Joining the military was this Durangoan’s salvation

Jonathan Craft recently made the decision to re-enlist in the Army. His parents say he has thrived in the military environment. Enlarge photo

Photo courtesy of Laura Branson

Jonathan Craft recently made the decision to re-enlist in the Army. His parents say he has thrived in the military environment.

Laura Branson said when her son, Jonathan Craft, was deployed to Afghanistan with the 16th Infantry Regiment for most of 2011, she couldn’t ask him a lot of questions.

“I can’t 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 wasn’t 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 wasn’t 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 son’s time in Afghanistan.

But on one point, they were crystal clear: “We’re 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, he’ll be off to train for his new job. Back home, his mother, a member of Blue Star Mothers, couldn’t be more pleased.

kburford@durangoherald.com

Jonathan Craft returned from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan on Dec. 29, his stepfather, Jeff Branson’s, birthday. “I couldn’t ask for a better birthday present,” said Branson, left. He and Craft’s mother, Laura Branson, pose with a photo of Craft. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Jonathan Craft returned from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan on Dec. 29, his stepfather, Jeff Branson’s, birthday. “I couldn’t ask for a better birthday present,” said Branson, left. He and Craft’s mother, Laura Branson, pose with a photo of Craft.

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