Unlikely allies help Puerto Rican mother see Soldier son graduate

by Mr. Robert Timmons (IMCOM)
U.S. Army

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- It took "mom-battle buddies," who met over social media hundreds of miles apart, to gather unlikely allies to help one Puerto Rican mother witness her son graduate Nov. 2 from Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

They like to call themselves "mom-battle buddies" because a chance encounter brought together parents of trainees who happened to battle buddies themselves. Katherine Berrios-Borges was looking through the 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, and Fort Jackson Army Mom's Facebook pages, when she noticed a picture Jennifer Weaver posted of her son, Pvt. Dakota Haspert, with his battle buddy at Fort Jackson who just happened to be Pvt. Ramon Nazario, her son.

"Oh, it's my son," Berrios-Borges exclaimed. "It's my baby."

The mothers started chatting with each other online and later over the phone, becoming fast friends and "mom-battle buddies." But Hurricanes Irma and Maria cut their correspondence short for a while, until recently.

The hurricanes that cut a swath through the Caribbean this year exponentially increased the need for Berrios-Borges to see her son and "give him a hug."

"I just wanted to come because he left two voice mails saying, 'Mom are you OK? I wanted to hear your voice,'" she said. "I wanted to be here so he could see that I was OK … I wanted to get a hug from him because I needed it."

There was one small, yet significant hurdle she would have to traverse before she could do that -- get enough money to purchase plane tickets that cost "over a thousand and some dollars" -- money she didn't have.

Her mom-battle buddy came to the rescue enlisting an ally, the Robert Irvine Foundation, to help raise the money. "I wanted her to get to see him," Weaver said as she started to tear up. "It's been amazing" to see the two reunited at Hilton Field, she said.

The foundation, started by celebrity Chef Robert Irvine, is a non-profit organization honoring the men and women who defend the nation. The foundation bought Berrios-Borges the ticket, no questions asked.

That wasn't the only support Berrios-Borges and her son received. Other mothers began to help in any way they could. When it was apparent that she couldn't write her son because of the hurricanes, they began writing Nazario, starting up a liaison between the Soldier and parent.

"I received 20 letters from moms in the support group," Nazario said after his graduation. The support group sent care packages to him and his mother.

Following a tip from his battle buddy, Nazario "started writing these moms who would get in touch" with his mother. "They were really worried." He knew Puerto Rico was damaged, but not until he graduated did it really hit home.

The outpouring of support strongly affected Fort Jackson officials too.

"Here we have two mothers from very different walks of life come together to echo the battle buddy relationship their sons are developing in basic combat training," said Nicholas Salcido, Fort Jackson's social media manager. "The military is often talked about as one big family, but this exactly that sentiment in action; all hyperbole aside.

"This is individuals coming together to provide and support each other without strings attached."

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