The school year for pre-kindergarten to college-age Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community members has begun as summer comes to an end. For young children, starting school for the first time can be very impactful, and for returning students it can involve new experiences or picking up where they left off. For many Community members, once they graduate from college they begin a new path toward their professional development.
For others, the decision to join the ranks of the military is one that can make family members proud. At the same time it can be a scary experience, particularly for the parents, knowing that their child will be leaving to be stationed somewhere else in the United States or possibly in a foreign country.
The experience of the Bisacca family may be similar to others, however, each experience is unique to itself. Eighteen-year-old Elijah Bisacca, the only son of Community member Diahann (Hayes) and James Bisacca, has enlisted in the Army and left for basic training in July.
For the Bisacca family, which also includes sister Deja, having their son and brother enlist into the military was expected. James Bisacca is a Navy veteran with many of his family members in the military, and mother Diahann said that numerous relatives in her family lineage are military veterans. Ever since Elijah was 7 years old, when he initially wanted to be a Navy Seal, he expressed the desire to serve in the military.
When Elijah began his freshman year at Chaparral High School, he had a friend who was attending the Army and Navy Academy (ANA), a college preparatory boarding and day school located in Carlsbad, California. Elijah’s friend told him about the school because he knew Elijah wanted to enlist in the military and the academy had a very good reputation. In his sophomore year, Elijah applied and was accepted into the private preparatory school for boys.
Diahann Bisacca shared, “When Elijah told his friends he was going to a military boarding school, the first thing they asked was, ‘What did you do?’ He would tell them ‘Nothing; this is not like other military schools!’” Elijah was elated he completed the admission process, which included an interview, earning an acceptable grade point average (GPA), scoring well on the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT), completing a survey and a writing sample, and most importantly expressing his commitment to attending the boarding school.
For the Bisacca family, it was seen as an investment in helping their son obtain the best education and gain important experiences so he can reach his goal of becoming an officer in the military.
When Elijah arrived at ANA, he became involved in various leadership positions. In his sophomore year he became a platoon officer; in his junior year he became a cadet sergeant; and then in his senior year, Elijah was the senior commanding officer for his company, Charlie Company. James Bisacca stated, “The school has a total enrollment of about 310 students from seventh grade to 12th grade. Elijah had 78 graduating seniors in his class. When he graduated from the Army Navy Academy he grew to be 6’2” and 180 lbs.”
Recruit Bisacca, currently stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, is involved in nine weeks of basic training with his infantry unit, which will be followed by five weeks of Advanced Infantry Training (AIT), and then three weeks of jump training to “earn his wings” as an Army paratrooper and be eligible to be considered for Army Ranger training. Per his father, “One of his ultimate goals is to become an Army Ranger and possibly try to become a part of an elite Delta Force [unit].” Elijah’s expected graduation date is October 2015.
The family reflected on this milestone in their life and offered the following statements.
Diahann Bisacca said, “Even though [Elijah] has been away at military boarding school, it’s harder now [that he’s in the Army]. When he was in high school, we could call him, [communicate with him on] Skype, go see him on the weekends, or he could come home. Now, we are not able to; I am not going to see him every other weekend. Since he is in basic training, I cannot call him, [nor] can he just pick up the phone and call us. When he was in high school, I would text him every day to say ‘Good morning,’ and we would make contact throughout each day. Now we do not have any contact with him.”
The family will not be able to see Elijah until October, when he finishes his basic training and graduates.
Diahann added further, “The other hard part is once he finishes his training, he is going to be stationed somewhere else as [military personnel]. I will no longer be able to just drive over the same day to visit and see him. He will not be able to just fly home to visit us. It makes me sad.”
“When we wanted to see him, we would take a trip to California. Now we can no longer do this – even if we went to the base [Fort Benning], we still would not be able to see him.”
As someone of Italian descent, James Bisacca shared, “What I miss the most is hugging my son. He is very affectionate and [expressive]. I miss that.”
“Now that he is in basic training, [the only communication] we received was written on a notepad sheet that had a short message from him saying he arrived at basic training and he was okay. The military also sent information that was very ‘diplomatically written,’ basically indicating our son enlisted, he ‘raised his hand,’ and that he is not a little boy anymore. He is in the Army now.”
The family cannot wait until they see Elijah after he graduates from basic training. It makes the Bisacca family proud knowing their son and brother will serve his country, but just as important is knowing Elijah has taken the next step toward achieving his goal, toward adulthood and being of service to his community and of the nation.
It is evident that it can be difficult for family and friends of Community members who have chosen to join the military, attend college or technical school, or who have decided to move away on their own. Yet letting go and seeing young adults begin their journey toward a bright future must be embraced. Every positive experience taken by Community members can strengthen family ties and the tribal community.