When U.S. Army Captain Kristen Griest, 26, became one of the first two women to ever complete Army Ranger School she reached national attention. Back home in Orange, her parents swelled with pride for their daughter.
They were of course already proud of the woman they raised and of her older brother, Army Aviation Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Griest, 29.
Tom and Laura Griest would have never thought of themselves as a military family. Sure they both work at Sikorsky Aircraft. And yes, they have a smattering of family who have served over the years. But they didn’t have the sort of family tradition that could have prepared them for both of their children joining the military.
“We only have the two children. Having both of them in the Army is a mixture of great pride along with anxiety,” said Tom. “We have always been patriotic and felt that people should serve others if possible. So knowing that both children are doing their best at serving their country has been a source of satisfaction. However, when they are doing dangerous training or when they were deployed to a combat zone, there were many sleepless nights and more worrying than you might think.”
While Kristen made history as a Ranger, Mike pilots a Sikorsky BLACK HAWK helicopter. It’s the combat vehicle his parents have a hand in building as Sikorsky employees.
Both children grew up in Orange, going from Mary L. Tracy School all the way through Amity Regional High School. Mike was an Eagle Scout and Kristen was always good at sports according to Tom.
“I think they have always had a strong sense of fairness and when they see evil in the world, feel that they should do something about it,” Tom said.
Mike went on to Northeastern University and Kristen to West Point.
As parents of children serving active duty, Tom and Laura have at times had to put their feelings in check. They support their children but few things can be more frightening to a parent than when a Skype call with a deployed child suddenly freezes and disconnects. .
“You try to reconnect as drops are not too unusual but no luck. This goes on for a long time, maybe hours. Finally you give up. Later that night you pick up a hint of what has happened (because you have done 100s of Google searches). It turns out the Forward Operating Base (FOB) was attacked and people were killed,” said Tom. “When this happens, all normal phone and Internet connections are shut-off to insure that the government can be the first to notify the family. Later, another web search confirms that the KIA are indeed American. It might even say that they are from your child’s unit. Depending on how small a group it’s been isolated to, you may start looking for a government car out in front of your house. Then, after a few days of worry, the government names who was lost. There is a tremendous relief combined with the awful grief you feel for the families who experienced the loss. You feel a bond with them, because they are part of the Army Family and you were just dealing with what it might be like to get notified. You want to contact them, but feel they probably don’t want to hear from strangers at this time. Maybe you feel guilt because it was their child instead of yours. You pray for them.”
Eventually, Tom said, you hear from your child who assures you there was nothing to worry about even though a day before the attack they were right where another soldier lost his or her life.
“You go to bed, and you get up the next day and keep on “keeping on”. Waiting for the day they come home,” Tom said. “Praying for their safety.” Laura added.
Tom said it was impossible to describe the attention paid to Kristen for completing Ranger School. The women didn’t want special attention and hoped their names would not be released.
While Tom and Laura are immensely proud of both of their children’s accomplishments, coming home from a deployment is a pretty big deal too.“I will say that the day both of our children were back safe in the USA was one of the happiest days of my life,” Tom said.