Staff Sgt. Leah J. Bickford, left, congratulates her son Pvt. Jayden Audette, right, after his Basic Combat Training graduation Sept. 23, 2021, at Fort Jackson, S.C. The mother and son duo are both members of the Maine Army National Guard and graduated back-to-back at the installation. Bickford graduated from a Senior Leaders Course she attended a week after her son graduated basic training. Bickford is a recruiter for her state’s National Guard and contracted her son as well. (Photo Credit: Alexandra Shea)
By Alexandra Shea, Fort Jackson Public Affairs
Soldiers graduate from Basic Combat Training and various schools across Fort Jackson, South Carolina, almost every week. It’s not every day that a Family will see two Soldiers graduate back-to-back.
Pvt. Jayden Audette graduated from Basic Combat Training with his fellow trainees in 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, on Sept. 23, 2021.
Less than a mile from his company, Audette’s mother, Staff Sgt. Leah J. Bickford who is attending a Senior Leader Course and graduate on Friday.
Bickford, assigned to the Maine Army National Guard as a recruiting and retention noncommissioned officer, also happened to be her son’s recruiter.
“On my 17th birthday, my mom walked up to me with the papers and said ‘Here you go.’ But it’s more than just that,” Audette said jokingly.
Bickford and Audette have a long Family history of military service that can be traced as far back as the Civil War. It was patriotism and his military parents that motivated him most to enlist.
“I’ve told people in my platoon that my mom is a recruiter … she recruited me,” he said. “People said ‘What? That’s crazy.’ But they also thought it was cool too.”
“I recruited him a year ago,” Bickford said. “I didn’t know I was coming here to Jackson. When I looked at my son’s training date I realized we would be here at the same time. It wasn’t planned at all.”
Though both knew they were only about a mile apart from each other, Bickford the mother missed her child. Audette, being separated from his Family for the first time said the distance helped to motivate him during the low times he felt during his training cycle.
“Of course we couldn’t see each other because of (training) and COVID restrictions,” Bickford said. “But it was neat knowing he was right up the road and training on the same installation I’m at.”
Through coordination with the leadership at her school, Bickford was able to spend about 20 minutes with her son on Family Day and to attend his graduation ceremony the following day.
While Bickford has taken care of her son in his private life and now into his military career, the dedication she shows to him is shared with others.
As part of enlistment in the Maine Army National Guard, recruits who are contracted but have not shipped to Basic Combat Training participate in the Recruit Sustainment Program during monthly Battle Assembly weekends.
The program trains recruits on tasks and skills they will see and train on again during BCT to include physical fitness, drill and ceremony, customs and courtesies, land navigation, and chain of command to name a few.
Bickford assists with the program’s training and helped to prepare all recruits in her area in addition to her son. She will be a long-term fixture throughout the careers of these recruits.
“They see us when they enlist, ship and we talk to them once they get to their training installations and AIT,” Bickford said. “We talk them through all their benefits once they get back from training so they can utilize their tuition assistance and know how to set up their Tricare and dental benefits. We then become their retention NCOs. We are career people they can look up to throughout their careers.”
For Audette, once he return from advanced individual training, he plans to utilize his tuition assistance to obtain a degree.
Until then, Audette says he plans on studying hard during his 22 week AIT at Fort Gordon, Georgia, to graduate as a 25U-Signal Systems Support Specialist.
“My mom made a promise and it’s going to be kept,” Audette said. “My mom, step-dad, brothers and sisters … my whole Family is coming down for my AIT (graduation) and then we are going on a trip to Disney World in Florida.”