Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Waiting For Home...

Let's start the journey. Homeward bound. It may be a figment of my imagination, but I believe the last two months of a deployment are the hardest out of the whole year. Months 1 - 2, you miss him. You're sad a lot, you cry, but you've told yourself you must move on. Besides, everything is new. And while that's sometimes overwhelming, it's also an adventure. You're figuring out (because you have to) how to make things work on your own.

Months 3-10 (could be 9ish, could be 11ish) are the meat of the deployment. In my opinion, they're the easiest. OK, easy is the wrong word. There's nothing easy about anything during a deployment. But they are the most normal of the new normal. The most routine. It's the acceptance phase. You made it through Denial (probably pre-deployment) and you hopefully made it through Anger. You're chillin' in the land of Acceptance. You've adjusted to your new routine, to just you. You're hopefully out exploring and doing things within your new independance. It's not easy, you're not 100% happy. There are highs and lows. Days that you miss him so bad it hurts, holidays, anniversaries, mini-crises that come up and freak you out. But grand scheme of things, I felt settled during the meat of it. I had a decent idea how things would go. But oh, those last two months...

I already don't like deployment. I don't think there is a mil-spouse out there who does. But oh, 'round about month 10, I'm sick and f*cking tired of it. I'm ready for it to be done. I'm utterly and completely over it. Which of course, incites small panic attacks when you realize you're still at about 60 days in your countdown.  Then, you mix in the longing. That little chunk of your mind that says, "You have a whole, long, freaking forever 60 days to go....     you have ONLY 60 DAYS TO GO!!!" It's tantalizingly close and agonisingly far away. And both feelings just get stronger. The closer it gets, the more it feels like the deployment will never end. Excitment battles anger battles anticipation battles frustration.   This tour, I had an event for kids and a Board meeting to plan, both occurring a week apart, sandwiching his return to the States. Good thing, because if I hadn't been that busy, I promise you I would've jumped out of my own skin!

I've heard the guys view that homecoming date with excitement and apprehension, maybe even a little dread. And, if we want to be totally honest we have apprehension too. How have I changed? How has he changed? Will our personalities fit together still? Will our routines? Will our bodies? Which issues will pop up when he comes home? Reintegration isn't easy. The world isn't magically rainbows and puppies because they're home. In fact, in many ways, it's just as tough to deal with them coming home as it was to deal with them leaving. And perhaps that last two months is even more difficult because you're already anticipating that. Either way, you're a ball of emotions best classified as delightfully, frustratingly insane.

Take that 2 months of energy and harnass it. Run. Dive into work. Something. Because it is pent up, and you will go crazy. Know that it's normal. For me anyway..  and take some deep breaths. Don't stress what's coming because it will be another adventure and another ordeal, but you'll get through that too. If nothing else, at least you're 2 months from ending one more chapter, and flipping the page to the next.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Freedom Is Not Free...

Freedom is not free. It's a phrase that is uttered often, yet always bears repeating. At the same time, I wonder if in its repetition, it loses meaning. As we approach Memorial Day weekend, it absolutely demands discussion.

8 U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday. On a foot patrol, they encountered two IEDs, left for them, targeted at them, and detonated. I don't know these 8. Their names have not yet been released. I imagine young guys, like so many I've encountered while doing events on military installations. Baby-faced, full of energy and immature joy and optimism. I imagine the 19 year old Marine I met, who had two cats and a pregnant wife. Who probably couldn't be called a man yet, torn between going home to bring his wife the food she was craving, and staying late to BS with his fellow Marines. I imagine the 24 year old Marine, the only one in the group who had deployed before. The one who had two children, and a air of maturity, of leadership. I imagine the soldiers I met who could nap anywhere. Who were eager to help, polite beyond words, and two seconds later BS-ing with their buddies in a way only boys can.  I imagine the moms, dads, wives, children who are going to have that car pull up to their house, whose lives will be shattered with one ring of the doorbell over the next day or two.

I have risked a loved one, and I have felt that fear. But I am lucky. My fiance is home. This weekend, you should thank any service member. But remember that this day is about the ones who didn't come home. I have met numerous Gold Star families for whom every day is Memorial Day. And while we should honor their Heroes every day, this weekend is about them. It is about thanking the families for their sacrifice, for their loved ones' service.

I don't begrudge you your BBQ. Your beach trip. Your beers. Your unofficial kickoff to summer. I can't speak for them, but I doubt the families do either. I doubt the fallen would. But they would want you to remember. To pause during your BBQ, beach trip, beers, whatever and remember. Remember that they can no longer enjoy those things. Remember that throughout history, volunteer or voluntold, men and women have answered the call to defend our country and our freedoms. Remember that this year, men and women are in Afghanistan and Iraq. Whether you agree with these wars or not, they are there for you. They have volunteered, and because of that, you don't have to. They won't celebrate. There will be no day off. But most of all, remember.  8 soldiers died yesterday. Freedom is not free. Even today. Even this weekend.

Wedding Hoopla...

As it says in my header, this blog isn't 100% military. Though I'm a proud military almost-spouse, my fiance is a Reservist. Our lives are not 100% military. And I think the last few posts have been a wee bit negative. So...   let's chat about the other big drama in my life. Wedding planning.

Yes, wedding planning. The very thing that girls do starting at age 5, and guys dread. Do they care about colors and flowers? Not so much...  We're planning cigars after the reception. Fiance's reaction? "You've already covered what I want, I don't have an opinion now, just say yes."  Every girl's dream, right? No. Here's funny thing about me #1:  I have actually never envisioned my wedding day. Never put the pillowcase on my head, or whatever it is girls do. So, I have a few ideas, but for the most part, I'm thinking them up as I go!

Admittedly, this is more fun. I can see cute things, or go to blogs, and there is plenty of room for new ideas in my planning! The only problem...  thing about me #2: I like to be in control. Not in a domineering way, but if I'm planning something, I have to be able to control it, or I slowly lose my sanity. It just crumbles away. The setback in my fiance's training schedule of course made me go crazy. And now, I'm trying to plan, but also HATE asking my parents to spend tons of money. 

But the good news is...   we set our date!  So get ready...  you'll probably get to hear quite about about wedding planning.  If you're lucky, I'll even share some tips with you!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

He Says, She Says: TBI

A note about this post: The idea for this post was actually his. We talked about this exact occurrance and how neither of us knew quite what the other was going through at the time. He mentioned how unique it would be for us to lay our our different perspectives. I'm holding him to it. Here is the first of (what I hope) will be a series....   He Says, She Says, part 1... My writing's in regular font, his writing's in italics. With my fiance, the SGT as a guest part-author, we share.   Parallel tensions, parallel problems. What they do to couples. You are never alone.

She says:
   What happens when an IED goes off next to your vehicle in Afghanistan? What does it feel like? Sound like? Smell like? I've heard that our wonderful, new, armored military vehicles almost make the effect worse. The concussion wave enters the vehicle and bounces around, assaulting the occupants from every direction. Do you feel it bouncing around, or just the singular blast?  And when it's over, do you know what happened? Can you sense what it just did to your body, your head, your brain?

He says:
   It was another long boring day of route clearance in Afghanistan. Drive slow, look for bombs, try to stay awake. Our missions were a minimum of 11 hours a day. Three hours of prep in the motor pool and eight hours on the route. We'd been doing this for six months and day in and day out it all started to blur together. Only the trash on the side of the road changed. 
    We had left early in the morning while the sun was still up and made our usual maddeningly slow progress. I can't adequately describe to you how incredibly boring a job like this can be. Day after boring day of sand, heat, and endless nothingness. The day had already gone long, we operated in a battle space owned by the Brits and we noticed one of their armored vehicles pulled up on the side of the road along with a few bored looking Afghan National Police. It seemed like they were conducting a hasty traffic checkpoint where the ANP would go through the motions and search random Afghans driving by. I don't know if they ever found anything but they didn't put much effort into it. I rode in the lead truck of our convoy and being the NCO in the back who didn't really have a job I got to hop out and talk to everyone we met. I hit the open button for our heavy steel doors and listened as air hissed and the door slowly swung open. A quick peek at the ground outside and out I jumped feeling the impact of the 80 lbs of kit on my ankles and knees as I strolled over to the Brits. 
    The British soldier quickly and nimbly hopped off the tank like vehicle and climbed down. "How's it going?" "Ahh, good mate, well actually not so good, a local found a mine about a klick over there." He pointed into the general vicinity of a few walled compounds and some soft sand plowed through by vehicle tracks. "The only problem is EOD is about 8 hours out and the Afghans shot someone in a compound over there." As route clearance our job is to keep the roads open and clear away any explosive hazards that might be there. Granted this particular land mine wasn't close to the concrete we were driving on but it was impeding our allies (the Brits) from using a road to get to a close by base. To me this seemed like a no brainer: clear up to it, locate the mine, destroy it, and be on our merry way. Of course this required some clearance from higher so I called up to my boss on the net and let him know what was going on. True to form, they had to drive up and have a look for themselves.

She says:
   In a previous post, I mentioned the fear and upset when horrible things happen and you are alone. Here I will again state that I know we are lucky. I know others have experienced far worse. But this is my story, our story, and by sharing it, I want to help anyone who experiences less, the same, worse.   So let me tell you about the singular worst day in deployment #2.

He says:
    Battalion says "No go, we gotta leave it and Charlie Mike (continue mission)." As usual our higher decided that areas that hadn't seen an IED strike in over a year needed to be cleared instead. I was given the job to inform the Brits we were going to leave them and the mine for the wait. I tried to act as contrite as possible, but the Brits were understanding. We'd been leaving them in a lurch for months. Now their EOD would have to come out and scan up to the mine on foot without large armored vehicles and then dig up the mine with their hands instead of a large mechanical arm. Such was our leadership. I mounted back up and threw my helmet at the floor in disgust as I put my headset back on. "I can't believe this shit!!!" I yelled to no one in particular. My truck-mates all responded the same way. We came there to find bombs, now we had one, but we were leaving it for someone else. Frustrations like this were a daily part of my tour and the contributed to a bubbling rage about how wrong everything was going.
    We had continued on and were heading back to base. All the waiting and hand wringing had put us over the 8 hour minimum that battalion required. It was going to be a long day and now night was falling. Darkness in Afghanistan always emboldens the Taliban. All the talk about owning the night is only true to a point. We can see in the dark using night vision or thermal vision, but we can't be everywhere at once. We joked that the route is only clear so long as you can still see it. We were about to find out how true that really was.

She says:
   As I mentioned before, I had fairly recently moved into a new apartment. I had been forced to apartment hunt with my (then) boyfriend in Afghanistan. I moved with help from a co-worker and his friends. A mere 6 months later, my roommate decided to leave. But instead of the requisite 30 days notice, I received about 2.5 weeks. Rent was due Feb. 1... I was in charge of planning an event across the country for January 29. I didn't have time to search, and do not make enough to afford my apartment alone.

He says:
Everyone was hurting, the early morning, heat of the day, and just general wear and tear of a deployment was putting everyone on automatic. Six months of 4 hours of sleep will wear even the best of us down and make us complacent. "Hey SGT C, you see that box?" Our driver Muffin Top called out a large cardboard box on the side of the road. SGT C, the TC of the truck and a friend of mine was up front operating the mechanical arm we used to check culverts. I was in the back behind our CROW gunner. The CROW system is an automated weapon system that allows a gunner to stay in the vehicle and operate a machine gun with a joystick like a video game. You can now shoot bad guys zoomed in and in high def. BC the gunner was half asleep but woke up as soon as Muffin Top started talking. "Hey man, can you scan towards that box?" I told him as I shifted for a better look. "Already on it SGT D" he called back.  "Shit, I'll just run it over, SGT." Muffin Top said as he started to turn towards it. "No, let me poke at it first." SGT C swung the jerking mechanical arm on our truck towards it just as our camera zoomed in.


The world shook, a flash formed in front of my eyes, and my ears started to ring. "FUCK! We're hit." Everyone in the truck started calling out they were ok. And we quickly called up to our other trucks we were ok. My adrenaline pumping, ears ringing I realized that the CROW was down. We had no eyes and no gun up at the lead of the convoy. We'd been hit, but the truck seemed ok, my brain raced through the fog and cobwebs: shit that was a command wire. Someone pulled the trigger on it. The bad guys were still out there. I popped the hatch above me and stood up. M4 out and scanning, my NVGs had been knocked off my helmet and wouldn't turn on. I loaded a flare into my M203 grenade launcher and fired. I wanted to just open fire, there were compounds right next to the spot we were hit and someone somewhere was watching. I wanted him running, I wanted him scared, I wanted to watch him die as 5.56 rounds poured out of my M4 or from the bright flash of a 40mm HEDP grenade from my M203. All the months of slow drives and frustrations and watching my friends get blown up were going to be avenged by the accurate fire of my rifle. Quiet. The only noise I heard was a faint ringing in my ears and the sizzle of the parachute flares I fired.

She says:
   I have said that you must make your own rules for communicating during deployment. Our rules stipulate that I still tell him what is going on, what is stressing me, everything. The more I hide, the more worried he gets. In my panic, worry, and trusting love for him, I dumped my concerns out, and suggested again that maybe he move in, helping me pay for rent.  He exploded. He launched an expletive-laden tirade about how he was being forced into things and having his life decided for him. Why couldn't I just leave him the fuck alone because someone needed to think about him??     I was rocked, destroyed. By the next day, he had emailed an apology, and mailed flowers. I scoffed to my co-workers about how he wasn't sweet, he was an ass, and I deserved those flowers.   Over the next week, I forgave him, but was cautious, worried. I debated if I wanted this man to propose to me on leave like I had hoped.

He says:
   When you get blown up you don't just hop in a helicopter and fly away. You recover your truck and then drive it (if it can be driven) back to base. Our mechanics were able to get the arm stowed and we began the long drive back to base. One of our other vehicles was off route checking on something. It was driven by a young kid who been home schooled, seemed incredibly nervous to the point of shaking talking to NCOs, and who seemed petrified to be the driver of a Husky. The Husky is a scout vehicle that has only one man in it, the driver. You have to be good at it to do your job well. The terrain was mostly open desert for miles around, soft rolling sand, easy driving. Unfortunately that driver found the only hole for 8 klicks and drove right into it breaking his vehicle's axle and warping the hull. Our long night was about to get longer. 
    Four hours later at 3am we rolled into the gate of our FOB, exhausted and ready for sleep. Unfortunately we had to transfer all of our sensitive items, ammo, and explosives out of our truck and into a new one. We figured that we at least get the next day off to have our heads checked out and get some sleep. The regs said we'd get our 24 hours and checked out by the Docs. That didn't happen, 4 hours later I was putting putting my armor back on and rolling out the gate. That day is when the migraines started.
   My headaches were bad enough that I'd lay in the dark with a pillow over my head to block out any light. I was angry for no reason about small things and nothing seemed to help. "Chew aspirin, drink water, it'll get better" I told myself.  She popped up on skype, our only real way of connecting. Most days I was so exhausted I could barely carry on a conversation without falling asleep as 2200 hit. I had been getting Spam emails from some stupid company that was trying to hook guys up with Ukrainian mail order brides. I started commenting on this to Stacey and she said something. Something went off in my head. I screamed at her over Skype and slammed my laptop shut. I didn't even know why but I wanted to punch a hole through something. My roommate looked over at me "Dude you ok?"

She says:
I didn't hear much more about it until leave. I did receive an angry email at one point. It included the line "I've seen friends blown up. I've been blown up." But I didn't know what it truly meant. As we sat in my car, driving home from Vermont after some much needed R&R, he told me how an IED went off next to their vehicle. How they were ultimately lucky, but slammed around. How in the bullshit world that is the Reserves, not only did he not get medical attention, but was instead kept up late to work, and sent off on mission like normal the next day instead of receiving the mandatory 24-hour rest. Good thing we were in a traffic jam! I stared. And almost immediately said, "When did this happen?" We realized it was essentially 36-48 hours before he yelled at me.
I know, and knew already at that point, that TBI messes a person up. That rattling of your brain, even on the milder ends causes headaches, blurred vision, irritability, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), personality changes, memory loss and more. We may have dubbed it "mild", but there is nothing mild and nothing simple about a brain injury. It messes you up. Period. Almost immediately, my questions about his love melted away.

He Says:
   It took me until coming home to realize what had happened that night. When you read about TBI you think about guys getting blow off their feet like something out of Hurt Locker. Blood running out of your ears and nose, bell rung, dazed but functioning. I was in a giant armored truck, not even that close to the blast but until we started talking about it I never thought I'd had it.  Things like that don't happen to me. I'm an NCO I'm invincible. I have to be. My guys look up to me. A blast? Ha, I take those every day. Nothing wrong here, carry on. If only I had really known what was coming. Memory loss, headaches, and anger. While home on leave during the Super Bowl I had trouble putting sentences together. While everyone was joking about Big Ben or chatting about the Packer's chances I had to think about "Noun-verb-noun." I couldn't remember people's names but could recall random facts about them. My struggles turned to more anger and there were days I seethed in silence at my inability to put words together. I'm a college graduate, what the hell was wrong with me? It took months to come to terms with it. I still have trouble some days, but I'm getting better.

She says:
   In the time that has followed, I've studied TBI. We are lucky that he suffered only mild TBI (or mTBI). But "mild" is such a deceitful word. A man who rarely complained of headaches had frequent, intense headaches for at least a month. Our limited Skype dates would be cut short by a headache intense enough he had to lie down. He told me of regular ringing in his ears, and spoke of a concern that words were falling out of his head.  Unfortunately, the Reserves didn't bother to check him out until demobilization, nearly 3 months later.  
   Here again, I thank the Lord his TBI wasn't worse. Because, despite the sheer neglect and ineptitude of the Reserves, he has mostly healed. I still watch him for headaches and any other sign that things are coming back, or just not going away. I may be a nag, but I'm highly on top of things for new symptoms that could still appear. I've noticed he has a new obsession with making written lists, which I assume is a coping mechanism for a brain that just isn't quite right. I'm proud of him for adapting. But I watch and I worry. Yes, even still. Brains are tricky things, and I know he has hidden symptoms from me.    I sat in the dark during the worst of it, and I refuse to miss anything new.   I wish the Army Reserves were better. I wish they had done a better job. But if they won't, I will. 

He says:
   She'd traveled down a road she thought was familiar too, a nightly conversation, something that had happened a hundred times. How could she know what lay ahead? How could she guess what had happened? Part of a deployment is hiding what happens, hiding the bad days, never saying you got blown up, never saying you watched friends get hurt, or saw people die.  Something innocuous like a joke or a box, can change everything.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ask For Help, You Are Strong...

I contemplated suicide during the most recent deployment. There, I said it, I admitted it. Luckily, my brain generally shrugged off the idea. It never became such a serious thought that it couldn't be escaped. I cut myself once, and most of the times all I did was cry. A lot. If you had glimpsed into my private life, at least 4 times you would have found me in the the fetal position on the floor.

Why am I telling you this? Because it's true. I had more good days than bad, and on the whole, I was lucky through this because it never got more serious. But remember how I told you that it's too easy to look at other spouses and think they have it all together? I want to tell you that they don't. Or if I'm the only one who will admit it, I don't.

Deployment + life = overwhelming. And there are lots of resources out there to encourage you. I found most helpful the few that admit to you, not just that it's hard, but that at times it's gut-wrenching, painful, fucking awful. Everyone's experience is different, but the same. Maybe you have kids, maybe you aren't married yet, maybe you live on-post, maybe you live off, maybe it's your first deployment, maybe it's your 20th. To be perfectly honest, I don't think any of these circumstances make deployment harder, and I don't think any of them make it easier. Deployment sucks.  It sucks. And when you combine it with your personal circumstances, it sucks worse.

Recently, I have seen various groups raising the alarm over rising numbers of veteran suicides. I am so glad to see this because I hope we can erase stigmas, raise awareness and make a change. In being honest with you, I want to stand next to them and raise the alarm over the mental health of our military families. I don't know the statistics for family suicides. I don't know if the statistics are out there. But in my heart, I believe it's a problem.

People will offer to be there, and not actually be there. They will tell you, or someone else, that you aren't handling deployment well. They will say what they want to say without ever truly understanding. But I understand. Everything else in life makes it so much worse. You know what I mean..  the finances, the chores, the friends or lack thereof, the never ending crap that pops up that you have to fix by yourself. You are trying so hard to be strong. Telling yourself you have to be strong. The strongest thing you can do is admit when you need help. It takes strength to reach out and tell someone you are in need. And in this admission, you are stronger than ever before. In this admission, you are my hero. I wasn't even strong enough to do that. I wasn't strong enough to find the resources, or just admit it, or something. And that doesn't make me weak. My troubles do not make me weak. They make me normal.

If you are struggling or in need right now, I want to tell you two things. First, I understand. You are normal. There is nothing wrong with the fact that you are struggling. Deployment is HARD.   Second, be strong. Have strength and find whatever it is you need. Here are a few resources I have found:
  • Sealed Strength (sealedstrength.org) This is a great group of ladies who will pair you with a penpal. She will write you at least once a month and encourage you.
  • Defense Centers of Excellence (http://www.dcoe.health.mil/24-7help.aspx) Here is 24/7, free help. I haven't tried it, but they will provide free information and answers to anyone connected to the military who is in need.
  • Military Pathways (http://www.mentalhealthscreening.org/programs/military/) They offer information and mental health/substance abuse screenings. Hotlines and resources are available.
  • Military OneSource (militaryonesource.com) Right on the front page is a line for immediate 24/7 help. Throughout the site are other resources.
This is a limited list... there are many other resources out there, but I want to ensure you have some. You are not alone, and there is nothing wrong with asking for help. Please have the strength to seek out the help you need.   Deployment sucks, and I applaud you for standing by your servicemember. I feel for you in your time of need. And I believe in you. You are heroic. Have strength.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

See You Soon...

Life in the military is full of "goodbyes"...  or "see you soon"s. I know, pretty obvious statement, right? You don't really think about just how many "see you soon"s there are though. The one when he heads off to pre-mob training (between one and two months duration). Then he comes home for his pre-deployment 4-day pass. This of course means the big "see you soon". Eventually, he's home on leave/R&R, and then you get another "see you soon". Depending on the circumstances, you might get to welcome him home and say yet another see you soon so he can do his week of de-mob. And let's not talk about all the "see you soon"s that follow phone calls, Skype visits and e-mails.

Because of the nature of our relationship and his Reserve status, our "see you soon"s always happened in airports. We were long-distance for quite a while, so even our normal visits involved someone being taken to the airport, a see you soon, and someone getting on a plane to fly away. Even today, I feel anxious entering an airport with him. Our long-distance is finally, finally over, but I'm still convinced that if we go to the airport together, someone must be leaving...

The first tour, there was a ceremony before the month of training. I mostly remember a big, cavernous building, crappy high-school-gym-type lighting, and eating terrible food off Styrofoam plates. I suppose we could've taken the time to meet other families, but each family formed little circles around their soldier and waited. We spent his four day pass in Chicago, and the 'deployment moment' occurred when I flew home and he drove back to Fort McCoy, where they would leave for Afghanistan. So the big, ugly "see you soon" happened just outside security at O'Hare Airport. Nothing quite like going through security, face bright red with the effort of holding back tears, and wet from the few that managed to escape...

The second deployment, he was "cannibalized" as I call it. He was pulled to fill a hole in a different unit...  taken the exact day his year of unavailability ended. (Don't get me started on that 'dwell time' crap.) There was a ceremony, that the soldiers who were not organic to the unit were not told about until the last minute, leaving us no way to attend. After training, we decided to spend the 4-day in Houston..  partially so I could take our cat home with me. He also had to fly so that he could rejoin his new unit. This time we got to say bye at my gate, and I at least had a very scared cat to keep me company.  It's funny too the strangers that will ask if you're alright and offer words of encouragement vs. the ones who just stare like they've never seen a sad person before.

I cry every time, at least a little. He tells me to stay strong. Told me and the cat to take care of each other. Only once did he let me see a tear as he left. I always tried, doing my best to let as few tears as possible escape until we were apart. I believe I am strong, but even the strong cry. It takes a special woman to say "see you soon" so often. to hold the tears back until he leaves so he thinks you'll be OK. To watch him walk away. To return home, cry it out, shake it off, and start your temporary new normal. But we military spouses are pretty awesome. Somehow, most of us manage this each time. We prepare for every possibility, but believe that we will see you soon...

Monday, May 16, 2011

I Never Want You to be Alone...

I've warned you already, in retroactive Reserves blogging, I blog in the wrong order. This one comes to you from mid-deployment. I saw a tweet from an Army Wife today asking about what you miss most when your husband is deployed. Honestly, the tweet made me think about how helpful her posts and questions probably are, and how I could help others to not feel the way I felt.

I felt alone. The only other military spouse I had any relationship with during this tour was my boss. Her husband was deployed at the same time as my fiance, in roughly the same area. Though you would think this would give me a battle buddy, and while we can talk to each other as friends, she is still my boss. And whether she was hiding things from me because of that or not, she seemed to have it all together. My mom was several states and a plane ride away. And for much of the tour, my fiance and I were still just boyfriend and girlfriend.

I imagine my position is similar in many ways to that of a young wife, only recently arrived to her new installation when her husband is deployed. Except that she is surrounded by other young wives, and I hope and pray they would reach out to her. To that young wife, to the girlfriend or fiance, to the significant other of a Reservist, who is now far away from her family and friends, to anyone who simply thinks they do not have a battle buddy...

You are NOT alone.

Heck, if you feel like messaging me, I'll be your battle buddy.

Deployment #2 found me a plane ride away from my mom, at a recently started job, in an extremely expensive city, with roommates I was not close to, and without any close friends. Admittedly, I've never been close to girls, or had many close friends (probably due to the aforementioned tendency to speak my mind and be a b*tch), but I realized I had no one to talk to, confide in, or vent to.

The stress alone of going through the worry, the sleepless nights, and simply missing him can get to anyone and make you crazy. I found myself strangely grateful for 15-hour days during a work event. I went through stretches of time, 3 weeks in a stretch usually, where I didn't sleep, and if I did, I regularly woke up throughout the night. Occasionally, I could talk to my boss in abstract ways. We bought care package items for each other's loved one. We would talk in certain moments about certain things. We asked how the other's love one was, and we understood the sudden phone calls, late mornings, and need to miss a meeting because he suddenly popped up on chat or Skype. And those times helped. I am eternally grateful for that. But she was still my boss, and I still couldn't quite tell her the things that mattered.

The worst moments came midway through the tour. I didn't know, and at the time he didn't tell me, but my fiance suffered TBI when an IED exploded next to his vehicle. For those of you who don't know, TBI varies greatly in severity, ranging from a concussion to debilitating brain damage. Even on the mild end of the spectrum it can cause memory loss, migraines, mood swings, depression, irritability, ringing in the ears and more. In the armored vehicles of the military, the blast waves echo and bounce, attacking the brain from all angles.

At the same time, my roommate decided to move out, giving me approximately 2.5 weeks warning, while I was working on a major work event. I was about to be shouldered with double the rent, and had no availability to meet with people. The fiance and I prefer to share. I hate the people who say, "Don't tell him things. Don't stress him out." Actually, tell him what he wants to hear. Every person has their own rules and preferences in a deployment. In ours, if I didn't tell him things he would worry more.

But as bad as this moment was, as scared as I was, it was about to get worse. When we talked and I confided my panic, he exploded. He went off on me about the stress, and how his life was being planned for him since he would need to move in with me and help pay my rent. In my worst stress, my rock didn't just go away, it jumped up and beat me repeatedly.      I can't explain that day to you. I can tell you that I drank the strongest vodka tonic ever and cried for hours. I went to bed at 5. And somehow, I dragged myself out of bed and off to work because I had a giant work event to plan.  He apologized by email, which I wasn't willing to read the first two times I looked at it. He sent flowers. And I think he blew up again (don't quote me on this, the bad moments have been locked away somewhere in my mind).

I don't blame him. Once he came home on leave and told me what had happened, we both were able to understand that it was the TBI talking, not him. But in the moment, you don't know you'll be able to move on months later. You don't have a reason. And really, I partially blamed myself and partially blamed nothing. Just wondered how I was going to survive.

While I'm being honest, I truly believe moments like that, and the alone feeling lead me to being depressed during the second half of his deployment. I prayed a lot, and I made it through. Toward the end, I found a few other resources. One, Sealed Strength, pairs women with a loved one deployed with pen pals. Those cards were a godsend. I found other communities online, and people on twitter. While I couldn't always be 100% open, I could vent portions of what I was feeling, and I could feel connected.

If you're out there and you're feeling alone, scared, confused...  anything, please know you are NOT alone. I don't want you to feel how I felt. I don't want you to have that heartbreaking moment and not have anyone to reach out to. Unfortunately, things and feelings like this are normal, and even the woman who looks like she has it all together is probably feeling the same stress, heartache, emptiness.

I truly invite you to message me if you want. I promise to answer, to listen, to be there. And if that's not it, I hope that at least I can help someone just by being honest. I'm tired of the infighting, I'm tired of the divisions between branch, rank, specialty. WE ALL love our military member. WE ALL have massive challenges in deployment, different and the same. And we should never be alone.

Fair Warning...

I don't know if I'm going to post something for you today, but I might. I might go home and copy and paste some I wrote several months ago. I'm not sure. What I wrote several months ago certainly could offend certain people. Really, I'm going to debate whether to risk offending a few people in order to share some things that most people could be benefited by reading. We'll see. But here is your fair warning: we are currently doing the whole reintegration thing. It is different from last time in that our long-distance relationship is finally over. He's come home to me for good. I can't say it's less challenging, it's differently challenging. Anyway... expect those Army rants to be coming soon. And if you're offended, well, sorry. I speak my mind. Call me a b*tch if you want. I've heard worse. I'm entitled to my opinion, and as I stated above, this blog is mine and mine alone. If you figure out where I work (or if I mention it in the future), my blog doesn't represent that company. If you figure out who an unnamed person mentioned is, well my blog represents only my opinion. I hope you'll listen when I rant, and offended or not, at least consider what I've said. Whether you agree or not, I am only one voice among many, but I am a voice.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Thin Blue Line...

I woke up today and knew immediately what to write about. But it's taken all day to figure out *how* to write about it. I'm still not sure, so bear with me, we're going free-flow...

The fiance is an Army Reservist (not that you would know, with him in Afghanistan 2 of the last 3 years. But that's another post for another day). For those of you unfamiliar, our Reservists have a civilian career. They drill (go visit Army-land) one weekend a month, two weeks a year. And right now, they are heavily relied upon as a solid chunk of the meager 1% of Americans fighting our wars. Oh wait, that rant is supposed to be for another day, right?

Anyway... the fiance is a Reservist. His civilian career is law enforcement. In fact, his life of law enforcement impacted me before his life in the Army ever did. Perhaps that's why I can't quite define myself by anything. Admittedly, I don't like labels, but it never felt quite right to say "Army Girlfriend" or "SGT's fiancee" or any of those "badges" many women in the military community love. Not that there is a problem with those. Nor do I define myself by him. But certainly, who we love is part of who we are. And I look at the dichotomy between my two communities and often wonder what the other side thinks.  So let's think...

Army: Leaves me for a year to go to a foreign land. Some deployed get to call/Skype home every day. Some communicate very rarely. All year, there are people who will actively try to kill him. Let's be honest, guys experience varying degrees of safety over there, but considering my guy played "find the IED", it's safe to say he put his life on the line every day.    And then, there are a few things I guess at (being a Reserve, non-spouse). Spouses have other spouses. No matter which base, many of the circumstances are still the same... TriCare, commissaries, FRGs, etc. They're different but the same. Dwell time seems to be pretty well enforced for the standard grunt (I know Rangers, SF, etc. don't get it as much). And despite him leaving for training, he often spends long chunks at home, where he is in no danger at all.

Police: Doesn't have to leave me other than for a normal working 8 (or more) hours. No, it's not 9-5, but he's home for a "night" (that might be in the middle of the day). And he gets "weekends" (that might be Tuesday and Wednesday). While overtimes can come at absolutely any time for any reason, he can call almost any time because of course he carries his cell phone. But here's a big thing.. when he walks out the door each day, I have to understand that he might not come back. Where I answer the phone at work, he pulls people over. You never know which routine traffic stop may turn into a shootout. Where I type reports and make copies, he responds to calls of domestic violence, robberies, shootings. Or goes to investigate murders. He won't come home for a year of complete safety because his daily job involves putting his life on the line.  And, at least in my experience, there is no community support or spouses groups. You don't often know other spouses, there is no FRG, and each department has its own schedules, rules, insurance and hierarchy.

I don't mean to disparage either group. I admire and respect my fiance for both jobs. And I have the highest respect for the men and women who are solely dedicated to one or the other of these jobs. I believe that the military community has done amazing things during these wars. They have brought to light the needs of military families, brought remembrance and honor to our fallen Heroes who gave their lives in battle. And I know there is always more to do. And I never stop thinking about BOTH communities.

There is a thin blue line that keeps order around society. And in some ways, a thin blue line that stands between you and me. When I put on that Army fiance hat, despite my many frustrations, I have found resources and community. When I put on that police fiance hat, I have not. Though Memorial Day is coming, I would like to point out to anyone reading that tomorrow kicks off Police Week here in DC. Families of police officers killed in the line of duty during 2010 will come to DC to bond, grieve, and honor their loved ones, much in the way a group called TAPS gathers families of military fallen during Memorial Day.

This is what I know about loving a police officer. First, there are a few bad apples out there. And they've done a damn good job spoiling the whole bunch. People will start endless, constant discussion about the few bad ones, every friend of mine of my fiance's will tell us about the one jerk police officer he dealt with. And that is a load of bull that simply must be accepted. Because what I know is that they are quiet heroes. Just as the soldier willingly leaves for war to keep you safe, police walk out the door each day, bullet proof vest on, gun belt weighing on his hips, uniform on, and face the world full of crap that you don't want to see, face or think about. He will walk up to each person, knowing that could be the person who turns on him and shoots him, but he will do it nonetheless. He will help whereever he is asked, turn to children with kindness, even rescued abused animals, and in the next moment will face a gang-banger, show no fear as he chases a criminal, go undercover if needed, and do what he is asked to clean the scum off the streets, to keep you and me safe.

And I will kiss him good-bye, hug him tight, pressing against that strong chest made unnaturally firm by his vest. I will go to sleep truly with one eye open, never falling asleep so deeply that I won't hear the door open when he comes home, or become aware when the door didn't open at the right time. Just like the panic I'd feel when the news reported KIA in Afghanistan, I will panic at any headline about a police officer shot.

I don't want you to feel badly for me. I am strong. And I am so proud of him. I want you to think about police officers this week. I want you to thank one. You probably won't know the family of a fallen police officer, but if you do, thank them, honor them. Donate to C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors). Or just say a prayer that the horrible pace of violence against police officers, the disgusting level of loss we've seen already this year, slows. Pray for that thin blue line to be unbroken.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I am a Rock, I am an Island...

Wow. What a difference 24 hours makes. My fiance was supposed to be in training all summer, with a graduation date that would give us an early October date for our wedding. Luckily, we had not locked in the wedding date yet because of issues with him being in Afghanistan. He returned safely (thank you, Lord!) and started training. The date became clear! The parents rejoiced! We sensed an end to the panic and pressure from our families to book their flights!

And....   the evening of day 1, he busts up his Achilles. Day 2, he comes home to heal and await the next training class. You know when you were a kid, and you'd play in the swimming pool, diving for some dive toy, in the deep end, without goggles? You're fumbling around, holding your breath. The pressure in your lungs is mounting. And there! You feel the toy, your fingers brush it. You grasp it, feeling victorious, drop your feet and kick off the bottom ready to show off that you got it. You give a kick, and the pressure of the water pushing against the toy knocks it out of your hand. Eyes still closed, lungs bursting, you're forced to just let it fall and return to the surface empty-handed.  Yup. A bit like that.

Except, usually your parents are encouraging. They tell you to try again, you'll get it this time! Ours seem to be standing there yelling "You failure. Try again, get it now. You need to catch your breath? Well, HOW long will that take?? When will you know that you can dive again?" And we're just hanging on to the edge of the pool, kicking our feet, waiting to figure all of that out.

But look, here's what I know. He will be healed, the injury is not catastrophic (thank you, Lord!). We will have a wedding. If people don't like the new date and can't attend, that's their problem, not mine. I support my fiance 100%. I have through two deployments to Afghanistan, and I do now. I will marry the man I love, and my focus is on our life and our relationship. It's just one more misadventure, and despite the stress tension in the back of my neck, they really are what makes life fun...      just don't say "wedding" or "date" to me right now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The First Word of the First Sentence Is....

"The first word of the first sentence is... ten minutes start now."  If I close my eyes, I can picture Mr. Mark Smith's junior high journalism classroom as if I'm still sitting in it. Our desks in the center, with our backs to the door. His desk in the left corner, front of the room to us. Desks with computers ringed around the perimeter of the room. And on the shelves...  giant stuffed animals, two massive mac-and-cheese boxes, like the promos from grocery stores. A corner full of stuffed animals that you could go grab. It encouraged our creativity, and he encouraged us.
It's not a stretch to claim that I owned journalism in junior high. I submitted six editorials to the Indianapolis Star, all of which were published, including two that were chosen as the 'spotlight' editorial for their Friday Forum. I scored one of very few 100% articles in newspaper class. I wrote for the paper and the yearbook. And most of all, I found a teacher who cared about me and believed in me, and ignited a passion for writing.
Ever since then, people have been trying to throw water on this flame, working to blow it out. From a high school journalism teacher who clearly didn't like me (despite decent grades) and literally turned away from me while I was talking, to just choosing the wrong major in college, to simply not having opportunities anymore, my pen has become rusty.
So, the result is this blog. My ramblings, my musings, my rants and raves. My remembrance and retroactive anger from my fiance's recently-ended second deployment to Afghanistan. My thoughts as a military family member. My wedding planning. My activities in DC. Whatever. I'm a twenty-something, experiencing life and bring you along for all the (mis)adventures.