By Gaby Coyle
We celebrate Mother’s Day to honor and thank the women who brought us into the world – those who raised us and shaped us into the strong individuals we are today. For mothers of American service members, this day of acknowledgment is especially important. Military moms tackle challenges that sometimes go unnoticed, and their sacrifices deserve our attention.
These military moms often celebrate Mother’s Day apart from their children while their sons and daughters give their all to bravely protect our freedoms. Military mothers are crucial members of the military community – and our nation.
But despite all that they have already given, many – like Brandi Elias – are inspired by their children’s service to give back even more.
Military Mom Joins Her Family’s Tradition of Service
Aside from being a valued staff member of the Bob Hope USO team in California as the Inland Empire Center Operations Supervisor, Brandi is also a proud mother of two young men – one of whom serves in the U.S. Navy.
Brandi’s family has a strong history of military service: her father is an Army veteran, her stepfather is a Marine Corps veteran and both of her grandfathers served in the Army during World War II. And soon, her oldest son, Duncan Elias, at the young age of 20, will leave for his first deployment soon on a Navy warship as a Quartermaster Sailor Apprentice (QMSA).
Brandi recalled that Duncan had dreamt of being in the military since he was in third grade. As a young child, Duncan would watch “The Deadliest Catch” and The Weather Channel’s Coast Guard shows with his mom, and tell her how much he wanted to fly helicopters for the Coast Guard when he grew up.
When Duncan first enlisted in the military in August 2018, Brandi was inspired to become a USO volunteer with Bob Hope USO. Having a special place in her heart for the military, Brandi always knew she wanted volunteer with the organization.
Now that her kids were older, she had more time to dedicate herself to the organization and she began to enjoy building a new family of volunteers at the USO. Here, she built connections with people who understood what military family life was like.
Her volunteer work with service members has even inspired her other son, Andrew, to become the youngest USO volunteer at the USO center upon his 18th birthday.
Military Mom Finds Support in Helping Service Members as a USO Volunteer
In the first few months after Duncan’s departure for bootcamp, Brandi missed her son terribly, but volunteering with the USO allowed her to be around service members, which boosted her spirits. It was in taking care of other people’s kids – that is, our troops – that she began to adjust to this new transition in her life.
Soon, Brandi began to spend just as much time volunteering at the USO center as she did at work. Being around the troops reminded her so much of her son that it felt like she was giving her son a big hug each time she walked into the USO center. Brandi eagerly tackled any challenge, even offering to cover night shifts at the center during the busy period around Integrated Training Exercises, when planes full of service members would arrive at all hours of the night.
It was in those moments, when the troops were incredibly tired and at their most vulnerable, that she realized there was no better feeling in the world than being able to provide service members with a safe place to stay and a warm meal to eat at three o’clock in the morning.
So, in January 2020, Brandi made the leap and transitioned from being a dedicated USO volunteer to a dedicated USO staff member.
How This Military Mom Preps for Her Son’s Deployment
As Duncan prepares for his first deployment, Brandi knows that when he leaves, she is at least seven months away from hugging her son again. She knows that she might spend Mother’s Day without him — as well as the holidays and even his 21st birthday, and she has made peace with that.
Brandi is proud, knowing that her son is protecting everything that she has taught him to value. She has always known Duncan to be a tender-hearted, loving person, and she quickly noticed a change in her son after he joined the Navy. Since Duncan enlisted, the military has taught him so much more about responsibility and how his actions impact others. It is clear to her that her son’s choice for a military career has – and will continue to – enrich his life deeply.
Military moms like Brandi are part of the fraction of the population raising our nation’s heroes. They are strong and brave women who have shaped our military with an insurmountable love for their country. Brandi expressed solidarity with other mothers missing their service member children this Mother’s Day.
“Support groups help! For each branch of the service, you can find military mom groups on Facebook - lean on them and just know that you are not alone,” Brandi said.
“Being a military mom is not for the weak-hearted. Honestly, it is totally normal to begin to cry when you walk into your absent child’s bedroom or burst into tears when a certain song comes on the radio. It’s totally normal and you’re not crazy. We are in this together.”
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