This is a blog post I’ve started many times over the past year but never finished. I’ve always gone back and re-read and decided to delete it because I never knew how to finish it. Those who either know me or have followed our blog for a while know that I am passionate (or maybe over emotional) about Will’s tour in Iraq. It was the most sobering experience of our lives. I recently read on a blog about the negativity that was being aired in our news and the “real” story wasn’t out there for us to hear. I want to share our story. It’s long but it’s our story.
Trying to keep a stiff lip is hard when you’re packing your husband to leave home and all you have are two seabags with weight restrictions. You think packing to go to China was hard? Piece of cake in comparison. There were helmets, cold weather gear, hot weather gear, white socks, black socks, underwear – long and regular, regular military issue t-shirts, Under Armour t-shirts, 3 sets of uniforms, boots, caps, covers, boonie hats, one regular outfit (non-jeans) with a collared shirt, one pair of regular shorts, jeans and shirt, tennis shoes, PT gear that had to be blue – shorts, sweats and t-shirt, your standard toiletries and anything else that you would need for three months until they were in country (Iraq) and receive a care package from home. We had a fight. Not a huge fight but a fight, none the less. It was over something very trivial and we felt foolish about it. We headed out to dinner and enjoyed ourselves because the next day, Valentine’s Day 2005, my husband was going from a “one weekend a month and two weeks a year” reservist to an active duty Navy Seabee. Wow. When Will and I first met he was active duty Marine Corps and had already served all of his overseas time before me and it was “peace time.” In the eight years we had been married, we had never been separated for more than a few days at a time – other than his two weeks annual training and even then I knew where he was and we talked every night before we went to bed. This was going to be so different. I just didn’t know how different it would be.
The Seabee ball was coming up while they were still stateside and my friend Jill and I had been dress shopping. I was going to go down to Gulfport, MS to the first formal event Will and I had ever attended together. I found, what I felt was, the perfect dress and had the lady at the store hold it for me so I could sleep on it to make sure. It was. It was the perfect dress and I was going to go buy it the next evening after work. Will called during the day and told me their deployment date had been moved up by three weeks and they were leaving before we would have a chance to go the ball. I booked an airline ticket, hotel room and headed off for my first ever trip to Mississippi to spend time together – a day and a half. We had a fantastic time together and it just like we were dating again only this time we had money to spend. We went to the Oceanarium, casinos, ate fabulous dinners and just had fun – with each other.
The 4 a.m. wake up call on Monday morning for me to have him back to base by 5:30 came way to early. We hugged and I cried. His eyes were red and welled up with tears. He’s not one who cries very much but it showed me that he loved me and was going to miss me. Saying good bye was tough and as I drove off he stood in the road and waved at me. The view from the rear view mirror broke my heart. At the airport I sat and wondered who else was leaving their husband, brother, loved one or friend for the last time until the deployment was over. I called my mom and told her I was on my way back to NC to begin the wait of all waits. I cried for most of the flight. Not out loud but with eyes closed and tears rolling down my cheeks. I went carry-on only so there was no luggage to gather only the short ride to satellite parking. I got in my car and sat paralyzed for about ten minutes and began the drive home that would just be Pom Pom and me with Will’s left behind belongings and the dream of the child we had started to prepare for.
It was more emotionally taxing than I ever imagined. We made a deal before he left that he would tell me everything – good or bad – rather than me have to hear it from someone else. The words spoken in the 20 minutes of phone time have to be chosen carefully so as to make sure everything that needed to be covered was. 102 “I love you’s” in one phone call. It was in between other things. Every night before we go to sleep we have a little “routine” and it goes like this:
Me: Do you love me?
Me: How much?
Him: With all my heart.
Me: How much is that?
Him: More than you’ll ever know.
It wasn’t every night I got to hear this but he did tell me and I would tell him to dream about me. The call ended.
I was only able to get very general information as to what was happening because he could only say so much. I’d ask questions and he would answer yes or no. Some of the yes answers broke my heart. It’s so numbing to hear a truck in their convoy hit a land mine. No one was killed but they were hurt. Will ran convoys to and from different cities and I got a call one day that their hooch (where they slept) had been hit by rocket fire. Where was he? Looking for a t-shirt for me. (I’m a t-shirt ho and have one from everywhere we’ve ever been) It arrived in our mailbox about two weeks later and I sat in the car and held it. It’s never been worn and the tags are still on it. Needless to say it is one of my most prized possessions.
The good news phone calls were that when they visited cities, the children would scramble for pencils and crayons faster than they would candy that was being handed out. Schools are reopening and not being used for weapons storage. Hospitals are being rebuilt. Roads are being repaired. Water lines are being laid and repaired so the people will have clean drinking water. The Iraqi people are learning new skills – building, security, truck driving. They are learning to defend themselves. Will’s unit was assigned to an area that built sleeping quarters at a training camp. The Iraqi people helped in the construction and traveled in the convoys to get materials. They are helping. They are glad our military is there to help. Some of them aren’t but many are.
This next part is something I’ve never told another person other than Will and maybe his parents. In August 2005, fourteen Marines were killed outside of Haditha, where Will and his unit were working along the Euphrates River. My heart stopped and the tears started. One of the Marines was from Oklahoma, Will’s home state. He, and so many others, had lost their lives protecting my husband’s. I would forever be grateful. I wrote a letter to the family and it was sent to the funeral home. I don’t know if they ever got it or ever read it. What do you say to someone who has experienced probably the greatest loss of their lives; their son, husband, friend died for his country. I tried to think to myself what would I want someone to say to me had the tables been turned. I can only speculate as God has watched over my family and I have not had to experience this. I would want people to not criticize the war efforts and my husband’s service, but show appreciation for volunteering for our country’s military. I can’t count the number of times people have told Will thank you when he’s been out in uniform or find out that he’s in the military. It feels good. Just like when someone tells you congratulations for a job well done or gives thanks for something you’ve done. I would want people to say kind things, not canned sympathies. Something from the heart. That is what I did. My heart opened up and my pen wrote. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote but I know I said “thank you” and I know I must have written it several times throughout the letter. I don’t know their family and I never will. Why this one Marine when so many other lives have been lost? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I just felt like I needed to do it so I did.
We took a vacation when Will got home and we were on a group tour one day and the guide stopped and turned to us and said he had an announcement he would like to make. He told the people on our tour that Will had just returned home from Iraq and thanked him for his service. Everyone on the bus stood and applauded. It made him blush but it made me cry. We held hands even tighter.
Will came home with 1400+ photos and videos. Some were taken by him and some weren’t. Some are of sunsets they watched set over the desert, camels, gila monsters and projects they worked on. There are pictures of them goofing around during down time, sleeping and just being away from home. He also told me that sometimes after they got off the phones, they would sit around and talk about what the wives and families had told them – to hear a bit of news from home. It’s what helped round out their day. Listening to someone tell that their son made a sandbox in the living room with powdered Gatorade and sugar made everyone laugh. While we were in Virginia, I thanked the guys and gals he was with. Thanked them for taking care of each other. Some of them probably thought it was hokey but I meant it from the greatest depths of my being and although they may have considered it hokey, they said “you’re welcome.”
People ask(ed) me what did I do for those months. Aside from retail therapy, I prayed. I prayed a lot. I prayed for the safety of not just my husband but all our troops and that God would give them the strength they needed to do their jobs and to come home. I logged so many miles to the post office they should have offered me a job. I would send care packages that included socks, snacks, sunscreen, bug repellent, pillows, sheets, miscellaneous goodies, fishing pole and anything else he mentioned he and the others would like to have. I sent extras so they could be shared. Everytime they moved, they would have to leave items behind because they didn’t have room to pack it all to take with them and it would start over again. That’s okay. That’s what it was sent for – to be used and it didn’t matter who used it. I mailed letters and cards and tried to remind him how much I missed and loved him. During part of his deployment, I started having trouble sleeping and just handling day to day activities so I went to see my doctor. While we were talking he said to me, “Will is one lucky fella.” I shook my head and said he was crazy. How is Will the lucky one when he’s sleeping on a dirt floor, wearing the same clothes for five + days at a time, working in 145* temps and so far away from home? His asked me a couple of more questions before he answered me and these are the questions and my answers:
“Do you love your husband?” Yes. Of course I do.
“Do you miss your husband?” Yes. Of course I do.
“Do you tell him you miss and love him?” Yes. Of course I do.
“Would you ever cheat on him?” No. Of course I wouldn’t.
“Do you trust him to not cheat on you?” Yes. Of course I do.
Then he told me “that’s why he is so lucky.” It stopped me dead in my tracks and I went breathless. He was the only doctor close to our house that accepted our military health insurance so he had seen countless other spouses and military personnel when they returned home. Without great detail, he told me about wives who cheated on their husbands while they were deployed. Husbands who would come home to empty houses because their wives left them. Bank accounts that had been drained and closed. Financial obligations that had been ignored. This also went for husbands whose wives were serving overseas. To me it was unfathomable because I would never have done those thing. I couldn’t imagine it. But it happens and it happens alot. He told me Will was lucky because he didn’t have to focus on anything else other than his job and tasks at hand. Once Will was home and we started talking, he told me the same scenarios my doctor had told me about that happened with some of the people who were with him. Will told me he was glad he didn’t have to worry about that. I didn’t either so I guess we were both “lucky. ”
Despite all the negativity portrayed in the media, there is good going on. Unfortunately, good doesn’t sell so we don’t hear it. Most of the time it is found in local papers about one of the town’s heroes. It’s sad but it’s true. I have read many blogs written by service men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their blogs are written with a bird’s eye perspective and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been humbled by their words. I will continue to read their journey, pray for their safety and thank God when I read that they are safe and sound back on U.S. soil.
Not all military families are Republicans and not all military families agree with war. We are, however, supporters and ralliers for those we love who have made the choice to stand strong for what they believe in, the land we call home.
In our eyes this is something to be proud of. And we are.