Andrew Dys

Chester High graduate follows four brothers, stepfather into Army

The dictionary says patriotism is the love, zealous loyalty for one’s county. There are no names in the definition.

There should be.

Those names should be Hoagland and Moss, from Chester, South Carolina, U.S.A.

At 1:34 p.m. Tuesday, on the eve of the day that Americans rejoice in patriotism for this land that never ceases to amaze with the greatness of the people in it, the last Moss of all walked into a room in a Charlotte military complex.

The room was flanked by the American flag and the flags of each military service organization. This Moss was flanked by two guys, strangers. Teenagers, just like her.

A lieutenant barked. All three snapped to attention. In the back of the room, a stepfather – a sergeant and leader of men in two wars – stood straight as a flagpole, with pride that knows no bounds. He wore the same boots he wore in Afghanistan.

A grandmother was silent.

A mother, intermittently, wept.

It was nine years and four months and 23 days after this same Moss girl, tiny then at age 8, held onto that same stepfather moments before he headed to war in Iraq. That day, the little red-haired girl with the ponytail squeezed that barrel chest of steel of her stepfather and cried.

On Tuesday, she stood tall and spoke with words that sounded like cannon fire booming from the strength of patriotism from a family that knows nothing else.

The lieutenant started what is called the “Oath of Enlistment.”

Rachel Moss, age 18, still red-haired, repeated the words about loyalty and courage and following orders, about supporting and defending the Constitution that is the document of freedom that is written in blood.

In exactly 64 seconds, Moss was a private in the United States Army.

“I felt it was my time to serve, like my brothers and my father,” she said, tears in her eyes.

And if that service means Afghanistan, combat, then, Moss said, “that is exactly what I will do.”

Rachel Moss, a month out of high school, did Tuesday what all her brothers did before her. Graduate and enlist.

Back in 2003, just five days before Chris Hoagland of Chester was deployed to Iraq with the Army National Guard’s Fort Mill unit, he married the former Bonnie Moss. Bonnie Moss came from Fort Mill with five kids.

By the time Hoagland got back from combat, the oldest son, Chad, had turned 18 and enlisted in the same Fort Mill National Guard unit. Then Justin Moss turned 18 and enlisted in that unit. Then Bradley.

All three sons married girlfriends in quick fashion before leaving for war.

All four – father and sons, from the same unit – have been deployed to Afghanistan. Chad was wounded.

Bonnie Hoagland, that mother and wife, cried and waved her flag and said so many times during those brutal years that this is what America is – service.

“It is what they do, what we do,” she said again Tuesday.

Clayton, the youngest son, joined the active duty Army. He has been in infantry, airborne, in four combat deployments. He is there today, overseas in some desert, on Independence Day.

And finally, here came Rachel at about 5 feet tall, with freckles, to that same room in Charlotte where there is no turning back.

She had been thinking about joining since at least middle school, she said.

And Tuesday, after all the medical exams and scrutiny and testing, Rachel pulled the trigger.

“United States Army,” she said. “I am going to be in the military police.”

Rachel hopes one day to go to college and study to be a crime scene investigator. But first the Army – starting at the very bottom as all in her family have done.

Stepfather Chris Hoagland made it clear that he did not pressure any of the kids to join the military.

This is a guy who led a platoon in Iraq and a company in Afghanistan. He had as many as 40 young soldiers, the age of his kids, under his command. He has done the hardest, most dangerous jobs on earth.

He has killed and fought and through sheer will, every one of those young soldiers who served under him came home alive.

Still, Chris Hoagland never pushed any of his children to join the Army. The last, the daughter – certainly not.

“Her brothers and Rachel all decided on their own to enlist,” Hoagland said. “And I am so proud of them all.”

Bonnie Hoagland, who has sent the men in her family to war for a decade – and now will send the only daughter – has “mixed emotions” about Rachel’s enlisting.

“I stand behind her – this is something she has always wanted to do, and she will grow up,” Bonnie Hoagland said. “But right now I am gonna cry.”

Rachel Moss has until November until she reports for basic training in Missouri. Her hitch?

“Five years,” Rachel said, no waver in her voice. Those named Hoagland and Moss sign up and go for as long as it takes. All do whatever it takes.

As America celebrates its birthday today, 300-plus million people will embrace this country that in its freedoms and courage and guts has no peer in the history of mankind.

But America the country of freedom, the envy of the world, is really America the people.

Rachel Moss was asked why it was special to enlist in time for Independence Day. She immediately answered, from under her freckles, “Because I love America and want to serve my country.”

Then Rachel Moss, private, United States Army, was hugged by her mother and stepfather, who readied to send the last of all the Moss kids off to the wars that are fought by kids from Chester, South Carolina, U.S.A., so that there can be an Independence Day for the rest of us.