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.
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
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
“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.
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
“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.”
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.
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
“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.
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
“I carried that over from my childhood into the Army
- the ability to not quit when everyone else wants to.”
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
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
“This is the first promotion I’ve actually
been here for,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve been close
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.
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.”
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.
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.’”
nothing really special,” he said. “I’ve just been dad.”
By U.S. Army Spc. Liane Schmersahl
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