To honor and celebrate the many veterans who serve the Boston Children's community every day, the hospital profiled four staff members. Their stories, and their connections with the armed forces, are as diverse and unique as the roles they play in the hospital today. Theresa Landers is a Software Engineer working with Boston Children's electronic medical record system.
It took combing through 300 photographs on the battalion's Facebook page for Theresa Landers, MBA, to finally find what she was looking for. From the bright contours of her computer screen, Theresa's son Jeff posed for one of the last photographs he would take before being deployed to Afghanistan for the better part of a year. In the photograph, Jeff holds a white board with a simple message written on top: "Hi mom!"
When Jeff told his mother, at the tender age of 11, that he wanted to join the Army, she was less than thrilled about the decision. Her immediate and repeated efforts to change his mind soon led to arguments that, as he approached college, almost caused them to stop talking to each other completely. When it became clear that her efforts might end up hurting their relationship, she relented. "It was not the choice I would have made for him," she admits, "but this is what happens when you bring up your kids telling them: I don't care what you do, I'll always support you. And this is what he wanted to do."
Twelve years later, when she travelled to Army Fort Richardson in Anchorage, AK, to visit him -- and shortly before he was set to leave for Afghanistan -- it was easier for Theresa to trace the origins of Jeff's interest in the military. If the West Point banner in his room wasn't enough indication, Jeff was a patriot at heart. A history buff from an early age, Jeff had become a civil war expert by the time he started high school. On a family trip to Gettysburg, he urged his mother to let him take the place of a tour guide and proceeded to lead them on a complete tour. "He always wanted to do something with meaning," Theresa says. "He didn't just want to do a job; he wanted to do something that could change the world."
Meaning wasn't the only thing Jeff was looking for in a career. Enlisting gave him the chance to satisfy another ambition: world travel. "He wanted to get out of 'boring' Acton so badly," Theresa recalls. A full ROTC scholarship to attend Norwich University gave him the chance to take the first step towards that goal and, if the stamps on his passport are any indication, his time in the Army has come through on that promise. Even before his deployment to Afghanistan, his work brought Jeff to Germany, South Korea, and the United Kingdom and, since his deployment, he has also traveled to Belize, Kuwait and Qatar.
It wasn't until winter 2011 that one of Theresa's worst fears was realized: her son was being sent to Afghanistan. For Theresa, the trip to Anchorage was a chance to see her son one last time before he left. It was also a chance to deliver two important gifts: a cake for his upcoming birthday and a lucky charm near and dear to her heart. The charm was solid gold molded into the shape of Theresa’s favorite breed of dog, the dachshund. Luck wasn't all she hoped it would bring Jeff; in a really rough spot, she hoped he might be able to use it as currency to buy -- or bribe -- his way to safety. Two weeks later, with the cake eaten and the charm tucked safely away, Jeff's company deployed.
The next ten months would prove to be more difficult than Theresa could have imagined. The monthly phone calls home Jeff was able to make became a lifeline for the family. "We didn't talk much," she recalls, "but everyone at work understood that if he called me, regardless of what I was doing at the time, I was taking the call." When they were able to speak, he talked mostly about the country he was slowly getting to know: the villagers he met, the food and what it was like to live there.
As a First Lieutenant in artillery, Jeff's role was to attack targets from inside the fort he was stationed at, but his location did little to soothe Theresa's fears. "I could make it through the week okay because I had to," she explains, "but Saturday mornings I would just stay in bed for hours, crying. I was so scared. I can't even describe how stressful it is when your kid is getting shot at." It was with a huge sigh of relief that she received news that his tour of duty was over.
Jeff is still stationed in Anchorage, but will soon move to Fort Gordon in Georgia to join Signal Corps, which manages communications and IT systems support for the combined armed forces. It's a position Theresa's more comfortable seeing him in, especially given his childhood spent tinkering with and setting up electronics at their home. "He's always been very funny and imaginative, and a creative problem-solver," she says. "Whenever we bought anything that needed to be put together, he did it."
Between now and then, Jeff's schedule keeps him overseeing artillery training and testing, leaving him little time to think about what he'll do when his service comes to an end in May 2014. "He's still thinking of leaving the army after his five years are over - but it changes depending on whatever day you ask him," Theresa jokes.