Today, Nov. 11, we honor the men and women who defend our country and keep it safe so we can exercise our rights as Americans.

The daughter of a World War II veteran who served in the Army Air Corps for five years, I early on developed respect for the men and women who serve in the military. As a member of the American Legion Junior Auxiliary, I participated in annual Veterans Day programs and was proud that my dad was one of the men being honored.

As an adult, my respect for members of the military grew because I witnessed the commitment to service of my brother-in-law, who was in the Air Force. John spent time in countries around the world during the last several of his 22-year career in the service. He did his temporary duty without complaint, despite it periodically separating him from his family for several months at a time.

Now, as the mother of a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corp., my appreciation and gratitude for members of the military has grown even greater.

Two years and six days ago, my son, Thomas, left for boot camp in San Diego. At the time, saying goodbye to him at the Fargo airport was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. I had no worries about Thomas withstanding the rigors of boot camp, but even though he was 19, it was difficult for me to know that I could not be with him or even talk to him on the phone while he was going through what would be the toughest, most rigorous training of his life so far.

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During the next three months, I eagerly checked the mail each day for a letter from Thomas. He wrote several, always positive about his training and the Marine protocol and history he was learning.

On Feb. 1, 2019, our family watched Thomas graduate from boot camp, a man in place of the boy to whom we had said goodbye. He carried himself with dignity and stood ramrod straight when we talked to him after the ceremony. He respectfully saluted superior officers when they walked by.

During the past year and a half since boot camp graduation, Thomas has graduated from the School of Infantry in Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he did his training to be a machine gunner. He then spent many more months in training: hiking and running for three and half miles while carrying about 90 pounds of weight and sleeping in deserts without a sleeping bag, with only MREs to fuel him.

This spring, Thomas was deployed to the Middle East, and like John, never complained about being sent overseas, the less-than-ideal conditions in which he lived or the duties he was required to carry out.

Now, Thomas is back in California and doing an advanced machine gunner course, consisting of more grueling exercises that include a 6.5-mile run carrying a 65-pound pack and doing “Murphs,” a one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and then another one-mile. Meanwhile, on the tactical side, Thomas has taken numerous written tests and written many orders, which detail the steps needed before an attack on the enemy.

I greatly admire Thomas yet, at the same time, I know he is not unique. His pride in and loyalty to the United States and his willingness to go great lengths to save it is duplicated hundreds of thousands of times, each and every day, by members of the military across the United States.

Knowing that humbles me beyond measure. And today, I honor those men and women, past and present, who serve our country. I thank them with heartfelt gratitude, and I say a prayer that God will keep them safe as they keep us safe.

Ann Bailey is a Grand Forks Herald reporter who writes a personal column twice per month.