It was the middle of the soccer season. The weather had turned a little cool, at least cool enough to require a jacket. Charlie and I were standing at the top of the penalty box talking as the rest of my Vardaman Rams’ soccer team pelted Charlie’s brother Eric, our goalie, with shots from all angles as we did every day at the start of practice while waiting for everyone to arrive.
We had the usual conversation about family, grades, and his level of fitness, when I asked about his plans after graduation in May, hoping he would let me schedule him a tryout with a community college.
“I want to be a Marine,” Charlie told me. “I’m going to sign my papers next week.”
“The Marines are tough,” I remember telling him. “It’s going to be hard.”
“Yes sir,” he replied.
“But nothing is too tough for you Charlie,” I said. “You can do anything you put your mind to.”
They weren’t just words. Charlie had proven that to me. He was the leader of our team. We had players with more skill, more speed, more power, more flair. But no one had the heart, the toughness – both physical and mental – the determination of Charlie Solis.
We went through a stretch of three games over Christmas break when Charlie had traveled to Mexico to visit family for the holidays. We were lost defensively. I yelled and pointed across the field more those three games than the rest of the season combined. I remember thinking to myself, “I’m ready for Charlie to get home.”
I wasn’t alone in those sentiments last week. United States Marine Charlie Solis returned home to Vardaman last Sunday for the first time since beginning rigorous training at Parris Island, South Carolina. He departed in late June determined to make us all proud. I for one never had any doubts.
Like I told those in the audience at the Vardaman High School athletic banquet last May when I presented Charlie with the best defender award – “Who else would be best on defense but our future U.S. Marine?”
We exchanged letters over the summer. I asked him how he was holding up. He asked about soccer and his brother Eric. I was honored to get an invite with many other friends and family to the Front Porch in Vardaman last Sunday afternoon where Charlie, only a few hours after arriving home, was being brought for what he was told was a baby shower for a relative.
Instead, it was a surprise welcome home party for him.
I’ll never forget seeing him walk through the door with the sun shining brightly behind him. The red and gold trim on the pristine U.S. Marine uniform sparkled almost as bright as his shiny black shoes. The brass buttons, the white hat, the blue trousers, that will soon have a red stripe down the side, were all flawless.
His friends made fun of his uneven haircut. “You just don’t know,” Charlie said with a smile.
He explained the training is hard, but not as hard as being away from his family and friends.
“You can do it,” he told one friend who suggested he doubted he would have what it takes to follow in Charlie’s footsteps. “You just have to show them you’re determined and that you want to be there.”
I love all my kids from last year’s inaugural soccer season at Vardaman and there are so many things from last year I am so proud of. But few things can compare to having coached a United States Marine.
Thank you Charlie.