Thirty three days. Seven hundred ninety two hours. And counting. . . That is how much time is left until we are a complete family again. Two pay periods. Six Sundays.
Currently my husband is serving a 120+ day tour over in the Middle East with the Air Force. This is his eleventh year of enlistment and roughly the 20th deployment that he has been on during these years. He has seen the desert sands of Saudi Arabia , Iraq , Kyrzgstan and Afghanistan , the tropical beaches of Curacao, and many states here in the USA . He has been gone from only a few hours, days and weeks to several months at a time. He's been safe in some places and he's had to wear full body armor and a Kevlar helmet in others.
During these times when he is sweating and fixing airplanes as fast as he can, we are at home living our every day lives. There are still meals to fix, homework to be done, doctor's appointments to go to, bills to pay, and the inevitable broken down car or ER trip to be made. There is a saying among military spouses, "Whatever can go wrong WILL go wrong - during a deployment." Ironically enough, it usually happens the day they leave or less than 24 hours later - your kid falls off the bike and breaks their leg or your water pump decides to die on you in the middle of rush hour on the interstate.
After nearly a decade of living the military life, I've grown pretty accustomed to his comings and goings. Sometimes, you almost wish there was a deployment coming up because after a few consecutive months of being together, they're driving you crazy! I know many times I've said, "Shouldn't you be deployed or something?" Not that I don't love him, but when you're so used to not counting on their presence it can get a little smothering! I do miss him and worry about him when he is deployed but after these years, I have learned to shut off parts of myself. If I don't, I know the worry would eat me alive. As a military spouse, when your better half is gone, you learn certain things, a "Not To Do" list of sorts, because if and when you do these things, you're very likely going to break down and that's not a great idea in the midst of Wal-Mart.
For instance, you avoid all military related movies at all costs. Especially those more centered on what it's like for the family like "We Were Soldiers". I've never seen the movie "Black Hawk Down" in its entirety, even though my husband has told me that everything turns out okay - there is one part I can never make it past. There are also times when certain songs come on the radio; you will leap over any obstacle to switch the station. I've scared many a passenger in my vehicle with a sudden burst of "Oh I don't THINK so!" and violently searching for any other song, even if it is a polka. Mr. Toby Keith, I love your songs, but let's not have "American Soldier" aired when my husband is gone, mmmkay?
It also takes you weeks, if ever, to learn not jump every time you hear a car door, and God forbid, two of them, slam shut outside your house. You wonder every time if it is someone from the base coming to deliver the worst possible news. I've sat in my house many times, holding my breath, waiting for that doorbell to ring. I've finally gotten used to it after realizing my neighbor runs an in-home day care - if I didn't I'm pretty sure I'd have gotten an ulcer by now.
If you think military spouses are some of the toughest people you've ever met, I'd have to say you're wrong. While we do have a lot on our shoulders, I believe that it's the hardest on our children. I can understand and rationalize why my husband is gone, when he should be back, and why he needs to do his job. I can also sit and explain this to my children the simplest and best way I can, but that doesn't mean that they truly understand it. How do you explain to a child, who simply wants his daddy to come home to tuck them in or make them feel safe during a thunderstorm that you just can't? The sacrifice these children make is so great and they do it without complaint. Yes, there are days when mom is the absolute meanest person in the history of mothers and they want Dad home now, but never do they ever complain to Dad on the phone.
Father’s Day this year was especially hard on my oldest son, who is nearly seven. We were out shopping, and everywhere there were families together – happy families, families bickering, but the common theme was the fact that they were complete. Never did I think my son would notice this, until he looked up at me and with tears in his eyes said, “Mom, I just wish my dad were here. Can we call him? Can we tell him Happy Father’s Day?” There was nothing harder than telling him no, we can’t call him; it just doesn’t work that way.
So on this Fourth of July, while you’re sitting in your boat on the lake, watching the fireworks, and stuffing yourself silly on all the BBQ goodness, remember why you’re able to do all of these festivities. Remember that it’s not only for those who have sacrificed before your time but for those who continue to make those same sacrifices today. It is because of the airman working a 16 hour shift to get a jet launched, the soldier dodging IED’s, the Marine baking under the sun on a mountain side looking through a scope, and the seaman 500 feet below the ocean surface tracking mines that you are able to freely enjoy life. But don’t forget their families and all they are sacrificing – the privilege of having their spouse there for the birth of a child, video taping t-ball games instead of having dad or mom on the sidelines cheering, a shoulder to lean on when times get rough, and someone to tuck them in at night and assure them that all is right in the world. The Fourth of July is about more than jet skis, BBQ’s and fireworks. It is about celebrating our country’s freedom and everything it took to get it, and how we continue to fight to stay free.
Until then . . . .seven hundred ninety one hours, thirty three minutes, and seventeen seconds. . . . .
"Be safe Daddy. . ."
(Updated in 2013 to fix picture that disappeared some how. Originally posted July 1, 2008)