Ever since I was little I have always had a huge heart for the military. I really don’t know why…I just do. I love reading military history (as in soldier’s autobiographies, war stories, military history, etc.), going to Ft. Belvoir with my grandma, and going anywhere where I can watch men in uniform. :) So, I have always wanted to be able to attend a military graduation. The Jackson family made that dream come true a few weeks ago. :) Their son, Levi, entered Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. My family and I went to his going away party and we’ve written him cards and prayed for him through the whole process. A few weeks before Levi left for Basic his parents invited me to go with them to watch him graduate. I usually don’t go for 10 day trips with other families, but this is the Jackson family! We’ve known each other for a little over 2 years but we have so much fun when our families get together. I’ve had the privilege of taking their family photos 2 years in a row (here and here) and “first year” photos for their second youngest, Boaz, and now I’m doing “first year” photos for their littlest, Nehemiah! Our families love to get together to play basketball and this Fall Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, their daughter, Kyra, my brother, Caleb, Daddy, and I are running together in an obstacle course race. :)
I was so, so excited when the family I work for let me off of work so I could go! Mrs. Kendra and I emailed back and forth for days getting excited for the trip. Finally, Sunday, May 4th arrived and after church I said goodbye to the family and waited for the Jacksons to pick me up. They were fashionably late *cough*, running on what they call “Wassenberg time”. :) After some talking about anything and everything, I said goodbye to my family again and got in the car…and we were off to Texas!!!
We first stopped and picked up what was going to be our staple foods for the trip: granola bars and bean chips. (Organic and yummy of course! :) Then we made a 5 hour drive to Mrs. Kendra’s cousin’s home in NC.
Tobias on the drive down.
We had a delicious burrito bar for dinner and, since it was fairly nice out, we children ate outside. :)
And then the basketball games began!
There was a basketball hoop in the court near their home, so, of course, we played a few games. ;) We even had some neighbor boys come and play so it was like a real game!
Basketball is so much fun!
After we had our basketball fill, we walked over to a park nearby. The younger kids played on the playground and the older ones played Horse (there was another b-ball hoop there :).
I love this photo of little Boaz. :)
As dusk started to fall, we went back to the house, ate ice cream, put the little ones to bed, talked, and then went to sleep ourselves.
The next morning Mrs. Kendra, Kyra, Elijah, and I ran and then Mrs. Petra made us scrambled eggs and sausage for breakfast. Around 10 A.M. we left and drove to GA. We arrived at another one of Mrs. Kendra’s cousin’s home around dinner time. Some more sweet family members arrived and we spent the evening with them talking and enjoying delicious Italian food and brownies. :)
I love all the smiles. :)
Boaz wasn’t too excited about me taking his picture. :)
The next morning we were up around 5 A.M. and left by 6 A.M. for Baton Rouge, LA. We arrived early afternoon and got settled in our beautiful Homewood Suites room. Then Kyra, Mrs. Kendra, and I went and exercised (this was the first vacation I went on where we exercised almost every day…and I loved it!), showered, and then we left the hotel.
Boaz is such a happy, little guy!
Boaz and Nehemiah….it’s crazy to think that we met the Jackson’s just before Boaz was born! :)
The Jacksons needed a few things at Goodwill, so we all went in and shopped.
Tobias was my little buddy the entire trip…and he brought those little jeans to me and I was like “Nope, those are just a smidge short for me. Thanks though, buddy!” ;)
Yep, we were best buds. Every time we stopped at a gas station or went anywhere he always wanted to be with “Mousy” (that is the affectionate nickname Mrs. Kendra gave me…if you were wondering ;).
After the right things were found at Goodwill, we headed over to the restaurant, Boutin’s. It was an authentic Cajun restaurant and it is where we met up with one of Mrs. Kendra’s friends (and her family) from high school. The restaurant was next to some beautiful water and while we waited until our reservation time, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery.
The light was so pretty in this little spot!!
Mr. Jackson and his girls. :)
Those little ducks were pretty friendly, as long as you didn’t try and catch them. :)
We finally went inside and sat down. There was a man playing live Cajun music and an open dance floor. At one point during the dinner the sweetest old couple went and did a little dancing. I tried to convince Mr. Jackson to take Mrs. Kendra out but I couldn’t. :)
While I looked over the menu, i was starting to get a little nervous…there were tubs of crawfish with eyes, legs, carapace, everything still on them (they looked like they had just come out of the bayou itself). People were just popping off parts and sucking the, um, goodness out. Finally, I spotted some hamburger and fish options on the menu and I relaxed a bit. :) Mr. Jackson ordered the sampler appetizer plate and I did try some alligator. (I did want to try the crawfish tails but I never got to.) The alligator wasn’t bad…it had an interesting texture but the flavor was fine.
I ordered a a half pound char-grilled hamburger, topped with cheese, sauteed onion and mushroom cajun gravy.that was served with jambalaya, corn maque choux and homemade stuffed potato.
It was really, really good!
We tried to get Asher to dance with Mrs. Kendra’s friend’s daughter but he got too shy. :)
Gabrielle and Ciara outside the restaurant.
Talking outside after dinner.
When we finished we went to Wal-Mart and picked up some food and dessert. Back at the hotel room, we had Breyers ice cream and fell asleep watching Chopped.
The next morning we went to the delicious hotel breakfast.
We left after breakfast for our last drive to our destination: Lackland Air Force Base!
We got on base with no problems and then drove around trying to find our hotel. Mr. Jackson found the check-in spot, got the key cards for our room, and we drove over, found our rooms and got settled in. We were on the third (and top) level of what used to be a barracks, but was now converted into a hotel room.
Two bedrooms shared a bathroom. The rooms were very nice and Gabrielle and I somehow managed to have the coolest room out of all 4!
Once we were settled in, we drove to the BX to get some food. :)
Little Nehemiah is such a great traveler! :)
Which granola bars should we pick?
In the BX I found these, um, pork patties that would last for 2 years. Interesting…
We got back to the rooms kind of late that night, the little ones went to bed, we girls went to the gym, and then came home and ate dinner. As we were walking back to the hotel room from the gym, TAPS was broadcasted throughout the whole base. Evidently at 9 P.M. TAPS is played to signal everyone to go to bed. Listening to the crisp, sweet strains of the bugle every night was one of my favorite parts of staying on Lackland.
Thursday morning we had to get up early to go watch Levi run with his flight.
Waiting for the Airman’s Run to begin!
This group was the first wave of people in the Airman’s Run. :)
The guys in the red are Levi’s flight.
In this photo, Levi is in the last line of men in his flight.
We looked for Levi as his flight passed by but none of us spotted him. (I didn’t realize that I got a picture of him in his flight until I was going through the photos later. :)
After all the flights had gone by once, this kind lady started talking to us and invited the young ones to come sit in chairs near where the men ran. And she let us step under the tape so we could see better.
We were really looking hard for Levi as his flight came back around.
And then we saw him!!. He waved and smiled at us. :)
After the run, we went inside for a family briefing.
Levi’s flight is the 320 TRS and Mr. Jackson’s flight was the 321 TRS. :)
As we watched a movie of the graduates during training, we spotted Levi in line to get his hair cut (he’s the second guy behind the man in front). :)
After the briefing, we went and found seats for the Airman’s Coin Ceremony.
These were the honor graduates. They had a special 15-minute ceremony for acheiving the status of honor grad. :)
This guy was responsible for keeping the crowd entertained while the flights lined up and prepared for the ceremony. He had each grandstand do the Wave while saying “Air Force!” and whenever he said “Aim High” the crowd was supposed to reply “Fly, Fight, and Win!”
We were very blessed to be in a grandstand right in front of where the flights lined up. :) So we could look behind us and see flight after flight, and line after line of men joining up.
I love the order, crispness, and discipline of the military!!
Some of the flights marching towards the ceremony site.
This little tent is where all the dignitaries and special Air Force personnel sat.
Soon the ceremony began and flight after flight marched in as they were announced.
The main point of this ceremony was to give each Airman their Airman’s Coin and for the men to move from the position of “trainees” to that of “Airmen”.
A very interesting version of the National Anthem was played as the airmen were given their coins.
After the ceremony, everyone was allowed out of the stands to go find their Airman.
We knew where Levi’s flight was, but getting to find one person out of the hundreds on the ground was a challenge.
We eventually found him…and there was a lot of hugging. :)
I love this. :)
Levi’s Airman Coin.
I think Boaz may have missed his oldest brother. :)
Once we found Levi, we went over to the Blood Drive bus. I really wanted to give blood but they only wanted O+ (I think…) so, because I didn’t know my blood type, I couldn’t give. :-(
Mrs. Jackson gave blood, though!
Once Mrs. Kendra was done giving blood, we went to a museum on base:
And we found a section about military police on horseback, so we grabbed some photos there. :) [Left – right: Ciara J. and I, Gabrielle J. and I]
Levi only had a base pass on Thursday so we did as much as we could on the base.
After the museum, we went to the Exchange.
Mrs. Kendra checked out the running shoes (left) and Gabrille tried on some high heels (right). :)
As we were getting ready to leave the Exchange, a lady handed out free raffle tickets. So we went and watched her jewelry demonstration in hopes of winning something. :)
Boaz fell asleep on Levi while we watched the presentation.
Ciara actually won the raffle and got to pick out a piece of jewelry! She chose some pretty pink earrings. :)
We ended the day with Levi by going to the park where we swang, and the kids buried Elijah in the playground rocks:
Random fact: These massive jackrabbits were all over Lackland. Bunnies are cute but jackrabbits…not so much. :)
Friday morning was Levi’s actual graduation ceremony.
Just a quick photo of the view outside of our hotel room. :)
Nehemiah and Elijah are ready for the graduation!
The ceremony took place on Lackland’s parade ground which was surrounded by different planes.
We got to the bleachers and then waited for the ceremony to start. I also snapped photos of the different men walking around in their military uniforms. I loved seeing military fathers dressed up in their uniforms to watch their child graduate!
I think these were some of the MTI’s.
Just some random scenes while we waited for the graduates to arrive. :)
Soon we could spot a wave of blue marching towards the parade ground. The flights lined up in this massive field (where they were so far away you could hardly see individuals) before “Passing in Review” on the sidewalk in front of the bleachers.
This is Levi’s flight.
Levi’s flight received special recognition for making Honor Flight.
Because Levi’s flight was the Honor Flight they passed in review first.
Levi is the middle man in the right photo.
Taking the Oath of Enlistment.
After the Airmen took the Oath of Enlistment, they were released for the day. Ciara and I got lost trying to find Levi…thankfully I had a cell phone and could call Mrs. Kendra to find out where they were. :)
The proud family. :)
We then headed over to a Hornet for a family photo.
Then we went and toured Levi’s dormitory.
This is the room Levi stayed in!
Inspecting Levi’s stuff. :)
On the way out of the dorm we made a pull-up pit-stop.
Levi did some training on this concrete pad under his dormitory.
Once the dorm tour was over, Levi was allowed to go off base. So, we headed into San Antonio to tour the Alamo and Riverwalk!
This horse was the sweetest. :)
The grounds around the Alamo were beautifully kept and full of life.
This is part of the Alamo.
There were many different kinds of cacti in TX! :)
And there’s the Alamo itself!
I didn’t know much about the Alamo before we went. The buildings known as the Alamo used to be a mission establishment used by Catholics. The part everyone takes pictures of (like the photo above) was actually the church of the mission. :)
Tobias and I in front of the Alamo.
I loved reading this letter from William Travis that was displayed outside of the Alamo.
You weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the Alamo, so you’ll have to be satisfied with photos of the outside only. :)
This tree that was right outside the Alamo was amazing!
Riding some cannon. :)
This was a memorial statue outside the Alamo.
After the Alamo tour, we walked down to the Riverwalk.
The Riverwalk is a river lined with sidewalks, shops, restaurants, and hotels in a beautifully landscaped environment.
Mr. Jackson had double-duty for part of the Riverwalk! :) He carried Nehemiah and Boaz!
Isn’t it beautiful?!!? The Lord gave us a beautiful day to spend outdoors and surrounded by such beauty!
We were walking along, enjoying the day, when the skies started getting darker and thunder started rumbling in the distance. Before we knew it, it started pouring down rain!
We were on our way to a restaurant when it started raining. So, we could either wait under a bridge until the rain stopped or run through the rain to the restaurant. We decided on the latter. :) We ran from one bridge to the next until we got to the restaurant! We were soaking wet but it was a very memorable and fun part of the trip! :)
We ate at Rita’s on the River and it was delicious!
As we finished up eating our lunner (lunch + dinner) the skies cleared and soon you could hardly tell it had rained :) The skies became clear and blue and the sun came out!
We went out and walked along the Riverwalk some more. We stopped at a gift shop, as well, and it had lots of things I liked:
The boys loved the coonskin hats.
There’s an edge to Texas that I really, really like. ;)
The last scenic photo from the riverwalk.
Touching the water for the last time. :)
On our way back to the car we walked by Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum.
They had this robotic dinosaur that moved and made some noises. It scared Boaz to death. :)
When we got the van, we started piling in and Mr. Jackson said “Hey, someone popped the lock on the van.” At first I just thought he was joking, but he kept saying it so we all piled around to see what he was talking about.
Yep, someone popped the lock on the driver’s side of the van. :) Everyone scrambled around trying to figure out what had been stolen. Eventually we found that Kyra’s purse (and her iPad), Mrs. Kendra’s first aid kit and Nehemiah’s diaper bag was gone. Thankfully, the Lord blinded the thief’s eyes and he didn’t grab the bag with the computer and the other iPads that were spread throughout the van. :) We called the police, reported it, and then headed back to base. (Levi had to be back on base by 8 P.M.)
We had an amusing experience passing through base security that night. The soldier on guard wanted to come look in the van, so we opened the door. He came up one step, scanned the entire van, and then asked “You’re all one family?” We said “Yep!” and then he said “That’s weird,” stared for a moment, and then left. We all laughed about it after we passed through! :)
Saturday we picked up Levi and then headed back into San Antonio to visit the Zoo and The Tower of the Americas.
I hadn’t been to a zoo in at least 10 years, so it was fun to observe all the different wildlife!
This lemur was very impolite…going out a limb to relieve himself in front of us. :)
The aquarium building was really neat! I loved thinking about my Na-naw and Paw-paw diving and seeing most of these creatures in the ocean!
The little boys favorite animals seemed to be the monkeys.
Elijah checking out a snake.
Can you spot the lizard in the right photo?
The hippo was rather disgusting…there is nothing attractive about that animal to me.
These two animals (the one above left and below) were my favorites. :) Okay, so they look sort of like horses…how could I not love them?
The ostriches were hilarious. They were in with the zebras, elephant, and other animals and tried to stay as far from the zebras as they could. :)
I had no idea rhinos were so big! The rhino is one of my brother, Seth’s, favorite animals and I could see why. The look so powerful and strong…and huge. I wouldn’t want to cross a rhino who was having a bad day. :)
I always love the lions and tigers. I think they’re some of the most beautiful creatures!
As we were leaving the zoo, we watched a zookeeper feeding an alligator some fish.
It was very hot at the zoo, so we didn’t last very long. :) Next we went to the Tower of the America’s, a 750 ft. tower in San Antonio!
We took an elevator to the top and saw some magnificent views of the city!
Note to those who wear flowy skirts: don’t wear one to the top of the Tower of the Americas. There are some very strong winds that are a curse to skirt-wearers who are trying to be modest. (And, yes, I speak from personal experience. :)
After we went to the top of the Tower of the Americas, we watched a 3-D movie called, The Skies Over Texas. It was very nice! Your seats shifted, water spritzed you, and a viper came lunging towards your face. :)
You had to be a certain height to watch the movie, so Mrs. Kendra took the little boys outside. The Tower of the Americas had a water play area and the boys enjoyed getting drenched!
Before we knew it, we needed to return to base. We stopped at a gas station across from Levi’s dormitory and said goodbye there.
Sunday morning we drove to Voddie Baucham’s church outside of Houston. The sermon was wonderful!! (I love listening to Mr. Baucham!) Mrs. Kendra’s Aunt Gail and Uncle Skip lived about 10 minutes away from Baucham’s church, so we went there afterwards.
Uncle Skip had a whole collection of belt buckles!
We visited for a little while, until Mrs. Kendra’s sister and nephew arrived, then we traveled to Aunt Gail and Uncle Skip’s son’s home. :)
I loved all the big ranches and endless fields in Texas! I didn’t see as many horses as I wanted to, but I did see a few:
We enjoyed a great time visiting and fellowshipping with Mrs. Kendra’s family! They had a pool in the backyard, so the boys hopped in!
We also played corn hole.
Fixing up dinner. :)
Dinner was absolutely amazing!! Mrs. Kendra’s family was so warm, inviting, and sweet! It was so nice to meet all of them!
Kyra, Ciara, myself, and Gabrielle. (Thanks to Mrs. Gail for the photo. :)
We traveled to LA late Sunday night, drove to GA on Monday, and then to NC on Tuesday. We spent the night Tuesday and then went and picked organic strawberries on Wed. on the way home. The Jacksons dropped me off at home around 3 P.M.
There you have a long, photo-filled recap of my trip to TX with the Jacksons! It was so much fun and I’m so grateful to their family for letting me come along!! :)