Laura Branson said when her son, Jonathan Craft, was deployed to Afghanistan with the 16th Infantry Regiment for most of 2011, she couldnt ask him a lot of questions.
I cant tell you, Mom, was his frequent response when she strayed too close to a sensitive topic.
Despite the evasive answers and the obvious danger of his deployment, Branson said, in many ways, she felt better about his safety than she did when he was a teenager back here in Durango.
And she credits the military for that.
As with many teens, Craft, strong-willed and intelligent, struggled to define himself. But his coming of age was more difficult than most and included brushes with the law, dropping out of high school, living on the street, rolling a car and a litany of other behaviors certain to keep any parent worrying into the wee hours.
He was a mess, said Branson, who is a nurse at Mercy hospital. Adding later, for six years, I feared for his life.
While the possibility of joining the military had come up, it wasnt until after a prolonged walkabout in the woods that the epiphany fully materialized for Craft.
Once committed, he applied himself with singular focus, excelling at training that was unrelentingly difficult, mentally and physically, his parents said.
Craft, 27, said he wasnt authorized to be interviewed for this story. Branson and her husband, Jeff Branson, who raised Craft since he was 3, agreed to talk about their experiences but avoided specifics related their sons time in Afghanistan.
But on one point, they were crystal clear: Were so proud, we can hardly stand ourselves.
Craft and his wife, Samantha Craft, are presently back at Fort Riley, Kan., where he is stationed.
They were married in 2008 after a long courtship that started when she was in middle school in Durango. She later joined the Army as well.
As summer began, Craft was approaching the end of his four-year commitment and considered re-enlistment.
His decision, his mother said, depended on what opportunities he would be presented with.
In late June, he called and, with breezy casualness, told her he had been promoted to sergeant.
That was very exciting, she said.
Soon, hell be off to train for his new job. Back home, his mother, a member of Blue Star Mothers, couldnt be more pleased.