FORTVILLE — For one, the sun is just rising over the Indiana skyline. For the other, the sun has long gone to bed in its desert home.
It’s at this moment in time that they find time to talk.
Not on the phone. Not through email. Through Skype.
Father asks son about how school is going and specifically his son’s grades. After all, college is quickly approaching.
Father asks son about sports. After all, his son’s versatile athletic abilities are directly derived from him.
And for who knows why, they talk about SpongeBob. The son recites lines to his father, and they laugh together.
When asked about these near-daily Skype sessions with his father, Mike, Andrew Noble takes a deep breath. But then he exhales calmly, and offers an earnest smile.
“A lot of it’s about me,” said the Mt. Vernon senior. “I try to see how he’s doing, and it’s always, ‘Same, food’s terrible.’”
After graduating from Mt. Vernon in 1987, Mike enrolled in the Army. He went through Ranger, Airborne, Air Assault and Jumpmaster Schools. He was stationed with the Army’s 101st Airborne and Army National Guard’s 38th Infantry Divisions.
From 2000 to 2007, he worked for the Greenfield Police Department. In Andrew’s words, Mike has been “in and out of law enforcement and police work” for Andrew’s entire life.
Three years ago, Mike made a choice that would change the lives of both himself and his family members forever.
He decided to accept a defense contractor’s offer to be a Police Advisor to the Director of Professional Training and Education for the Afghan National Police Training General Command.
“The goal is to leave a professionally trained police force that can sustain itself, guarantee safety across the country and continue to operate under the rule of law,” said Mike, via email from Afghanistan.
The cost of serving his country entails a heavy toll; Mike serves for 11-month stretches at a time. He’s missed the last three Thanksgivings and has been back for Christmas only once since he left. When Mike is home, it’s for as little as two weeks and as much as a month.
“It was not an easy decision considering the commitment the job would require in Afghanistan and the time I would be spending away from my family. It is never a good time to leave your children at home and miss out on the daily routine of their lives and them growing up,” Mike said. “It means missing out on everything from school and sporting events to the mundane and routine such as helping with homework or watching the Colts play on a Sunday afternoon.
“The decision to commit to this job was made as a family and the hardships that have come with it are shared by all members of the family. It has not been easy, but it has had its rewards.”
Andrew was a month into his freshman year of high school when his father departed. He worried incessantly about his grades, often spending entire nights on homework. Then, on the weekends, Andrew was tasked with many of the duties his father would have normally completed.
“I was just thinking, ‘Wow, my entire high school life is gone. I’m not going to have any fun,’” he recalled.
The family didn’t have much communication with Mike his first year in Afghanistan because he wasn’t near cities and was on the move frequently. He would often climb on top of buildings and put a small satellite dish on the roof just to send emails.
“That was all we had,” said Tara Noble, Andrew’s mother. “He was out in the middle of absolutely nowhere.”
Tara said Mike’s first year away took a toll on Andrew and his younger brother, Christian.
“My youngest (Christian) used to go into his dad’s closest and smell his clothes,” she said. “It was very hard, especially for Andrew being in high school and being the oldest. He did have a tough time, although he didn’t express it.”
Tara was determined not to add to the family’s pain by reaching for worry or self-pity.
“I’ve always stayed really positive and I’ve made the kids feel at ease with what he’s doing. I’ve never been fearful myself, so maybe that’s why they aren’t fearful,” she explained. “I’ve told them, ‘Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. I’m positive nothing’s going to happen to dad, but if it did, we will be fine.’
“I could be sitting around crying, moping, complaining, but I do not do that. I think that’s helped them a lot.”
After awhile, Andrew was able to prioritize everything going on in his life and said he has enjoyed his high school experience. And though at first he was scared for Mike’s safety, his fears have been quelled by a belief that his father “knows what he’s doing.”
“It’s difficult for me to explain. I know he’ll make the smart decision even if that’s him having to save someone else and putting himself in danger,” Andrew offered. “I know that he can do that right and he’ll be safe. He’s been doing it all his life.”
Mike went through similar tough times when he was Andrew’s age, but before that he caught the eye of one of his future coaches — for the wrong reason.
Bruce Kendall vividly remembers the first time he met Mike. The longtime Mt. Vernon cross country and track coach was driving behind a school bus one day when he noticed a young man was saluting him in a unique, albeit disrespectful way from the back of the bus.
“He was telling me I was No. 1,” explained Kendall, a former Marine.
Kendall had the bus pull over and had a chat with Mike in the back of the bus. They both laugh about their first encounter now.
“That was our initiation,” Kendall said with a chuckle.
Mike was an All-State performer in cross country, and in track ran the 3,200 meters and pole vaulted. He always looked to push himself, even when MV training sessions were completed.
“He’d run from his house to church for youth group on Wednesday nights,” Andrew said. “That would be his extra practice after school.”
Unfortunately for Mike, tragedy struck during his freshman year when his father passed away. Kendall bore the responsibility of informing Mike of the heartbreaking news.
Running provided a way for Mike to cope with his grief, with Kendall serving as a father figure.
“Coach Kendall taught me that it is the hard work, day in and day out, that makes success possible. That it is perseverance in the face of pain and self-doubt that separates success from failure,” Mike explained. “Running was a constant in my life and a stabilizing anchor. Coach Kendall was a part of that at a time when I needed it.”
Andrew and Mike have talked about the similarities and differences in their respective life situations. Through these conversations, Mike has witnessed growth within his son.
“It has allowed me a perspective into what he would be going through while I was gone and gave me the opportunity to relate and connect with Andrew in a unique way before I left and while I have been gone,” he said. “Andrew has struggled some to deal with the separation and the daily life without a parent around, but he has matured and really worked hard at trying to remain level and engaged in school, church and family.
“I see much of myself in Andrew and we are alike in a lot of ways, but really I see something better. I see someone who has been stronger than I was at that age and who is smarter and has the best qualities of his mother and me while lacking many of my flaws.”
Andrew admits he wasn’t into running when he was younger, despite showing an aptitude for the activity.
When he was 10 and 11, he placed in the top 25 of the United States Track and Field Cross Country Nationals with just two months of training leading up to the events.
He gave up running shortly thereafter, but picked up track last year as a junior, with the results paying immediate dividends for the Marauders.
At the Indoor State Finals last March, Andrew, along with Corey White, Eric Thompson and Issac Davis, broke the school record in the 1,600 meter relay.
In May, Andrew and Thompson teamed with Luke Fimreite and Michael Bauchert to capture the sectional title in the 3,200 relay. Andrew would also place third in the 800 as Mt. Vernon claimed the sectional crown.
Andrew is also a four-year member of the tennis team. Heading into this week’s sectional, he’s a combined 9-7 this season while playing No. 2 singles in addition No. 1 and No. 2 doubles.
This winter, Andrew plans to try his hand at diving, a sport he hasn’t competed in since eighth grade.
Meanwhile, Mike has never stopped running. On July 4, he placed fifth out of 275 runners in Afghanistan’s version of the Peach Tree Road Race — also held in Atlanta every year on Independence Day — despite only being able to train on a treadmill.
When Andrew was younger, Mike had always prodded him to try running again. Now, the proud father can’t see his son race, at least not live. Tara tapes every meet Andrew competes in and sends them to Mike on a DVD.
“He once told me, “You know this is killing me, right? He’s finally doing track and I’m not there,’” Tara revealed.
It’s possible Mike could be back in the U.S. by mid-June. He could also decide to sign another contract, which could keep him overseas for another six months or perhaps an extra year.
Andrew jokes that when his father comes home, it usually equates to a lot of chores. The last time Mike was home, the two put gravel in the front yard and installed a flagpole.
But there’s plenty of fun involved, with Kings Island trips among the activities. Mike said he spends quality alone time with each member of his family.
There’s also a Noble family tradition that occurs each time Mike returns.
“We go to a Mexican restaurant because he hates the food (in Afghanistan),” Andrew revealed.
For Mike, the best part of coming home is seeing the smiles on the faces of his family members when they see him at the airport.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” he admitted.
For now, father and son will have to stick to their Skype interactions.
“It’s made me a better person, a more responsible person, he said. “It’s made me think about how grateful I am to have parents that do so much for me.”