’re doing great, the Air Force will open many doors for your future! Don’t worry about your TI, he’s just doing his job and you’ll appreciate him later in your career. Stay strong and do awesome things!

“Your service to your country is appreciated and no one can thank you enough for what you are doing.”

From an aunt: “I can’t wait to see you and how strong and proud you’ll feel of yourself. I know we are already proud of you for taking this step. We love you! Stay strong and keep marching on.”

“You are embarking on a true adventure. The whole family is extremely proud of you. Please be sure to let your mom hear from you every chance you get. She is also going through boot camp with you.”

From a former teacher: “Dillon, it seems not so long ago that you were in my 5th grade class. You were rather quiet in class, always respectful, and a good smart student. I’m not surprised that you’ve made the bold decision to serve our country. I thank you. You’ll become stronger and more confident than you ever dreamed. You have lots of friends and family praying for you. ‘Stay strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.’ Through Christ you can do great things. I am proud of you.”

Ryan Craft’s parents were surprised when he decided to pursue the military. Ryan earned an appointment to the United States Naval Academy this year. Ryan has been a star athlete and a top student at Heritage High School. A summer camp experience at the Naval Academy is what inspired him to pursue the military after high school.

Ryan’s dad, Mike Craft, a coach at Heritage High, says the hardest part about seeing Ryan head off to the Naval Academy will be having him so far away — over ten hours. “We’re a close family and have always done a lot together,” says Craft.

Craft says his grandfather was in the Coast Guard and his wife’s grandfather was a Naval Airman during World War II. “Ryan plans to get into some kind of engineering and wants to look into the aviation program at the Naval Academy.”

“Ryan lets his faith in God and the way he has been brought up guide him,” says Craft. Nevertheless, Craft says he has advised his son, who has been involved with his church youth group and is an Eagle Scout, to remain humble and to always be thankful for his blessings.

Brownfield says her advice to parents whose children express an interest in joining the military is, “Don’t be negative. Help them with research. By being supportive, you show your child that there are options and allow them to make the final decision.”

Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.