Staff SGT Donald Wayne West, Jr., enlisted in the United States Army National Guard on September 11, 2001. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Company A of the 150th Combat Engineers served active duty Aug 29, 2004, until Dec 30, 2005. SSGT West returned to college in January, 2006. He married Lauren Ritchie June 9, 2006, at Seaside, Fla., and they have three children. SSGT West completed military service at Camp Minden, LA on Aug 23, 2009.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Minus 26 Days - Lessons I've Learned from My Son

Blip… Blip… Blip…_____________________________.

Everything was fine until the fetal heart monitor flat-lined, 12 hours into hard labor.

“Your baby has turned breach,” the doctor said matter-of-factly, summoning the delivery team. “We need to do a C-section…now.”

Less than an hour later, you were born healthy and whole, thank goodness. The night of July 1, 1983, you taught me it’s not how you start, but how you finish, that really counts.

By the time you were four, we were well into homeschooling—not just for you, but six other children with whom you shared your room and your toys five days a week for seven years. Instead of sleeping late on Saturday morning, you popped out of bed, ready to scour neighborhood garage sales for new stuff we could ‘show the kids on Monday.’ You taught me the best way to learn is by teaching someone else.

At seven, you were ready to see the world.

“When will you take me on an airplane?” you asked one early summer night, wide-eyed as I tucked you into bed. Where? “Disneyworld, of course,” you continued. “We can look for a good deal in the travel section of the Sunday Times.”

By Sunday, you had a goal. Four days, three nights in Orlando - including airfare, rental car, hotel and continental breakfast – for $1100. I agreed to spring for park tickets if you could come up with $1100 in 12 weeks.

By Wednesday, you had a plan. “Remember when the youth group at church was going to paint house numbers on the curbs, but they never did? I could do that!”

By Friday, you were on a mission. “Your Number’s Up – Curb Painting by Wayne West” was a new business on the block. With a tool box containing disposable gloves, a set of stencils and two cans of spray paint, plus a fanny pack carrying business cards, a pen, a receipt book and change – you were ready to conquer the neighborhood.

And conquer it you did! You painted over 200 curbs, learned how to bank, how to tithe, how to save and how to write thank-you notes. The week after Labor Day, we boarded a Delta jet with a flight crew so impressed by your efforts, they introduced you as their honored guest to the rest of the passengers. That summer, you taught me how to work a dream from the end to the beginning.

But what happens when an otherwise stable kid moves to a different city and has to start traditional school for the first time as a six grader – all while his parents are getting a divorce? You not only made new friends, but you also made the honor roll and were voted “Most Christ-like Student” by your peers. That year, you taught me it’s not the hand you’re dealt, but how you play your cards that really matters.

Then what happens when a promising athlete’s high school closes unexpectedly four weeks before his junior year, and he has to choose between a familiar school in his home town or a strange boarding school eight hours away? You took the high road again, accepting a scholarship to Baylor School in Chattanooga. On your own now, you continued to choose the right path, earning recognition for leadership and achievement in academics and sports. During those two years, you taught me what you do is based more on who you are, not so much on what you have.

Finally, what happens when a college freshman enlists in the National Guard to help pay for tuition the same day the Twin Towers get bombed? You didn’t back out. Instead, you prayed in front of an entire congregation, “Father, thank you for the authority you have set in the earth. Bless our President and members of the houses of Congress with wisdom to make good decisions for our country. Bless the parents of those of us who have been called to serve with the courage to let us go.” That day, and during 16 months of active duty in Iraq, you taught me difficult decisions are based on principle, not convenience.

Back on American soil now, you’re ready to spread your wings again, this time on the warm currents of love.

As you begin a new life with Lauren, your precious bride, I honor you for the man you have become. I remind you of lessons already learned—how to work diligently, to save regularly, to give sacrificially and to love lavishly. I gratefully acknowledge the cloud of witnesses who have helped us along the way. I treasure the blessing you have always been, and now bless your going out with the empowering presence of the One from whom all blessings flow.

Love, Momma

P.S. Brush your teeth. Have nice manners. Use good judgment.
And call me.