Boots and blisters gave way to cadences and confidence as a young woman became an Army solider.


Elizabeth Strickland, 18, had always been patriotic and wanted to do something to serve her country. A trip to an Army recruiter in Victorville in January paved the way. In February she left for Basic Combat Training and Fort Jackson, S.C., became her new home. The U.S. Army was her new family.


"The name (tag) on your right is your family name; the one on your left is your new family. Welcome to it," Strickland remembers her drill sergeant, Sgt. First Class Crystal Triplett, saying.


Life as the recruits knew it would forever change: Over the next 10 weeks they would eat, sleep and train together. What one of them couldn't accomplish, someone would work with them to do it. What one didn't have, someone would share. Everyone was expected to do the same for others. Teamwork was learned and applied.


"If you asked me when I first got here if I liked it, I'd probably say no," said Strickland at the end of boot camp. "But in the Blue Phase, the last phase, I'd say it's worth it to serve your country, to wear the beret.


"It's made me more confident and proud. The entire platoon motivated each other. I've accomplished things I never thought I could do."


Those accomplishments were celebrated with loved ones on Thursday, April 30, Family Day. Loved ones waited to see their soldiers, some coming in groups, some coming alone. They all watched as smoke plumes appeared along the tree line. Out of the smoke and trees came the soldiers.


All day long soldiers acknowledged each other with a nod or a smile. It didn't matter what company you were from, Alpha or Echo. The young and not so young, the single, the dating, the married: They all had something in common.


"I'm supposed to be here. Being here just feels so right," said Strickland. The biggest struggles were mental and emotional, she said. "It's physical but it's mostly all mental."


As Family Day concluded, the soldiers returned to their barracks. Strickland walked past the outdoor phone banks, where numerous calls had been placed to loved ones.


Among the fragrant, night-blooming jasmine, there were smiles, hugs and a few tears. Phone numbers were exchanged. Pictures were taken. Goodbyes were said.


Many of the soldiers were leaving for Advanced Individual Training on the following day. Others would remain at Fort Jackson for their training.


Graduation was the following morning. The soldiers' loved ones were out in full force, many with their Army hats, T-shirts and pins on. The crowd cheered as the soldiers marched by.


"The experience has made me even more patriotic," said Strickland.


And along with serving her country, Strickland wanted to earn the respect of her drill instructors.


"I didn't know that you had that in you, Strickland," Triplett told her, when she learned that Strickland was not moving on to the office work so many women in the Army do, but rather beginning 12 weeks of training as a vehicle mechanic, a "maintenance warrior."


"That hit me in the gut," Strickland said proudly.


Sharon Strickland is the Hesperia Star's office administrator and Elizabeth's mother. She can be reached at 956-7827 or at sharon@hesperiastar.com.