Face of Defense: Children Carry on Family's Military Tradition
By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2010 While most parents carry around a tattered, wallet-sized photo or two of their kids, Mary Scott has about a dozen 8-by-10s ready for display.
Upon request, she whips out her family portraits with the speed of a Wild West six-shooter. Her now-grown children are posed in various scenes outside, mostly clad in camouflage. All six of her children, she tells people with pride, are in the military.
“My children are my heroes,” she said. “My husband and I always let them know how proud we are of them and how proud they should be.”
Five of the Scotts’ children are in the Army, and one in the Air Force – and all are scattered throughout the world. This year, like many before, only half of her children made it home for the holidays, but she takes the separations in stride.
“I grew up in the military. My husband was in the military. It seems very normal to me,” she said. “I know this lifestyle very well.”
Scott’s father, Army Brig. Gen. Richard J. Tallman, was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He was killed in combat in Vietnam in 1972, the summer after she finished her freshman year at college. She watched her mother struggle as she shifted from Army wife to single mother of seven.
“We had no money; it was difficult,” Scott said. “But my Mom got her degree and worked hard. She’s also a hero of mine.”
Scott later became an Army wife herself, marrying a U.S. Military Academy graduate in the same West Point chapel where her parents were married in 1949. Over the course of her husband’s 30-year career, the family moved more than 20 times across the country and world, with all six kids in tow. But despite these sacrifices and the heart-wrenching loss of her father, Scott didn’t hesitate when, one by one, her children sought her blessing to serve.
“My husband and I believed as parents, the best thing we could do is be respectful and loving and not get in the way of their development,” she said. “The military, to us, was like the children choosing to go into the family business.”
The military tradition runs deep on their father’s side as well.
“We’ve had a soldier on active duty in the U.S. Army in my family for more than 130 years,” retired Army Maj. Gen. Bruce Scott said. “This notion of service to the nation is something that I was raised with in my family.” The military, the general added, “is in my family’s DNA.”
The couple’s house, perched at the edge of the Potomac River in Lorton, Va., is adorned with family pictures and mementos that reflect their rich military history. Mary’s favorite is a photo of all six of her children in uniform, balanced on each other’s backs to form a pyramid.
“I never would have predicted that all six would join,” she said. “A few of them really surprised us.”
Her eldest, Kate, gave them a shock when she came to them in her junior year of high school with some big news: she wanted to attend West Point.
“I had no clue she was interested in West Point,” Mary said. “She never mentioned it. When she told me, you could have knocked me over with a feather.”
Kate said she applied on somewhat of a whim.
“I felt like I would be losing out if I didn't try,” she said. “I enjoyed West Point quite a lot, and met many great friends there, including my husband.”
“And when her younger siblings saw that she could do it,” her father chimed in, “I am positive it motivated them as well.”
Three of Kate’s siblings – Andy, Kerney and Adam – followed in her footsteps and chose West Point. Adam is a sophomore there. But West Point or not, all six are excelling in their chosen path, Mary said.
Kerney, an Army first lieutenant stationed in South Korea, took to the skies as an aviation officer and Black Hawk helicopter pilot. Andy and Kate, both captains, are military lawyers. Karoline, the sole blue uniform in a sea of Army green, is a public affairs captain in the Air Force and is deployed to Iraq. Alec is in the Individual Ready Reserve while he studies to be a Catholic priest at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. He later plans to serve as an Army chaplain. And, Adam is doing well – though undecided about his career, he said -- at West Point.
Kate returned just days before Christmas from a yearlong deployment to Iraq. She and her husband, Army Capt. John Gowel, also a military lawyer, and their two boys, Matt and Sam, celebrated with a trip home for the holidays.
Surrounded by Christmas trees and her father’s cherished nutcracker collection, Kate chatted with her mother while her husband entertained the children. The closeness they had built while Kate was gone was evident; he often reached down to hug or kiss his sons. “He has done a great job taking care of them and everything else since I have been gone,” Kate said.
Mary also pitched in. She often travels around the country to lend a helping hand to her kids and did her best to help John, who is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, while Kate was deployed.
“It’s important to be proactive, send packages and write letters,” she said. “By doing so, you can help raise awareness of the military here as well. It’s good to remind people that there are others at war.”
Along with supporting her children, Mary volunteers full time as the chairman of the board for the National Military Family Association. Helping military families is dear to her heart, but her family remains her No. 1 priority, she said.
Her busy lifestyle keeps her from worrying about her children, she noted, particularly since all six have joined in a time of war. Karoline is on her first deployment to Iraq; Kate just returned, and Andy has deployed twice.
“It is worrisome,” she acknowledged. “I know, having lost my father in Vietnam, that casualties can happen to anyone -- it’s not just someone else. But I take my mother’s advice: ‘You simply can’t worry about it.’
“Worry can be paralyzing, and you don’t want to project those feelings to your children,” she said.
An occasional late-night phone call can temporarily shake her usually calm demeanor. “But I try not to focus on the negative,” she said. “I spend a lot of time doing work on behalf of military families and support my children any way I can.”
A few missed holidays pale in the light of her children’s contributions to the nation, Mary noted.
“We’re the ones left behind,” she said. “I always tell [my children], ‘This is your time in history. You are where the action is and you’re fighting for us, for your country and for the lifestyle we all enjoy.”
And when they do make it home, Mary said, it’s amazing to see how much they have in common.
“It’s just a nice side effect of all of them being in the military,” she said. “They have a great support system in each other. They can speak the same military language.”
Along with Kate, Alec and Adam also made it home for the holidays. Their teasing banter encompassed many topics, but often touched on their shared military experiences.
“The military was a tremendously prominent and formative force in my life since I was a young child,” Alec said. “It was really the only lifestyle we ever knew as a family.”
Adam echoed his older brother’s thoughts. “I think we have seen the good the Army can do,” he said, “and have simply taken advantage of the opportunity.”
General Scott credits his wife for their children’s strong sense of service, and often says she’s the most important reason they decided to serve.
“In my first 24 years in the Army, Mary, the kids and I moved more than 20 times,” he said. “Yet for each move, Mary always made the next location seem more exciting than the previous one.”
Mary said she loved every minute of their military lifestyle, from the seemingly countless moves to the exposure to new countries and cultures.
“I loved moving, and my husband loved his work,” she said. “I think we were able to project those positive feelings onto our children. I believe by growing up around the military, they developed a sense of service and a fondness for military life. That desire to serve, sense of mission, stuck with them.”
While they would have supported any path their children chose, both parents said they couldn’t be more proud that their children chose such a selfless one.
“I like to think that they had a good upbringing as Army ‘brats,’ and as such, they were inclined to follow in my footsteps,” the general said. “But I honestly believe the reason runs much deeper. They are all wonderful people, and I believe that they feel it is an honor and a privilege to serve the nation.”