I am so pleased and excited to introduce my very first guest blogger! This person, being my husband, is somewhat special to me. He graciously sent me the following post – the idea for which he came up with on his own – and I graciously did not insert any of my own comments before publishing it.
Not that I disagree with one word he’s said here. It’s just that reading this was like taking a trip down Memory Lane and I wanted to chime in with my own thoughts about it.
Without further ado, please give a warm welcome to…T!
Keeping Connected – From the Other Side
“To all who shall see these proceedings, greetings!”
That is a slight variation to the typical opening for orders in the military. Isn’t that silly? It sounds almost ridiculously formal.
However, being the nerd my wife always says I am, I can’t help but introduce myself in the most ridiculous manner possible. For those of you who don’t know me, I am “T”.
In case you are a new follower to the blog, that makes me an Army officer currently deployed to a remote outpost in the mountains of Afghanistan. I am also an avid follower of my wife’s blog and have been looking for the opportunity to be a guest writer for some time. Unfortunately the nature of my current circumstances has made that somewhat difficult.
At long last I have carved out a little time to do this, and I am very excited. So excited that it took numerous attempts to figure out exactly what I wanted to write about. I decided to talk a little bit more about finding ways to feel connected over the vast distance that separates us.
Part of the reason I wanted to write about this topic is because of some of the difficulties Sarah and I experienced and learned from on our first deployment. I know from personal experience that many of the relationship problems during deployment often simply come down to miscommunication. Let’s face it, the male half of the species is not blessed with an overabundance of skill in communicating their feelings. Believe me when I say that I am no expert either, except perhaps in the field of miscommunication.
As my wife so eloquently wrote previously, during both deployments there have been numerous challenges to communication. During my first deployment, Soldiers were not allowed to own cell phones and issued phones were strictly for mission use. We had to rely on pay phones as the primary means of communication. This meant that Sarah never knew when I was going to call, so her cell phone became an additional and critical appendage.
On my end, I would have to walk sometimes a half-mile to the nearest phone tent where I would wait in line for up to 20 minutes for only 15-20 minutes of talk time. I then sat elbow to elbow with other Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, who were also trying to have private conversations with their loved ones. To make matters worse, the phones were located in MWR tents (that’s a military acronym for Morale, Welfare and Recreation), where there were video games, movies and karaoke rooms. Being in a tent, there wasn’t much to block the noise from one area to the next so it made communication that much more difficult.
Sitting so close to other people you can’t help but overhear their conversations, whether you want to or not. I heard a variety of arguments and, unfortunately, I witnessed some very personal conversations in which bad news was shared in a very painful way.
The net result was that there was no privacy. I am by nature a very private individual. Because of this, I felt very awkward speaking with Sarah, who was at the time not yet my wife. I didn’t feel awkward speaking with her specifically. I felt awkward because everyone else nearby was able to bear witness to everything being said.
All this resulted in conversations that went something like this:
Me: Hi baby, how are you?
Sarah: I’m fine. How are you doing?
Me: I’m doing. How’s the weather?
Sarah: It’s ok. Sunny and warm here today, although it rained yesterday.
Me: What? I can’t hear you. You said the bunny had warm ears today? I didn’t know you had a bunny! So you just got it yesterday and it was in pain?
Sarah: !@^$#!@^#! I mean, I love you baby.
Me: I love you too.
Sarah: So, what’s new?
Me: Nothing much, or at least nothing that I can tell you.
Sarah: !$#!@^#!. I hate the military!
As you can see, communication was a challenge. We were still in a fairly new relationship and we couldn’t even have in-depth conversations to get to know each other better. Having only been dating two months when I deployed, we weren’t building on a stable foundation already capable of withstanding tremendous challenges and strains, so finding a common ground was very important. We tried to use e-mails and IM to communicate, but that isn’t much better, just different.
Sarah shared her frustrations about wanting to connect on a deeper level. Wanting to please, and being a good Soldier who knows how to follow orders from someone as high in rank as Household 6, I tried very hard to improve communications. I could never get past my discomfort on the phone situation, but, over time, I learned that planning what we would do together after the deployment allowed us another way of finding out whether we were on the same sheet of music.
One of the things we planned was what we came to call HolidayFest 2007. As a new couple, we missed almost every holiday of our first year because of the deployment. We missed Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Halloween, and both of our birthdays. To compensate, we came up with a plan to celebrate each of the holidays we had missed once I got back.
We would give ourselves just enough time to redecorate in between, then celebrate the next holiday. Oh what fun it would be! A new holiday to celebrate every couple of days!
To prepare, Sarah began gathering the necessary decorations and supplies while I was still deployed. Often she was able to get them at discounted prices as they were out of season. I am still not sure how she found so many of them, but she really put some effort into the project.
We now had something we could talk and plan and dream about together, and it took away some of the sting of all the time separated.
Of course, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. When I got home, we started the project and about one week into it (somewhere around Easter), we were so exhausted from all the special food we made and the decorations we put up, that we had to take a break.
OK, I’ll be honest. She was exhausted from all the cooking and decorating and I was tired just from watching, but you get the idea.
Anyway, HolidayFest 2007 achieved its intended goal. It gave us another way of feeling connected. Having something new to discuss besides the weather and all the things I couldn’t tell her made a difference. It helped us both endure, and sometimes with a deployment that is all you can do…just endure.