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That’s what I’ve been doing for so very long.
One year ago today, I attended the memorial service for, and said goodbye to, my dearest childhood friend, JT. It was two measly posts ago that I wrote about it. I’ve been back to my blog one time since I wrote about my greatest heartbreak and I couldn’t bring myself to write about anything. Not that anything before that point was prize winning, but I have been going down a very long road with the grief.
In one week, I’m participating in my fifth half marathon. I’m not ready. I hit a nasty block with the Air Force Half Marathon. Had I not joined Fisher House Foundation‘s charity team, Team Fisher House, and raised money, I likely would have bailed. but I didn’t want to let those who supported me down. I ended up traveling alone and running alone. It rained and I was 20 minutes past gun time starting because traffic was a nightmare trying to get on base even though I gave myself over 3 hours to get there. I developed a blister about mile 1.5, lost my interval timer and stupidly backtracked trying to find it, which I never did. However, I was a finisher. That was five weeks ago and I’ve put my running shoes on once. Today.
Today, Fab wanted to go for a run with me. I purposely didn’t time it and I refused to look at the clock because I didn’t want to know how long it took us. It was the slowest two miles I’ve had in a long time, but I swear it went by the quickest. She reminded me to be aware of what was around us, asked if my phone was fully charged, and we were off. We talked, laughed, and had a great time. She told me she was sorry for being slow. I told her it didn’t matter and I meant it. We finished our two miles and we did it with a smile and a high five. She has asked for a fuel belt for Christmas. Her biggest concern is what to put in the zippered pouch since she doesn’t have car keys or a phone. But she wants one because I have one and she wants to run with me.
Next week I’m meeting up with one of my besties. It will be her first half marathon. I’m so proud of her and the strides she’s made with running. She’s an inspiration to me and I’m looking forward to supporting her and cheering her on. Next week I’ll lace up my running shoes and don my calf compression sleeves and running jersey to raise awareness for a cause I believe in. Next week I’m dedicating my run to JT. Just like everything else I tackled in my life, he supported me with a whole heart and unwavering love. I will do my best, albeit slow, and count my blessings with every step I take.
There are a couple of times a year I get all mushy and gushy over things and today just happens to be one of those days. I never imagined the littlest love of my life would be born half a world away, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Five years ago today we met Yu Si Jia for the first time. The scared little girl who cried for HOURS when we first held her is now a happy, healthy, thriving little girl who lights up my life more than I ever imagined. My mom was right when she told me there was no love like a parent’s love for their child.
Happy Family Day, JiaJia. I love you.
To all our veterans: Thank you for your service. We’re forever grateful for your service. That includes my husband. Despite what problems surround us, he has fought the good fight and has always been willing to answer the call of duty. I’m proud of him. Olivia told him last night, “Thank you for being a Soldier boy, Daddy. Because of you and all the other ‘Vetrins’ I don’t have to go to school tomorrow. That’s nice of you and I’m proud of you.” I reminded him that is probably the nicest thing anyone will ever say to him. Especially in the 5 y.o. age group.
Yesterday, the Marine Corps celebrated its 235th birthday. When I got married, I married a Marine. Our groomsmen were Marines. My girlfriends dated Marines. It’s what we did. The Marines were my first real “taste,” if you will, of the military. Except for one Coastie. Anyway, I went to UNC-W and Camp Lejeune wasn’t that far away, so the Marines would come into town to mack on the college girls and we would score free beer. It was then that I realized the old saying was true: A uniform is the one thing that can make most anyone look good. It wasn’t until Will left the military, joined the reserves and got ready to deploy to Iraq did I fully understand what it was to be a military spouse. Remember, we were no longer active duty, and had not been for many, many years; we were a reserve family. Since that time, my appreciation has grown from ogling cute boys in uniform to appreciating what the uniform stands for. I didn’t grow up in a military household and, in my opinion, it’s hard to grasp what the call of duty is during peacetime when you’re 20 years old. At least it was for us.
There are tons of jokes using the branches of the military as acronyms and we’ve heard them all. After all, we’ve been in three branches: Marines, Navy and Army National Guard.
From our Navy friends: Marine stands for My Ass Rides In Navy Equipment
From old Navy friends: Navy stands for Never Again Volunteer Yourself
From Marines: Army stands for Air Force Rejected Me Yesterday and Ain’t Ready to be a Marine Yet. Others say US Army is: Uncle Sam Ain’t Released Me Yet! Backwards: Yes My Retarded Ass Signed Up.
There’s a lot of fun that goes into those. Everyone’s dog is bigger than the next person’s in their eyes. And that’s fine. It’s the pride in the uniform and the dedication to do the job that makes it work. It takes all the branches to protect us.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure, and privilege, of meeting some of the most wonderful people. People who have touched my life in ways they will never know. I have hugged wives whose husbands were deployed. I have cried over videos of homecomings. I have stood on the tarmac in tropical storm weather holding hands with other wives and families waiting for it to finally be my turn. I have been to funerals, arranged for food to be brought in for families and ordered Gold Star banners. I have felt inadequate in wishing I could do more. I always will.
Over the years, my appreciation has grown up a lot. I appreciate our Nation and the jobs that it takes to keep us safe, a man in uniform still makes my heart skip a beat and I still firmly believe a uniform is the one thing that can make most anyone look good.
It has been almost a decade since America was forever changed. Today we remember those whose lives were lost and their families who were left behind.
A special thanks to all our public service members who work to protect us. It takes a special person to put others before themselves and answer the call of duty.
There are lots of things I am and tons of things that I am not. There are certainly things I would like to be and, most definitely, things I wouldn’t want to be.
I am a daughter, sister, wife, mommy, friend. I am a hard worker, a good listener, list maker, list loser. I am a bargain hunter, pretty good cook, soother of hurt feelings, grudge carrier. I never said the things I am were all good.
My mom, Will and I watched the National Memorial Day Concert on television last weekend and this has been in my head, and on my heart, ever since.
I can only speak from a wife’s perspective – and break it down even one further, a reserve wife’s perspective, but I know how mind numbing it was to send my husband into a war zone. My prior active duty Marine turned one weekend a month, two weeks a year reserve husband was recalled to active duty. I’m not sure that it really, really hit me until April 2005 when I got the call where he told me their hooch had been hit by rocket fire and they weren’t there because they had gone shopping in the village they had convoyed to. He bought me a t-shirt. On another convoy, there was a dead Iraqi in the road with his arms bound behind him, eyes covered and was killed execution style. It was shortly after that, while working at the Haditha Dam, when Marines from Ohio were killed securing the area leading into the area where my husband and his comrades were. My heart broke. Again.
I am also a Blue Star Wife. My husband dons his uniform and trains to be called to serve when our Country needs him. As do his fellow soldiers. As do all of our service members. We are a Blue Star Family. The key words: Blue Star. Blue Star. The Blue Star(s) represents our immediate family member(s) who serve in the armed forces. When the family member is killed in the line of duty, the Blue Star is replaced by a Gold Star.
While watching the National Memorial Day Concert, Blythe Danner and A.J. Cook portrayed widows of American Soldiers and told the story of Taryn Davis, a 22 year-old war widow, who befriended a woman who lost her husband in the Vietnam war, which inspired the American Widow Project.
There are stories all over the internet about Gold Star wives (war widows). Some of them blog, like Mrs. P from A Little Pink in a World of Camo, whose star recently turned from Blue to Gold. There are many who don’t hold a place in the blogisphere. Their only piece of the internet is the online obituary or tributes written about their loved one. And if you happen to not find it and read it, they shrink into obscurity, but their loss is no less. Their grief is no less. Their hearts are no less broken. We just don’t hear about them.
I cry when I hear our National Anthem. I had a lump in my throat when we went to the Arizona Diamondbacks game last Memorial Day (2009) and Cindy McCain and their Navy Son, Jack, paused for the silent first pitch.
A fellow blogger, e-pal, and ARNG wife had this to say about Memorial Day, and I think she hit the nail on the head:
…contemplative this Memorial Day weekend and very VERY thankful that her husband’s recent deployment to Iraq didn’t provide a reason for anyone to include her in their Memorial Day sentiments.
While we were watching the concert Sunday night, and I watched the video of Gold Star wives, I uttered these words half silently, half out loud:
….of all the things I’m not, I’m most grateful to not be a war widow.
Half silently because I feel guilty for having that feeling. Half out loud because I’m truly grateful to not be included in Memorial Day sentiments.
Tomorrow I will attend visitation for a local Soldier, 22-years-old, who lost his life May 24 in Afghanistan as a representative of the Blue Star Mothers of North Carolina and as a Soldier’s wife. I will pay my respects to this hero who gave his life to something bigger than himself. I will stand tall and remain strong as I give gracious thanks to his family, who has now paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. I will be humbled by them and reminded, again, exactly how blessed I am that my star is still blue.
Four years ago today,Will and I were promoted from being a couple to being parents. China had chosen US to be the parents of Yu Si Jia…soon to be Olivia. We loved her little face the first time we saw it and our love continues to grow.
Here is the first picture we saw of our new daughter:
Here is Olivia last night as an angel for her school’s Christmas program.
For non-adoptive parents, the day you get your referral is like finding out you’re pregnant.
Referral day always comes with many emotions for me. For us, from very start to our referral day, referral was 14 months (we expedited homestudies, etc. for fear of a deployment and are glad we did, because he was indeed recalled to active duty). Our actual wait for referral was 8 months after our dossier was submitted, which we know we are incredibly lucky to have only waited that short amount of time. I have many e-pals and bloggy buddies who are in their 3rd year of waiting and I can only imagine their angst over the wait to become parents.
Believe it or not, there are some who have followed our journey since I left Will in Gulfport, MS for his deployment to Iraq. For those who have been with us all along the way, thank you. Your kind words, encouragement and new-found friendships are amazing. For those who stumbled here by accident and have hung around, I’m grateful for you, too. We still get questions about how and why we chose China. Quite some time back, I posted about it and you can read it here. For those who know us in real life, thank you for loving my child. Friends are the family we get to choose and I think I made some pretty dang good decisions. It’s not always blue skies and sunshine around Chateau L and we are overcoming some challenges, but one thing remains the same. We are a family. We are the family that I wasn’t sure I would ever have. Being a parent is important to me. I don’t know if it’s because we shoveled through mounds of paperwork with notaries, apostles, writing check after check, asking for letters of reference and having to prove ourselves worthy of being a parent or if it’s just in our nature or both, but we love being parents. At the end of every day, no matter the struggles that faced us during the day, I always kiss my little girl good night, hug her tight and tell her I look forward to tomorrow. Even though there are many times where I welcome some “me” time without hearing “mommy” a bajillion times and I love being able to go to the bathroom without an audience, I miss her when she’s not with me.
I made a vow a long time ago and I still stick to it…as frustrated as I may get or irritated or whatever phase we’re crossing into that is less than pleasant, I will never take being a parent for granted. Ever. I will never regret our decision to become parents and you will certainly never hear me complain about having her. The good outweighs the bad and, honestly, the bad isn’t that bad and we are extremely blessed to have a child who is as good as Olivia. She will always know she’s loved and never will I make her feel like she’s an inconvenience for me. And for those who try to tell me I’m not a “real” parent because our family tree was formed in a different fashion, you’re wrong. For those who tell Olivia we’re not her parents because we’re white. They are wrong. We are raising our child the healthiest way we know how and she already knows that she may not have our eyes, but she certainly has our heart. And she has before I saw her picture for the first time and even more so since then.
To all my milspouse friends, e-pals and bloggy buddies…
I wish you all a happy Military Spouse Appreciation Day. Some of you will spend it alone and many of your husbands may not know it even exists. From spouse to another, I know you’re appreciated although the words may never cross lips and it may seem that it’s taken for granted.
I want you all to know I appreciate you. I appreciate the kind words of encouragement you’ve shared with me. I appreciate your candor. I appreciate the fact you all are such strong women and you plow through. There are days where the tears seem to take over and you simply don’t know where the energy to begin again will come from. Being a military spouse can be the toughest job in the military. But you do it. We do it. There are often unique sets of challenges we are faced with before, during and after deployments as well as just day-to-day life. Some of us face more than others and, while it’s all relative to our circumstances and situations, one thing remains constant. We stick together.For those spouses whose Blue Stars have turned Gold, you are also appreciated. Your family has given the ultimate sacrifice and your service and dedication is much appreciated.
When your spouse leaves for his mission with his special water bottle in tow, he knows it’s you who replaced the lost one. When a luncheon with other spouses is successful, he knows it’s you who made it happen. When they have clean underwear and uniforms, they know it’s you. It takes a special wife to full appreciate his enthusiasm over his new gas mask. When you carefully choose what to wear the day they come home and make sure everything is just perfect, it’s you who made the day as perfect as it could be.
Take a few minutes to just pat yourselves on the back today.
We have been working through some things at Chateau L that have made me revisit my past, focus on and sort through the present and look forward to the future. There is some good. There is some bad. And, of course, the ugly looms there, too.
This is going to be fairly rambling with not a lot of rhyme or reason and, honestly, it’s not likely I’ll go back over it and correct grammar, etc.
February isn’t just the anniversary of our “Family Day” with Olivia. One year before that, it was when I said good-bye to my husband for his first deployment. It was the first time in my life that I ever felt truly, truly alone. It was the first time where I felt weak for having “woe is me” days. It was the first time my life was filled with constant day-to-day worry. February brings with it a lot of emotions for me, especially now with one of my dearest friends, Wendy, whose husband has begun his second tour. Those who have been around a while may remember that Wendy and I met online on a forum for Navy wives when I was looking for hotel recommendations to go visit Will in Gulfport. After beginning our friendship, we realized Will had been assigned to her husband’s unit. We were friends here and they were getting to know each other there. Kismet. Wendy was the first wife I met who shared her feelings and helped me to validate mine, but I still felt like it was wrong. I mean, she had just had a baby and had a toddler. Her husband was gone. What on earth did I have to complain about?? The other two wives from Will’s unit never returned phone calls and weren’t interested in supporting one another. In some ways my feelings were hurt, but in other ways I understood they had their lives. It was just Pom Pom and me…Olivia was still a file on someone’s desk and a dream in our hearts. I worked a lot to keep me occupied and I focused on things I had to. My cell phone was a permanent fixture on my body and I slept with it under my pillow. I know there are some military spouses who read my blog who are shaking their heads because they’ve been there. There are some National Guard and Reserve wives who are doing it, too. Before Will deployed, I never really considered myself a military spouse. I often simply referred to myself as a Reserve spouse. To me there was a difference. There still is, to some degree.
We are the marriage deployment strengthened. We are the marriage this deployment tested.
Our lives moved in fast forward when Will came home. Meeting him on the tarmac at Oceana was the 2nd greatest day of my life. The first was the day I married him. He told me to stop crying; he was home now. I couldn’t stop because I relived the previous months over and over in my head. The constant worrying. The being scared. The longing for it to be over so he could come home and rest. The needing to be held and loved.
During the deployment, one of the days I’ll remember forever is April 16, 2005. It was a Saturday and the call came in while my friend J and I were on our way to look at a car because we sold his truck before he left. We were riding along I-40 and my phone rang. His voice was very calm and these were his first words, “I need to tell you something before you hear it from anyone else.” My heart sank. I gripped the armrest in J’s car and I listened to his words through the sound of my heart beating in my ears. They had convoyed to another city and, while there, they had a chance to go shopping at a market. See, something you all may not know is I’m a t-shirt ho. I have one from every place we’ve ever visited. He thought it would be cute to get me one from the marketplace and send it to me. It was cute, until I learned what the significance of that t-shirt would hold. While they were out, their sleeping quarters were hit by rocket fire and they lost many of their belongings. He was shopping for me a t-shirt so he wasn’t there. Two weeks later my t-shirt arrived in the mailbox. I sat in my car and hugged it. The only thing that made me laugh was be bought me a XXL. The shirt still has the tag on it and it’s tucked safely away.
We always knew there would be another deployment and when it became unofficially official, we started planning. We bought gear, planned vacations, double checked financials, etc. It’s what we needed to do. On his annual training last May, he was injured. The Guard STILL hasn’t gotten his paperwork moved through the system to get him fixed so we started him on doctor visits, testing, and therapy out of our own pockets. This injury kept him from deploying. He will eventually be fixed, but it’s going to be a while. I had my mindset that I was going to be the only caregiver for Olivia. I was going to be solely responsible for everything on the homefront while he did his job in a land far away. I didn’t completely know his mindset because he doesn’t talk about it much, but I knew he was preparing to go. Then they told him nope. Not happening. It was like running full force into a brick wall. We had an idea, but until they actually uttered the words, it never actually sank in. I’ve blogged about it before, but it is a lot harder to get unready to deploy than it is to deploy. Our mindsets had gotten in the right place. Our mentalities had shifted. We were ready and then WHAM. What to do with all these feelings and emotions. I used to think I hurt more for him, but after seeing a counselor, I’m not so sure anymore. I felt selfish because all the work I had done to get MY life in order was crashing down. I had planned how things would be for ME. Me. Me. Me. Oh, wait. He’s the soldier. How did he feel? I don’t know. He didn’t tell me. He wouldn’t tell me. I heard disappointment in his voice and I saw it in his face, but he never really told me how he felt. In December, after his unit mobilized, it was the elephant we tip-toed around.
I have gone back into the feeling of not knowing where I belong. Yes, I’m a military spouse by the definition my husband is in the National Guard, but I don’t feel like a “real” one. How do I define real? I don’t know. I can’t really, to be honest. Family support meetings are awkward because the other wives are living what I’m supposed to be. I guess the closest thing I can equate it to would be survivor’s guilt. I actually heard how lucky I am. I am, but I’m not. I think some of those who say that would probably have some of the mixed emotions I have.
I know how lucky and blessed I am Will came home unharmed. Believe it or not, I do know how lucky I am that he is out of harm’s way and I don’t have to live the day-to-day worry that so many others are going through. We found out on a Thursday he wasn’t deploying. By Saturday I had 3 emails and phone calls from people looking for support. I tried convincing myself that maybe, just maybe, our purpose was to support from the home front. There is a Colonel at an Army base who has my name and number and gives it to those who need support. I’ve been contacted about some projects in support of our troops in and around our area. I’ve been contacted by wives and girlfriends and family members whose loved ones DID mobilize with the NC National Guard this go-round. I know I have the support to give. I know I do. It’s what I do, ya’ll know that. I still can’t help but feel like I don’t belong. I’m supposed to be one of them. I’m supposed to be supporting them as I go through it with them. Not as a been-there-done-that spouse. I feel displaced.
Many things have been affected with this roller coaster of emotions. Friendships have been put on hold, but I’m holding on to hope that my best friends know I’m around, I’m just having some challenges right now. Sleep is spotty, at best.
The past is the past and the experience is something that I’ll carry with me forever. It has helped define who I am today – the good and not so good. I’m trying to embrace the present and remember the blessings I have. I’m working on reshaping myself into a person I can look at in the mirror every day and honestly say I’m proud to be. The future holds some uncertainty and it’s up to me to work on making the best decisions I can for my family. I’m having to learn to take it day by day.
This was my blog post from February 15, 2006
Well, today’s the day we’ve been waiting for. We’re leaving for China. As I type this, Will is in bed trying to get some z’s before we have to get up at 3 a.m. to leave for the airport at 4. It’s going to be a loooonnnng day. Of course adrenaline has me up. I tried to go to sleep at midnight and that lasted for about a whopping 20 minutes and here I am. As I was laying there I kept hearing my heartbeat in my ears and I swear it sounded like it was beating a million times a minute. If I can’t sleep, I might as well be productive. I have two hours and forty-five minutes before the alarm goes off.
I have one bag under the weight limit at 32.5 lbs. and it is the one with ALL of Olivia’s clothes, blankets, clothes for the orphanage, etc. How? Well, we went to the Army-Navy store and bought a military duffle bag. It has no weight to start with and it was cheap $16.xx. We have one but it is military green and has US Navy stamped on it and we felt kind of odd going into China with military insignia so we bought a black one. It’s loaded to the gills – and under weight. The other one…well, not quite so lucky on it. It was at 55 lbs and we decided if it was going to be over, then over it was. We’ll pay. I stopped tonite on my way home from work and bought a new light weight suitcase that is 1″ bigger and expands 2″…our other was just a 29″ not expandable. Holy smokes…this rocked. I repacked and realized that I still had room left! So I gather more goodies and rearrange the carry ons and am stoked with all the room I have left. I zip it up, put it on the scales and weigh it. It’s up 10 lbs. Sheesh. So then I turn around and behind me is all of our socks and undergoodies that I didn’t repack in the new suitcase. That’s where all my free space came from. I’m thinking now I wished I would have bought 2 of the duffle bags and been done with it. So, I took out the new loot, put in the necessities and strapped her all up. DONE. Loaded and ready to go.
This will be my last post until Beijing. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers. We can always use them and can never have too many. I can’t believe I am five days away from meeting Olivia face to face. How cool is this….
I can’t believe three years ago we left on a trip that would change our lives forever and I don’t just mean being parents. From the people we met, the food we ate and the sights we saw. It was hands down the trip of a lifetime. By the way, it was really hard trying to tell someone who spoke no English that I forgot my hairbrush. Collectively, we had 40 pairs of underwear, but no hairbrush.
Time flies when you’re having fun.
Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out. We continually give our most gracious thanks to those who defend us at home and abroad and this doesn’t just include our military. It’s a collective effort and we are grateful we are still able to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In spite of the things that divide us, we are still the greatest Nation and we should all be proud.
Many of us will stand together today in remembrance. We should still stand together tomorrow and every day that follows. Uniting is what makes us strong, but it needs to be continual; not just half a dozen times a year.
If you search the different corners of the blogisphere, you will find different answers, but the message will, for the most part, be the same.
I have never really known the life of a full time active duty military spouse. Will and I married when I was 23 and he was very close to getting out of the Marine Corps. We dated while he was active duty, but I was living the college life in another town 50 miles away and he and his buddies would schlep into town for the night/weekend. (Somebody always had a girlfriend who had an apartment with a floor that could sleep 20 easily.) So, aside from a trip now and then to base, I didn’t know anything about base life or how it was lived. My “badge of honor” then was that I was dating a Marine (and a cute one at that). We got married, got out of the military and moved away and began living our lives. After a few years, Will decided he wanted to go back in. He toyed with the idea of going back active duty, but he decided to join the reserves and our new journey began. By that point, we were a little older, more settled into our lives and our understanding and appreciation for things had changed. I still didn’t fully understand the life of being a military spouse; all I had to do was deal with one weekend a month and a couple weeks a year. Easy enough. We are in a non-military town and the majority of our in-town friends are civilians who have not lived the military life so conversations about service never came up. December 2004 changed my life as I knew it. I was in the beginning stages of being a mother and the beginning stages of being a full time military spouse. My husband was being recalled for active duty service. Now, before I go on, please know that when someone joins the military, they have to sign a contract. In this contract it says they will serve their country when called upon, no matter what. When you sign it. You agree to it. There was never a question regarding serving (in the beginning we thought it was voluntary recall, but it wasn’t). He knew what he needed to do and I supported him with all my heart and soul. I watched my husband’s face as he chose the words to tell me he was ready to serve. He never wavered or flinched. It was very matter-of-fact. The pride I thought I knew was nothing. It was at that moment, in my heart and in my mind, I felt like a military spouse. For some (i.e. us) who are removed from “the life” by living where we do, it took a bit longer for it to seep in, but it did and we’ve never looked back.
Over Will’s first deployment, I learned a lot about him, me and us. I saw the hero in my husband. I saw how he stepped up with honor when duty called and not one time did it cross his mind on trying to figure a way to get out of it. I listened to his stories of construction and rebirth in an area devastated by war. I listened to the good and smiled. I listened to the bad and cried. I listened intently and I heard what he had to say. I learned about my weaknesses and strengths and used it as a tool to educate myself. Yes, there were a lot of pity-party days. There were more tears shed than Heaven has angels. I prayed harder than I ever imagined possible. I learned to stop being so selfish. I learned to accept what was dealt to me and to deal with it. It wasn’t always easy, and it still isn’t, but I’m a better person because of it.
Am I a perfect wife? Depends on who you ask. (hee, hee). No, I’m not. Are we a perfect couple? Are you kidding? Don King wouldn’t referee some of our matches. There have been times where we’ve been ready to throw in the towel, but we manage to get our egos in check and get back to life. Those who know us well know we are polar opposites, but we’re a good complement to one another. I’m the mouth and if he were any quieter he would be mute. I’m the cook, he’s the techy. I’m the read it and do it by the book girl, he does it his way, takes it apart and then realizes I’m right. I’m a tad bit snarky at times, he’s patient and puts up with it. We’re kind of like peanut butter and jelly…we’re good together, but we’re also good enough to stand alone.
Those who volunteer to serve our country are an elite minority, as are their spouses, and we are proud to be a part of it. Our service members come from all backgrounds and join the service for different reasons. For some, it is in their blood. For others, they need direction and discipline. There are some simply have a GED and there are those who hold doctoral degrees. Some like it and stay in. Some hate it and count the days to get out. It is the differences in backgrounds, skills, personalities and all the other stuff that make the military community what it is. Oddly enough, just like the rest of the world. There are some who think those who serve in our military are the bottom of the barrel and the dregs of society with no other choices. I, and anyone with half a wit about them, know how much crap that is. Will and his soldiers have their annoying boy habits and cut up like boys will, but when it comes down to it, they know their job and they know it well. They do their job and they do it well.
Being a military spouse is an honor and it means I get to experience life from different angles and points of view. It adds one more category on my resume of life. It means I get to learn about things I would otherwise wouldn’t know about. It has taught me compassion and understanding. It has helped me see clearly the blessings that have been bestowed upon me and to share with others. It has taught me to dig down deep and pull from within. It has taught me how to be resourceful. It has taught me that “hurry up and wait” means just that. Ya’ll know I’m a realist and there is a TON of ugly that can come with it. I don’t blow sunshine and white picket fences still have splinters, but it is what it is. How we choose to embrace it is up to us.
I don’t know what it’s like to pack up and move 5 times in six years or what it’s like to deal with base housing. What I do know is that my heart skips a beat when my soldier puts on his uniform. I know that it hurts like hell to run into his rucksack in middle of the living room floor on the way to let the dog out at 3 am. I know that when I kiss him good-bye and smooth out the material of his uniform reminding him to be safe, I’m letting the National Guard have one of my best friends who just happens to be one of its best soldiers.
So, what does all this mean? It means I’ve got the best life has to offer and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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.