In our November/December issue, we introduced you to four soldiers who are serving or have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Two – Charles and Julia Stephens – are married and stationed together in Iraq, while their young son and daughter are living back in Chapel Hill with Julia’s parents. They keep in touch with the kids via Julia’s YouTube channel, which can be accessed by clicking here.
But Julia and Charles aren’t the only ones in their family making the ultimate sacrifice. Her younger brother, Kai, 20, is a PFC with the 82nd Airborne stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The former Carrboro High student wrote to us to share a bit about his decision to enlist and his daily motivations:
I joined [the military] my senior year in high school and left about a month after graduating. Which was hard at first. All my friends were enjoying their summer vacation prior to college, while I was getting yelled at by drill sergeants. Now that I look back on the past year of my life. I wouldn't change a single thing – the things I've learned, the person I've matured to, the expectations I have are a lot higher than they previously were. … Since I was 6 years old, I knew I wanted to serve in the United States military. Throughout the years, that passion grew bigger and bigger. I initially wanted to join when I was 17 years old, but my parents weren't supportive and wanted me to go to college. I'm very glad and fortunate to have two loving parents who have raised me very well. I'm glad they didn't let me sign; I weighed my options and had more time to think about the life-changing decision. I considered going to college but I knew if I went I'd party and wouldn't focus on school; I couldn't lie to myself about that. I decided to pick the military route to build leadership skills, confidence, self-respect and, the most important to me, maturity.
I was always jealous of people serving in the military. Ultimately, I was jealous of my entire family. My grandfather, father, both uncles, sister and both brothers-in-law served or are currently serving.
I told all my friends to contact me about joining the military so I could give them unbiased information. It's tough to give generic advice without talking to someone about their situation; everyone’s different. …. My advice, if you’re considering joining? Talk to your family and friends about your situation and goals. The Army has lots of opportunity. I knew I was going to join for a long time. The closer I got to actually signing my contract I was online countless hours researching online about other people’s experiences and really determining if it was for me. I talked to my family members that served.
The biggest influence in my family are my parents. They have my utmost respect for everything they've done. I was born in Germany, when my father was in the first Gulf War.
The hardest part about being away from home? At first, I thought I was going to struggle, get homesick. … I can't say I did. Once I moved out, I was out. I was 18 years old traveling around the country for training, experiences, friends and much more. I miss my family greatly. I went from waking up with my mom yelling "KAI! Wake up you have to get ready for school!" and seeing their faces every single day. …. The first day of the being in the Army, I woke up next to a bunch of strangers. Now I wake up to the newer generation of band of brothers. I don't care if they ask to borrow money. I don't get upset when they borrow or use the things I have. We've been through a lot. I've acquired some of my best friends in the military.
My father taught me this and raised me to live by it: ‘There's only one world we have. You only have one life. Be happy and leave this place better than it was when you came into the world.’