When Harold Bolton raised his right hand and swore an oath to support and defend, he did so as a new husband and a new father to a 6-year-old son; he did so knowing that his oath would mean late nights and early mornings, missed birthdays and long absences, and change as the only constant.
He knew that there would be times ahead when his duties as a Soldier would conflict with his duties as a father; there would simply be no avoiding that. But he knew, nonetheless, that he would do what he could, when he could, to be there for his family – to serve them as he served his nation.
Bolton had taken on that responsibility when he married Staci only a year prior, becoming, in that moment, a father to 5-year-old Justin Mouser. Justin, of course, had no say in the matter when it came to missed birthdays and long absences – Justin, like any other Army brat shuffling around the country, didn’t get to choose a life of constant change; rather, he was thrust into it the day Bolton swore his oath and left to become an Army mechanic.
And as he watched his father leave on deployments, and dealt with those unfortunate but necessary absences, and packed and unpacked and packed up again, Justin was certain that the life his father had chosen was not the life for him – and that was okay.
“I grew up as an Army brat. I told myself and everybody else that I’d never join,” Justin said.
That eventually changed.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Harold Bolton of the 543rd Composite Supply Company places a new rank on his just-promoted son, Sgt. 1st Class Justin Mouser of 1-32 Infantry Battalion, during Mouser's promotion ceremony at his battalion headquarters on February 1, 2017. Mouser caught up with his father after 10 years in the Army. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Liane Schmersahl)
“Probably around my sophomore year in high school I realized I couldn’t handle a desk job - that that kind of thing wasn’t for me - but even then I wasn’t thinking about joining the military,” he said.
But he didn’t know what he wanted to do, exactly, and when his 2006 high school graduation came and went and there was still no plan, he knew who to call.
“One day it just popped in my head,” he said. “It clicked.”
It was one of those long periods of absence and separation – while Bolton had PCSd, Justin had stayed behind in Alaska to finish high school – but Bolton was just a phone call away.
“I knew exactly who to call,” he said.
“He called me and said, ‘Hey Dad, I’m at the recruiter’s office,’” Bolton remembered. “I asked him ‘What are they giving you?’ and he said ‘11B,’”
“I asked him ‘Couldn’t you have done better than that?’” Bolton recalled, laughing.
But another big life event coincided with another deployment; when Justin enlisted in the Fall of 2006, and graduated in January 2007, his father was out of the country -- there was no way he could be there.
“I knew my Mom and my little brother and sister would make it -- they were home at the time, but Dad was deployed. He actually managed to finagle his [rest and recuperation] for the same time as my ‘turning blue’ and graduation from OSUT.”
“That was a massive surprise for me,” he said.
And from there, the brand-new Pvt. Justin Mouser had a built-in mentor; Bolton’s experiences, his successes and failures, would set a path for his son to follow.
“It was easy to push him because I had seen what I hadn’t done through my career and the things that held me up, and I really had nobody pushing me either,” Bolton said.
“It was easy for me to tell him, ‘you need to do this, you need to do that,’ and give some direction. You never want to get to the point where you’re in a standstill because you’re not doing something towards building your career.”
And so, with his father’s guidance in the front of his mind, the brand-new Pvt. Mouser hit the ground running.
“I I went from being a private to a team leader really quickly, and as soon as I pinned E5 I was a squad leader,” he said.
The goal? Catch up.
He had an advantage his father hadn’t had; Justin attributes much of his success to professional guidance he received from his father, but also to the way Bolton and his mother raised him.
“Growing up, ‘Can’t’ wasn’t a word we were allowed to use,” Justin remembered, “And that definitely carried over into the military - especially in my MOS. When you’re on mile 15 of a 25 mile ruck, the word ‘can’t’ just doesn’t exist. You don’t have a choice at that point.”
“I carried that over from my childhood into the Army - the ability to not quit when everyone else wants to.”
And so, just over 10 years later, Sgt. 1st Class Bolton had another opportunity to show up for his son – this time, it was no surprise; Mouser had asked his father to pin him upon another promotion. And this time, when Bolton stood before his son, he wasn’t standing in front of a brand-new private straight out of training, but a brand-new Sergeant First Class – a peer professionally, but his son nonetheless.
It was no mistake that Bolton was here this time; Mouser had specifically requested to come to Fort Drum, where he serves with 1-32 Infantry, so he could be close to his father - a 91X with 543rd Composite Supply Company, 548th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.
“This is the first promotion I’ve actually been here for,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve been close enough.”
And for Mouser?
“It means absolutely everything to me, to have him here, for him to pin me. I wanted him to do the first two, especially coming into the NCO ranks, but when I pinned E5 he was deployed, and when I made E6 I was deployed.”
“I wanted him to do all of them, but especially this one, being the first step in the Senior NCO ranks. It’s just amazing.”
And though Mouser reached his goal and caught up to his father, who plans to retire in 2018, his younger brother, Josh, currently a Sergeant in 3rd Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Polk , is helping keep the spirit of competition alive in the family.
“He’s chasing me,” Mouser said. “He could have been anything in the Army, but I think he chose 11B specifically because I did. He wants to outdo me; we’ve always been in competition.”
While the February 1 promotion to Sergeant First Class was a victory for Mouser, he said his younger brother’s Ranger school graduation in October 2015 was a victory for Josh.
And compete as they may for points and rank and schools - status symbols within the infantry - they’ve both not only taken from their father’s experience, but added to it.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” Bolton said. “It’s kind of fun living my life through them. They’ll call me and let me know how things are going when they’re in schools, and those aren’t schools a mechanic really gets to go to. They get to do things that I didn’t do.”
“I called you almost every day when I was in Sniper School,” Mouser added.
The relationship that molded Mouser into the NCO he is today endures, he said, and has adapted with each change of duty station and each promotion.
“It’s a unique dynamic - with both of us being in the same position as far as leadership goes, it gives us somewhere to go with that,” he said. “When I’m having trouble with my platoon, I’ll go to him every time, and it gives him someone to vent to as well when things don’t go his way at work either.”
“It’s nice to have someone who actually understand not only the job, but that duty position,” he said.
For Bolton, it’s all been a part of that responsibility he took on 24 years ago when he married Staci - the woman both men agreed is the “backbone of the family,” and he cherishes the trust his sons place in him.
“I’m here. It’s great to have kids - they both do it - they both call and ask what they should do, and I get to tell them ‘You need to do this in order to get that.’”
“ It’s nothing really special,” he said. “I’ve just been dad.”
By U.S. Army Spc. Liane Schmersahl
Provided through DVIDS
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