Tag Archives: Afghanistan

SMURF-P

Smurf-P is not a small blue hip-hop artist who wears baggy footy pants. Nor is it a urine sample from a tiny person who lives in a mushroom house.

Smurf-P is the nickname given by my husband to a specific military team he recently joined. The proper acronym is CERFP (pronounced “surf-pee”), which stands for (and no, I’m not kidding): Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear, and Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package.

See? CERFP. It’s easy. And Smurfy.Brainy Smurf

Or Smurf-P, as the case may be.

Smurf-P and I are already at odds. The training that comes with my husband’s new role generally occurs on weekends that are not drill weekends. That means T is now gone two weekends a month instead of one. Since we both work fulltime, it’s not like we just sit around during the week soaking each other in. We’re working, commuting, running errands and doing housework. Weekends are when we’re supposed to relax, see friends or plan a fun activity together – in between laundry, taking the trash to the dump, grocery shopping and vacuuming up the dog hair and cat litter that threatens to bury the house on a daily basis.

What I wouldn’t give just to go see a movie with my husband.

As if that wasn’t irritating enough, this week is a full week of training for the Smurf-P. The training takes place near the armory where T drills – the one that is two and a half hours away from where we live. It doesn’t make sense for T to drive five hours a day for a full schedule of classes, so he’s staying in the area.

From wikipedia; originally uploaded to wikiped...

Image via Wikipedia

In case anyone is new to this blog, I’ll also mention here that my husband got home from a year in Afghanistan last December. Oh, and he’s also National Guard, which means all this is in addition to his civilian job. That’s right. He’s not fulltime military, which means we don’t get housing pay, he doesn’t get health insurance through the military and he doesn’t get comp days for a drill weekend. The only thing we regularly get from the military is the shaft.

What was I talking about? Oh, yeah. Smurf-P. Sorry, got a little off-track.

Last week we were discussing T’s military plans and I got on a roll then, too. I commented on how often he’s been gone and will be gone in the coming months. I listed off this training and that inventory and this drill and that whatever. T ignored me as best he could, but when I didn’t get the reaction I was looking for, I kept going.

With as much distain as I could muster – using diminutives to minimalize its importance – I scoffed, “And what about your little Smurf-P-ness?”

Which sounded completely different out loud than it did in my head.

Good thing T doesn’t have a fragile ego.

Signs of Spring

At this time last year, I was impatiently waiting for my husband to come home from Afghanistan for his two weeks of leave. This year, I’m twiddling my thumbs and tapping my feet as I  wait expectantly for spring to come to Maine. Both waits have been excruciatingly slow and as maddening as driving behind a school bus when you’re late for work, but I won’t offer any opinion as to which was the worse of the two.

In both cases, the phrase “better late than never” applies. Thankfully, my husband got home then, and now we are starting to see some signs that spring is finally on its way.

The leaves are tentatively unfurling themselves, taking time to stretch like a cat after a nap.

spring leaves

The hostas are pushing up through the mulch beds.

hosta shoots

The flowering bushes are starting to bloom into vibrant firework-like displays of color.

flowering bushes

My chives are up!

Sarah's chives

Nothing says “spring” like a trip to Home Depot.

Home Depot trip

I can finally grow grass for the cats again.

cat grass

(Note: I have to do this outside. If I try to grow it inside, they eat it as soon as it starts to show green and there isn’t a place in this house that is safe from those two ninjas. Cat grass is very important to the health of my other houseplants. And my cats, when I find my peace lily ragged with teeth marks and leafy piles of puke on the floor.)

I think I can put the shovels away now.

snow shovels

(Probably.)

Owen can spend more time out in the yard.

Owen in the yard

And let’s face it. A little sun does us all good this time of year.

How about you? What signs of spring have you been seeing? What does spring mean to you?

A Punch in the Gut

Saturday was the 60-day reintegration event for T’s unit. I’ve had better days.

Like the time I had surgery on my eyelid with a local anesthetic. Or when I fell headfirst into a baling machine in Iowa.

Okay, that last one never actually happened, but if it had, it would probably have been less painful.

Reintegration events are designed to make Guard soldiers aware of their benefits and any changes that may happen to those benefits once the soldier comes off of Title X orders, as well as ensure that they get the help necessary to make the transition to being a normal person again. They happen at 30, 60 and 90 days after the soldiers’ return.

Coincidentally, those are the time frames in which drill would be taking place, were the soldiers drilling. When a Guard unit returns from a deployment, they are not required go back to their regular drill weekends for 90 days. This gives the soldiers a chance to settle into their civilian lives and jobs and spend time with their families. They’re supposed to have 90 days free of anything military, but they keep getting called back every month for these events.

Most of them are not happy about it and on Saturday they did not make much of an attempt to hide it.

I used to look forward to these kinds of things. I really did. In the Guard in general and in T’s unit in particular, the soldiers are spread throughout the state. I know very few of them and only some of the families, so these events are – I thought – a chance to meet the people T works with and their families.

There are two problems with this: 1) T isn’t the best at introductions and 2) Most soldiers I’ve come into contact with over the years are reluctant to even make eye contact, never mind have a conversation with me. Apparently I either have thousands of writhing, hissing snakes growing out of my scalp, I smell like a jug of milk that’s been left out in the sun, or I come across like an over-eager puppy ready to piddle on the floor with excitement.

Or, quite possibly, all three.

At this particular event, folks were supposed to show up between 12:00 and 12:45 for registration. T had a meeting he was supposed to attend at noon, so we had to be there at the early end of the window instead of when the window was slamming shut (my MO).

When we got there, T registered us, picked up our name tags and discovered that his meeting was cancelled.

Well, at least I didn’t have to hang out by myself for 45 minutes.

Instead, we made our way to a table around which a bunch of soldiers and one wife were sitting. As we got there, several of the soldiers greeted T. Not one of them looked at me, said hi or in any way acknowledged my presence. The wife never even looked up from her phone. I threw a few lighthearted comments into the banter, hoping for an in. Nope. Still nothing.

I got up and left the table.

So much for meeting new people. I tossed my name tag in the trash.

The day didn’t get much better. We immediately found out that the night before, several of the guys had gone out on the town and either started or finished something. One of them ended up in the hospital. This seems to happen every time we have an event. Some of the (usually younger) soldiers get drunk and rowdy and there is a fight. Often it’s a very loud and profane fight that happens at 2:00 a.m. in the corridor of the hotel.

This does not endear the younger crowd to me. I’m old. I’m cranky. I like my sleep.

The afternoon wore on and I squirmed through two sessions where the presenters did their best to engage an audience that was almost completely non-responsive, if not downright rude. Some of the leadership was just as bad. Frankly, I was embarrassed by their behavior. I mean, they get paid to be there. The least they could do was be civil. I’d settle for quiet.

To be fair, not all the soldiers were acting like punks. There are quite a few nice guys in the unit who were very pleasant. But for the most part, it was awkward.

Finally, we had a break and everyone crowded into the halls. It was then that the next bomb dropped.

Hmm, maybe that’s a bad metaphor to use with this group.

What I mean is, the next bad thing happened. I was chatting with a soldier and I asked about T’s upcoming training course.

Now, we’ve heard about 20 different versions of what this course will look like. First it was a 2-month course down in Fort Benning. Then it was a largely online course with only two weeks in Fort Benning. Then it was four months in Benning. I’ve been on a rollercoaster with this. My husband just got back. I don’t want him to go away again and certainly not for four months.

We decided that if it was for four months that I would go with him. Yay! I would finally not be the one left behind to do the housework and take care of the animals. I could go have a new experience, too! I started to look forward to it, even be excited about it.

Silly me. I broke Army Spouse Rule #1*.

On Saturday, the newest answer that we got was that it would be two weeks in Benning, a 10-day break, then two more weeks. Um, what? That’s the worst option yet: long enough to be a huge disruption (again!) in our lives, but not long enough for it to make sense for me to quit my job and go down there with him.

I never get to go anywhere. I wanted to cry.

As we continued talking, the subject shifted to work. This soldier had just gone back to his job within the last two weeks. As he talked about what that had been like, he reiterated something T has been saying for some time now: things aren’t as exciting back here and nothing I do will be as rewarding or make as much of a difference as what I did there.

I can understand that, I think. I mean, as much as I can understand it. But what really sucked was when he turned to another soldier standing close by and asked whether he missed combat, too. The other guy’s reply?

“Oh, I’d go back in a second. I hate it here. I fucking hate it.”

I must have looked like I just got punched in the stomach, which is exactly how I felt, because the kid then looked at me and said, “Excuse my language.”

Now, I make a concentrated effort not to swear on my blog, but in real life I have a mouth like a longshoreman, so it wasn’t the language that bothered me. It was the vim with which he said it. Like he really, truly couldn’t stand it here. Like he’d never be happy at home again.

He went on to explain that there everything was taken care of for him – his meals, his clothes, everything. The only thing he had to worry about was “staying alive”. But, despite his attempts to elaborate, I went on feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me. I can’t explain exactly why.

Maybe because I know my husband has expressed similar thoughts and I feel like I can’t compete with mortars and helicopters and working with interpreters to make real and important differences in the lives of other people. Maybe because I suddenly felt insignificant. Maybe because I knew I’d never experience anything even close to what these guys experienced or accomplish anything as amazing as what they did. Maybe because it churned up every insecurity I’ve ever felt about the (lack of ) purpose in my own life.

Maybe all of the above. I really can’t say.

All I know is that it hurt. And that I’d be quite happy to slip back into ignorant oblivion again. At least I think I would.

Did I mention that I was not impressed with this day?

The only two bright spots were:

1. K was there, as she always has been through two deployments, and she gets it. Like nobody else gets it.

and

2. George. You don’t know George yet, but you will. Oh yes. I foresee that George will factor greatly into my life now, and most probably on a daily basis.

I love George.

*Rule #1: Don’t. Make. Plans.