Category Archives: Military Deployment

Give Until It Hurts…Then Give a Little More

When, about two years ago, the Big A came to me and said, “You know that guy you just got engaged to? Well, about a year from now, we’re going to take him away from you and put him in a dangerous place. But we give you our word of honor that we won’t hold him any longer than one full calendar year,” I said, “Well, others have done more. I’d like to do my part, and besides, I’m proud of my man.”

When the Big A said, “You’ll have to give up your ballroom dance lessons,” I said, “I understand. We can always start them again in a year or so.”

Dance Shoes

When the Big A said, “You’re going to have to put your dreams of house-hunting on hold for a year,” I said, “No worries. I’ve rented for ten years now – what’s one more year?”

When the Big A said, “The people around you are going to start having babies by the dozen. You’ll have to watch helplessly without knowing whether you and your husband will ever be able to have children of your own. You both have health issues and, quite frankly, you’re getting up there in years,” I said, “That hurts, but I’ll try to accept it. My husband’s health is what’s most important and besides, you never know what might happen.”

When the Big A said, “You’re going to have to put your Christmas tree up by yourself this year,” I said, “Heck, I’ve done that more than once. It’s hardly a tragedy.”

Christmas Tree

When the Big A said, “The two of you may have dreams of a life together, but you’re going to have to put that on hold for a couple of years,” I said, “I have other dreams. I’ve always wanted to write. I’ll work on that dream in the meantime.”

When the Big A said, “Your husband is part of the ADVON party and he’ll have to leave the country 10 days ahead of the rest of the unit so that he can get things set up. This means that when everyone else gets block leave, your husband will already be overseas,” I said, “Well, that’s disappointing, but there are only so many times you can say good-bye, so I guess I can live with that.”

When the Big A said, “You’re going to have to handle everything from cooking and cleaning to pets and vets to finances and family for the next year,” I said, “I’ve done that for a decade. I can dig it.”

When the Big A said, “People are going to barrage you with questions about your husband, his whereabouts and his well-being,” I said, “You haven’t scared me yet.”

When the Big A said, “You know, with no physical or eye contact and two completely separate worlds, you’re going to have to really work to stay connected,” I said, “Marriage is work anyway. We’ll take care of it.”

Wedding Rings

When the Big A said, “This deal comes with nightmares, anxiety attacks and hair-trigger anger,” I said, “That doesn’t sound fun, but I’ll give up caffeine and alcohol and I’ll exercise a lot. That should help.”

When the Big A said, “Your husband isn’t going to be able to tell you what he’s doing and you’ll never really know what it’s like where he is, or what he’s going through,” I said, “He’ll tell me when he gets back. And he’ll take pictures so that I can try to understand.”

When the Big A said, “Your husband lost his camera,” I said, “I’m sure other guys will have pictures that we can look at. We’ll make due.”

When the Big A said, “He might come back a different man, you know. A lot of guys experience changes in behavior or health problems after deployment,” I said, “Been there, done that. It was hard, but we got through it before. We can do it again.”

When the Big A said, “We’ll arrange it so that almost everything will drive you to tears and we’ll make sure that your emotions become raw from overuse,” I said, “Shoot, I’m a basket case anyway. You think I’ll notice a difference?”

When the Big A said, “Sometimes, you’ll be in the grocery store and you’ll see a happily glowing couple holding hands and you’ll get so angry that you’ll want to ram your shopping cart into their knees as hard as you can. Then you’ll feel ashamed of your hatefulness,” I said, “Sounds great. Sign me up.”

When the Big A said, “Your husband was in ‘one of the worst places in the world’ and his unit got into ‘gunfights all the time’ and ‘killed a lot of bad guys’,” I said, “Hearing that makes my heart hurt, but I’ll try not to let it cast a shadow over our reunion. I’ll just be thankful that he’s coming home.”

When the Big A said, “Your husband was the first one in, but he’ll be one of the last ones out,” I said, “I expected nothing less.”

Then, the Big A said, “Hey, remember that promise we made about not keeping your husband for more than one year? Well, we’re keeping him for longer – but only by a few days. I’m sure you won’t mind.”

And I said, “Hey, Big A? Eff. You.

Jerk.

T Who?

A month or two ago, a couple of girls from work and I decided to eat lunch at a vegan restaurant in town. I had wanted to try this place before, but T and the word “vegan” don’t ever appear in the same sentence. Except for the one I just wrote. But other than that – forget it!

This was the perfect opportunity. The three of us crammed into a cozy booth had a completely enjoyable chat. The lunch itself wasn’t that good, which I’m sure T will be glad to hear since he won’t ever be in danger of having take me back.

During the course of the conversation, one of the girls snuck a peak at her watch, then apologized profusely for being rude. She had a meeting at one o’clock and wanted to be sure she wasn’t late.

We completely understood and told her so. Work lunches can be like that.

But, when I saw her glance down at her folded arms and turn her wrist slightly to tilt the watch into view…it triggered a memory.

“I just remembered,” I told her a few minutes later. “My husband does that all the time and it drives me nuts!”

I don’t know if it’s a military thing or what, but he is constantly doing it. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we are doing. We could be having dinner at a restaurant and have absolutely nowhere to go afterwards, but he’ll still monitor the time.

“You just remembered that?” she chuckled in benign disbelief.

I know she didn’t mean anything by it, but my oversensitive radar is always on and I immediately went on the defensive.

“Yeah,” I said. “You forget everything.”

And you do.

Back when the boys were deployed to Iraq, K and I would remind each other of our men’s quirks. One day I saw Baby Blue sitting in his stroller with his legs crossed. I mentioned how I thought it was funny that he was imitating Joe so perfectly. K asked me what I meant.

“That’s how Joe sits,” I said.

“He does?”

You forget everything.

During Iraq, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what T’s belly button looked like. This was a matter of intense concern for me. T, however, did not share my angst. When I told him my worries, he simply said, “It…looks like a belly button.”

Clearly he is not aware of navel diversity.

Forgetting is part of what makes it bearable, but it is also very sad. I don’t want to forget anything about my husband. Except maybe that he refuses to eat vegan food. And that his car is always a mess. And that he eats cookies before noon.

Okay, some things I don’t mind forgetting. But most things I don’t want to forget about my husband. When he came home on leave in May, I teared up as soon as I caught sight of him making his way down the stairs at the airport. In that moment, everything came rushing back and the emotion of it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Later, when I caught sight of a freckle on his ear, I cried again. I loved that freckle. And yet, its existence had been completely blotted out of my mind. How could I have forgotten?

By the time my husband gets home, it will be six months since I saw him last. I talk to him on the phone almost every day. But no webcam, no Skype and almost no pictures. If I look at old pictures of him, I can sometimes feel a glimpse of the essence of T, but it is fleeting. A tease, at best.

I realize that this is part of what will make homecoming absolutely amazing. But, there are also times when I feel like a perfect stranger is coming to live with me. And that makes me sad.

Fortunately, this, too, is fleeting. I know as soon as I see his face, all will be right with the world.

Hello T!

I mean, really…how could it not be?

Keeping Connected, Part…Whatever

The stop date for overseas packages to T’s unit was October 15th. The military put that date in place to ensure that anything sent to the soldiers would arrive before they leave.

I should have been happy about this. It was a landmark date for the deployment. It means they’re getting close to coming home.

And I am happy. I’m ecstatically, wonderfully excited about it. But at the same time, I’m a little sad, too.

What is your problem, lady? you may be thinking. (It’s okay, I often think that myself.)

My problem is that there is now one less way that I can communicate and connect with my husband. Since the recreational internet is still down in the officers quarters, taking away care packages and letters limits us to two methods of communication:

1. Phone calls. I get these daily and am indescribably grateful that I get to talk to my husband on a regular basis. It’s part of what gets me through each day. But, truth be told, I’m looking forward to a time when I don’t have to stop what I’m doing in the middle of my day to have a conversation during which we may lose connection, run out of minutes or experience one or the other of us sounding like we’re talking into a pillow. I yearn for the day when I don’t have to constantly say, “What, baby? I’m sorry, I didn’t understand what you said,” or, “Can you hear me now?” or, “It sounds like you’re standing in a wind tunnel.”

2. Email. T can access his personal email from the office, but can’t really do much else from there. Other folks work out of the office, of course, so there isn’t a lot of privacy either. This means I don’t get much in the way of in-depth, lengthy or intimate emails.

So, I felt a little sad. After all, it’s going to be a month or two before I see my husband and that’s still quite a stretch.

Fortunately for us, I am a genius.

Brainy Smurf

Genius at Work

(By the way I have a coffee mug that I keep at work with that picture and caption on it. I feel modesty is overrated.)

I, in all of my hyper-intelligent glory, came up with a game to help keep us connected. I call it “List of Fives”.

Pretty catchy, huh?

Here’s how it works: Taking it in turn, each day one of us comes up with a “List of Fives” topic. Say I start. I come up with the topic and email my five things to T. T then replies to the email with his five things. That’s it for that day.

The next day, T sends me a new topic and his five things. I reply with my five things and that’s it for that day. We continue to alternate coming up with topics until T is home, he no longer has internet, or we run out of topics.

Here are the rules: We can talk about the fives, but no negative comments about the other’s list. There is no ruling anything out, but nor is anything written in stone. For instance, if the topic is “Name five things to try for a date night”, and one of us wrote, “Skydiving,” the other couldn’t say, “I’d never do that,” but nor are we obligated to try it if we don’t want to.

We have been “playing” for just over a week and neither of us has gotten tired of it. It’s kind of fun to check for the email each day and wonder what the topic will be or what the other person’s response to your topic will be.

Here are some of the topics we’ve used:

  • Five movies we’d like to watch when T gets home.
  • Five games we’d like to play when T gets home.
  • Five sensual things we’d like to try together.
  • Five foods we’d like to eat when T gets home.
  • Five restaurants we’d like to try when T gets home.

Then there are a few that I can’t tell you about. But those were fun, too.

It’s a way to stay connected, but it is also a good way to generate a list of ideas for those days when we’re like, “What do you want to do?” “Duh. I don’t know. What do you want to do?” I plan on printing out the emails and putting them in a binder so that we can access them whenever boredom or brain farts strike.

I’m pretty excited about it.

Did I mention that I’m a genius?

Friday Fill-In #19

Welcome to another edition of “Military Spouse Friday Fill-In” hosted by Wife of a Sailor. It’s been so great learning about and finding other MilSpouses. If you haven’t been to Wifey’s site, go check it out!

And the questions are:

1. What’s the nicest thing a stranger has ever done for you?

A man once held the door for me so that I could get in line ahead of him…at the DMV. I was so stunned by that. Thank you, Nice Man!

2. If you are having a hard time going to sleep, what do you do to help yourself?

I almost never have a hard time going to sleep. Once my head hits the pillow, I’m out. I compare myself to a three-year old: I go hard all day, then I crash hard at night. Now, staying asleep…that’s something different, especially during deployment. (Hello, Anxiety, my old friend.)

3. Name something that makes you wish you were a kid again.

Time. I miss having time to enjoy the small things in life. I feel like I’m on the go 18 hours out of every 24 and I miss being able to go pick apples, carve a pumpkin, decorate the house, hang out with friends…and just have fun.

4. What is something you never believed until you experienced it?

Falling in love. It sounds campy, but I had never fallen in love before I met T. I had learned to love a couple of the guys I dated…after a time…but it’s not the same thing.

5. What can’t you say “no” to?

Are you kidding me? No is one of my best words. I say it all the time. I used to be unable to say no to family events. I come from a large Italian Catholic family and, despite the fact that most of them live two states away, we have always gotten together for every Thanksgiving, Easter, wedding, baby shower, Arbor Day, whatever. During this deployment, however, I have learned to say “no” to a few of those, purely out of self-preservation. It’s just too hard to go to all of those blissful life events without T around. So I don’t.

Have a great Friday!

Potentially Painful Pronouns: When Grammar Hurts

Early on in this deployment I started to notice a shift in my lexicon from plural to singular:

“Want to meet me at my house?” I asked K one day while making plans.

My house.

Later that same day K and I were in the grocery store getting some lunch supplies when her husband called. K filled Joe in on our morning and finished up with, “We’re going back to my house now.”

My house.

I chuckled because I was delighted to learn that I wasn’t the only one that did this.

“Right now I do everything,” K said. “I mow the lawn, I take the trash to the dump, I do the grocery shopping, I feed the kids, I wash the dishes. It feels like my house.”

“I know,” I said.

And I do. The change was unintentional and a natural result of our situation. My husband – albeit temporarily – no longer lives with me. I became responsible for almost every aspect of our life here. I, too, take the trash to the dump and do the grocery shopping. I also handle most of the finances, do all the cleaning and take care of the pets. And as I started to take on more responsibility, I started to feel more ownership.

But it’s more than that. At the moment, I don’t have to take anyone else into consideration when I’m making plans. It’s not like T would be put out if I had some girlfriends over this weekend.

Actually, he wouldn’t care anyway, but you get the idea.

The point is, there isn’t anyone here to ask, “Hey, do you mind if I ask XYZ over for lunch?” I can get in the bathroom anytime I want. I don’t have to shut off my clock radio quickly in the morning so as not to wake anyone else up. Some of the shoes never move from the shoe rack (I have to dust them, for goodness sake). I can drink out of the orange juice container. (I don’t…but I could.)

My house.

The problem is that it’s not my house. It’s our house. And I think that when I use the singular pronoun, it hurts T. It makes him feel like he’s not a part of this anymore.

The part of me that resents his leaving isn’t too concerned about changing my speech patterns. It’s a small part, but it is there. It selfishly revels in inflicting back some of the pain that I’ve felt this past year.

Fortunately, there is a larger part of me that loves my husband dearly and knows he didn’t want to leave. This part knows that to help T feel like he’s coming home to a partnership, I have to start making an effort to be plural again. I have to give up some of the ownership and trust that he is every bit as capable as I am. I have to know that relinquishing the singular doesn’t mean that I won’t be recognized for my contribution during this deployment. And it doesn’t mean that I will be any less me.

I did my job well this past year, but the job is changing. The new job description involves less control and more trust. It also involves plural pronouns and I intend to start using them.

When T walks through that door, I want him to know that I’ll be welcoming him back into our house.

Our house.

Walk With Me: Our Story, Part X

Welcome to Sunday Stories, hosted by The Annoyed Army Wife. If you haven’t seen her fabulous blog yet, please go check it out! While you’re there, link up and share a story of your own.   

On March 6th of 2006, in a cold, damp parking lot, my then-boyfriend and I said our last good-byes before he shipped overseas to Iraq for a year-long deployment. We had no way of knowing that three years later, on that very day, we would stand before God and say our vows to each other. We only knew that we had a long, winding road ahead of us.

Read Our Story from the beginning.   

Within a few days of our good-bye in the Fort Dix parking lot, T had arrived in Kuwait. His unit would be there for a few weeks while they adjusted to climate and time changes and did some more training. T was busy, but I did get a few emails and even a couple of brief phone calls.

Our worlds began to diverge. I was at home, working the same two jobs in the same New England spring and seeing the same people I always did. T was living 25 people to a tent – most of whom I’d never met before – in a place that I’d probably never see, doing things I’d probably never do.

For instance, I don’t expect to ever have to saddle up in an Army vehicle and drive down field to move Bedouins and their camel herds off of the firing range before target practice.

camel herd

T did his best to fill me in, but he had other things to attend to besides describing his surroundings to his girlfriend. I understood that and I was proud of his commitment to his job and his men…but I resented it. Fiercely, at times.

Too soon, T’s unit moved from the relative safety of Kuwait and into Iraq. Two of the platoons went to a FOB in the south and T’s platoon went to Bagdad International Airport (BIAP). All three platoons would be running convoy escort.

In convoy escort, Humvees are spaced at intervals between other unarmed vehicles – often supply trucks – to protect them from insurgents and other dangers. The missions were usually conducted after curfew, but in Bagdad T’s platoon ran missions almost every night and, as platoon leader, he went on a lot of them.

Still, there were advantages to being on BIAP (pronounced “bi-op”). It was the largest base in theatre and, according to T, was like a small city. There were “luxuries”, such as a Burger King, a KFC and, of course, the MWR tents. There was a pool and a barber shop (both of which took fire in the time T was there) and plenty of PXes.

Which is why when I asked the question, “what can I send you?”, the answer was almost always, “nothing.” I resented feeling useless.

We started to settle into a routine of sorts. I would carry my phone everywhere and T would call me when he could, which was almost every day. Some people will tell you not to get into a pattern like that with your soldier so that if a time comes when you don’t hear from him regularly, you won’t panic. I didn’t care. I was going to talk to him as often as I could and I was panicked half the time anyway.

In those days, Iraq was all over the place. I didn’t have TV and I wouldn’t read the newspaper, but it was kind of hard to open up msn.com and not see casualty figures splashed all over the place. I guess I could have changed my Internet Explorer default page, but part of me felt an obligation to know what was going on “over there”. I knew how skewed the media could make things sound but I didn’t know how else to learn about things.

Time dragged on and in early May I flew to Chicago on business. My company organizes trade shows and I was needed on site, so packed my bags and hopped a plane with a few coworkers. I had never been to Chicago before and was looking forward to seeing a new city.

On the first day of the show, I arrived at the convention center early to get set up. I was feeling business-sophisticated in my suit and heels, with my clipboard in one hand and a radio in the other. It made it hard to carry my cell phone, too, but I put it on vibrate and slipped it into my pocket as we gathered in the show office for the pre-show pep talk.

As our CEO broke the news about some partnership thing, I felt my phone vibrate. Of course. Why wouldn’t it ring when I couldn’t answer it? I eased it out of my pocket and snuck a peek. The screen didn’t show the garbled number that indicated a call from T. It was K.

That’s weird, I thought. She knows I’m in Chicago.

As soon as the meeting broke and folks scattered on the wind, I called her back.

“Hey,” I said. “Sorry I couldn’t answer. I was in a meeting. What’s up?”

“I’m sorry. I know you’re working, but I had to call you,” K said. She was crying. “N’s husband was killed yesterday.”

All the blood left my face and for a second the room swayed.

Two men from one of the southern-based platoons had been killed in an IED explosion and a third one injured. I didn’t know any of the men personally, but I did know the wife of one of the fallen soldiers. She had been acting as our FRG leader for the past several months and we had come to love and admire her.

It didn’t seem possible.

But it was.

I hung up the phone and walked out to the lobby. There were throngs of people bustling through the registration area, picking up programs and coming to look at and buy food. Their heels clicked on the polished floor. Their voices and laughter echoed through the hall. They walked by me, bumped into me and kept on going.

I had never felt so alone in my entire life.

A couple of hours later T called.

“Are you okay?” he asked. Two of his fellow soldiers had died and he was asking me if I was okay.

“I’m okay as long as you’re okay,” I managed to say through my tears.

I didn’t know how any of us would be able to bear the sadness. Or how we were going to get through the next ten months with this new, heightened fear. I didn’t see how life could go on at all.

But it does.

And we did.

What I didn’t know then was, we do what we have to do.

Because there are certain things we can’t change.

Because acceptance is more divine than defeat.

Young at Heart

Does this look like the face of a 39-year old to you?

T

No? Well, that’s because it’s not.

That picture was taken about five years ago and it was only today that my husband turned 39.

Though, as you may know, men never really grow up. With this in mind, I compiled a birthday package for him.

The contents:

Six Iron Man goody bags.

Goody bags

Each filled with candy, gum, peanuts, plastic army men and a cigar.

Goodies

Silly presents (wrapped in Iron Man wrapping paper, of course).

Presents

And cake and frosting!

Jar cake

(For the jar cakes I semi-followed these instructions.)

The plot:

A few weeks ago, I emailed the commander and asked whether he’d be willing to receive this package and round up a few of the guys to embarrass T with a surprise birthday party. To my delight, he agreed to be in on the plan.

I also sent T a “regular” birthday package to throw him off the scent.

The result:

T called me yesterday and said, “I had a birthday party today.”

Yay! I was so glad that he was able to get together with some friends, have a few laughs and watch a cheesy Chuck Norris movie. (I love the $5 DVD bin at Walmart.) It made it a little easier to be apart on his birthday.

And I am now the bomb-diggity for (successfully) throwing my husband a surprise birthday party from thousands of miles away.

Happy Birthday, baby!