Tampa MEPS, Fla. –
As the eight middle-aged residents of Tampa file into the blue-carpeted and wood paneled room and stand against the walls, it’s a stark contrast from those who are already standing in the middle. Nearly 20 young adults and older teenagers, whose expressions range from excitement to nervousness, look straight ahead. Those standing on the outskirts of the room have their own array of expressions, with the men looking very proud and the women, teary-eyed and deep in thought, looking toward those in the center.
This summer, USMEPCOM released its applicant guest policy, which allows most applicants two guests to the Oath of Enlistment. Family access to MEPS was restricted when the COVID-19 pandemic forced shutdowns globally. As the world opened back up, USMEPCOM developed a policy to bring in guests inside while ensuring smooth operations.
“I am happy to welcome applicant guests to our MEPS to witness the start of their loved one’s military career,” said Col. Megan Stallings, USMEPCOM commander. “As a command we are laser-focused on efficiently processing applicants to support our recruiting partners, and this policy strikes the right balance between allowing guests and mitigating impact to operations.”
Active-Duty applicants about to ship to basic training as well as National Guard and Reserve applicants are allowed two visitors to observe the Oath of Enlistment at all MEPS locations. All MEPS continue to record and post videos of the Oath of Enlistment to their Facebook pages.
Back in the Tampa MEPS Oath Room, the moms and dads, and even a couple siblings raise their smartphones toward their loved ones as they in turn raise their right hand and begin in unison, “I, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies…” After the newest applicants into the Armed Forces complete their Oath of Enlistment, they have just a few minutes to say farewell to their families before heading to the airport to fly to basic training. It will be the last time they see each other until graduation in a couple months.
Lunice Cruz, one of the noticeably more emotional moms during the Aug. 28 ceremony, couldn’t imagine not being there to see her son, Kevin Cruz, swear into the Navy. She explains that since the birth of her younger son, 18-year-old Bryan, it has just been the three of them.
“We’re a team and one of our team members is leaving,” said Lunice. “We’re very attached. For us to be here inside, to be able to see Kevin take the Oath, for us it’s very important. It has only been us three since Bryan has been born.”
“Everybody wants to see him go, achieve his goals and see his growth,” said Bryan. “Our friends and family, especially our grandpa will enjoy seeing the pictures we post here today but it was very important for us three to be here together.”
When Lunice and Bryan embraced Kevin following the ceremony, the feelings of connectivity and love were palpable. They were cherishing every moment in the MEPS, needing nearly an entire box of tissues for the tears between them.
“We are emotional today,” said Lunice. “They are tears of joy, moments like this mean a lot. It is hard because we are very close, but I am very proud of him, this is a big step. I will continue to write letters and support him throughout his Navy career. He will always feel our energy, that we are with him and that we are proud of him.”
That support, especially at the beginning of one’s military career, is what got many in the service through difficult times. Support from family is important in maintaining stability in the demanding environment of the military, and family even has influence on whether service members continue to serve.
“Them being here reminds me of my why,” said Kevin. “Why I’m signing up and doing this. It’s really just another last-minute surge of strength to see my mom and brother here. I was giving them words of encouragement to stay strong, but also telling that to myself. It makes me want to go harder.”
Another mom in attendance compared the day’s events to other huge landmark moments in her family’s life.
“This is a huge milestone in his life,” said Jennifer Doria, whose son, Christian Castro, enlisted into the Navy. “This is just like a wedding or any other big event. He’s the last of four kids to leave the house, so it’s hard for me to let go. This is a moment that will live in my memories forever.”
Although she was also wiping away tears with a hand full of tissues, she expressed that she was very excited her son made the decision to enlist.
“I’ve never seen him this excited about anything,” said Jennifer. “I couldn’t get him to memorize anything growing up and he’s already memorized the Sailor’s Creed and other information he’ll need in bootcamp. It was emotional to watch him swear in and take the next step to be the man he is destined to become. It is hard for us to see him go, but we know it will make his life better.”
For those working with applicants daily, they know just how big of an impact that one member of a family enlisting into the military can have. It can make better the life of just that sole individual.
“Seeing the pride and that smile that family members have as they come in, it means a lot,” said Adrian Roberson, Tampa MEPS human resources assistant. “They’re seeing their child or loved on starting a new career. You can have an applicant come in, and their family doesn’t have much. That applicant is going to change their lives by sending money home or by simply taking care of themselves and their own medical and dental bills.”
The doors opening back up to visitors also help remind the staff of the important mission behind every task they achieve throughout the day, and in a way, shines a light on that mission for family as well.
“Seeing the emotions from family members and other visitors reemphasizes the values and traditions of military service,” said Patricia McNeal, Tampa MEPS human resources assistant. “It is important for them [family] to witness the oath so they too can understand that patriotism and embrace the important charge their loved ones have raised their hands to uphold.”
Applicants may need to coordinate with their recruiter for visitor access to some MEPS. For information about visiting a specific MEPS visit https://www.mepcom.army.mil/Units/. To view the current Applicant Guest Policy, visit https://www.mepcom.army.mil/Home/Applicants-and-Parents/Applicant-Guests/-30-/