Saturday, September 1, 2012

When Your Soldier Comes Home

I can't believe it's been over two months since my last blog post.  I knew summer would get busy, but I had no idea it would be to this extent!  I do have a good reason though.  A really good reason.  But more on that later (hopefully not too much later).

My mind is racing with memories this morning of the times I've said goodbye and welcomed my soldier home.  I say soldier, but when you're in the military community you have to be careful in using that term.  You see, people in the Air Force and Navy aren't soldiers.  They're airmen, or sailors, or who knows what other terms!  When I give presentations at military events I have to be careful with which term I use and the safest, most PC term to use is "service-member."  That way no matter the branch of the military or the gender, you're covered.  But my hubby's Army, so he is a soldier.

We're so blessed right now.  It's been over 4 years since he returned from his last deployment.  And during that time he's only had to leave for a few weeks here and there.  But we know the next deployment will come eventually.

I'm thinking about all of this because I have a dear friend whose hubby will be coming home for two weeks of leave in about 24 hours.  This is his second deployment in their short marriage.  During the first she was pregnant and had their son without her husband there.  He was able to come home to visit shortly after the birth, but had to go back and didn't return until their little guy was 6 months old.  Now he's gone again and their little one is a busy two-year old.

Here's our cute kiddos together.
My little girl and me spent the day with them a few days ago and I got to talk to her about the excitement she couldn't contain.  Oh that feeling!  That feeling of being separated for so long and anxiously looking forward to their return, even if it is for just a few weeks!

My hubby and I were friends for several years, dated for about a year, then started talking about getting married late in the summer after his younger brother returned from serving a mission for our church (the LDS church).  However one evening in the Spring he came to me very somber look on his face and broke the news to me that a deployment would be happening before that.  We thought that we had till the beginning of the next year before he would be leaving, but the time table was being moved forward.  So we held each other, I cried, (and he may have cried a little too), and talked about what this meant for us.

When most people ask me how he proposed, I don't usually don't tell them the real story.  The real story is it happened on this night.  As he held me, he said to me with tears in his eyes, "Would you be willing to marry me before I go?"  YES!!  Some friends and family thought I was crazy, but I knew it was the right thing.  "What if something happens to him?" they'd ask.  I didn't listen.  So we picked the soonest date we could.  It just happened to be 6 weeks away.  Luckily I never wanted a big wedding.

Throughout the weeks of rushed planning we were also talking about what would happen with him gone.  We didn't know the exact date yet he would be leaving yet, just that it would be soon.  The rumor-mill produced days throughout the whole summer.  One date that was talked about was two days before our wedding!!  Can you imagine?!  "Sorry Love, but I won't be able to make it to OUR wedding."  Luckily my hubby was smart enough not to tell me that date until AFTER the rumor was something different.  Something after our wedding day.

Fast forward to our wedding party.  We were enjoying the company of family and friends when one of his military buddies walked up, slapped him on the back, and said, "Well, we finally have a concrete date."  First my insides dropped.  Then I had to fight the urge to strangle his buddy.  Not today, nor on our wedding date.  Couldn't you have waited to tell us tomorrow?!  Let us enjoy this day!  But there it was.  It had been spoken and I wouldn't forget it.  The date was for about 3 1/2 weeks out.  That meant a week long honeymoon, then 2 1/2 weeks of preparation and he would be gone.  Happy Honeymoon!

We tried our best to not focus on it and enjoy the time we had left.  When we returned home and I went back to work, they could see the stress and sadness in my eyes, so they graciously only asked me to work a few half days here and there and let me spend the rest of the time with my new husband.  I remember one night during this time I had a HUGE meltdown!  I cried, and wept, and wailed, "Why are you leaving?!  Please don't leave!!  I don't want you to go!!"  My new husband was beside himself. He hadn't realized just how much it was tearing me apart inside.

But the day came.  It went something like this:  Wake up early in the morning and get ready.  Load his larger duffle bags into the car.  Drop your soldier off at the local armory so he could be transported to the air slab with his unit.  Family and friends drive separately to the air slab to say their final goodbyes.  It was a m.i.s.e.r.a.b.l.e. morning.

I drove to the air slab by myself trying to control my crying.  We limited the amount of family that we invited to the air slab so our goodbyes could be more intimate and personal.  But still, nothing can truly prepare you for that moment when you watch your soldier line up for that last time and board the plane.  I still remember as the crowd gathered to watch them all board a little girl about 4 years-old broke free and ran to the line of soldiers saying, "Daddy, don't go!"  It still breaks my heart thinking about it.

But they did go, and we all pushed forward.  Fast forward to my husband coming home for his two weeks of leave in the middle of his deployment.  What a blessing!!  You're not always guaranteed that two weeks, so if you get it you savor every moment!  As you prepare there are feelings of excitement, joy, and nervousness.  Not everyone understands the nervous part.  But you've been apart for so long you can't help but wonder, "How have I changed? How has he changed?  What kind of experiences has he had and has war changed him extremely?  Will we still get along?"  And sometimes you even wonder "Does he still really love me?"  Sadly for some couples war has changed them and they face more challenges than their marriage can handle.  You hear about these stories as a military spouse and all of this adds to the nervousness you feel before they come home.

Another thing many people don't understand is you don't get an exact date and time of when they will be getting home.  It usually goes something like this:  You get a phone call from them saying they're leaving their deployment area in a few hours and they'll call you once they get back into the States.  From their deployment zone they'll take a series of military and commercial flights hopping their way across several countries.  For my husband it was from Iraq, to Kuwait, to Germany, to Texas, and finally Salt Lake City.  So I anxiously awaited that call from Texas letting me know when he would be getting into SLC.

Even though I didn't know how many days it would take him to get from Iraq to Texas, I was still calculating what I thought it would be.  One particular morning I felt certain I would be getting a call from Texas.  I was so certain that as I went to go to work that morning I almost headed north on the interstate to the airport instead of south to my work.  Oh how I wished I would have!  I was at work for only an hour or so when my cell rang.  I anxiously looked at the number, but it was a Utah number not a Texas one.  I answered and heard his voice on the other line.  He was in SLC!!!  They managed to get him on an earlier flight in Texas so he didn't have time to call as he changed planes.  I'm sure I startled the whole office as I yelled out in excitement.  I rambled off a few quick instructions to my assistant and flew out the door.  I literally flew to the airport as well.  My foot was lead on the pedal and the usual 45 minute drive took me under a half hour.

We enjoyed two wonderful weeks together.  We stayed at a resort, went to movies, locked ourselves in our apartment, visited family and friends.  I still remember laying next to him in bed the first night.  He was sound asleep, because of the time difference and jet lag, but I couldn't contain my excitement.  I got out of bed and jumped around the living room!

Of course, it was a quick two weeks and we had to say goodbye again.  But then came the real homecoming.  The one where he was home for more than just two weeks.  This time we invited any family to the air slab who wanted to be there to greet him.  Again, you never know exactly when they're flying in, so we ended up spending several hours waiting.  During that time one of the other military spouses sent a member of the media my way.  He interviewed me, and after hearing our story decided he wanted to follow our reunion.  The next thing I knew his cameraman was clipping a mic to my shirt!  Oh how I wish I would have handed it back to him and said, "Look, I know you want a story, but we just want to be together.  No thank you!"  Especially because my husband is a private person who HATES special attention.

As the plane landed the crowd anxiously gathered to watch their soldier come down the stairs.  As I made my way to my hubby and we embraced for the first time I could feel his body tense up as he noticed the TV camera in his face and the reporter hovering over us.  One of the first things I whispered in his ear was, "They've got a mic on me, so be careful what you say."  Seriously!  You would have thought we were spies or something!

But even the news reporter and the mics and cameras in our faces couldn't dampen the excitement of being together again.  There is such a feeling of relief knowing that they will be there in the morning, and the next, and the next, and that at least for a little while you don't have to say goodbye again.

The joy of when your soldier comes home is immeasurable.  And so on this rainy morning as I think of my friend preparing to greet her hubby, I pray that every service-member has someone anxiously awaiting their return.  I pray that they will all be greeted by hugs, kisses, excitement, and loved ones who are relieved they are back.