Monday, June 27, 2011

All You Need Is...

I think weddings should come with a warning. A small disclaimer at the bottom of the program that says "For your health, wedding planning is not reccommended." It is an exercise in highs and lows, tears and happiness, arguments with mothers, and well, we probably shouldn't even discuss the other arguments.

"Can we just elope?" has become my mantra. If only. Grand scheme of things, I know I will enjoy the day. Day of, I probably will stop worrying. Either that, or a few glasses of wine will ensure I stop worrying...  but right now, I just want to scream. Nothing has come easily, and honestly the very thought of having to work the room at my wedding exhausts me.

This weekend, we headed up to Vermont to have our tasting and get several other items accomplished. I'm not certain my coordinator knows what she's doing, though she really likes to tell me to not stress, with this adorable little tone as if she's my mother. She recently came from a different resort. And it's very frustrating after getting to work with the best wedding sales girl ever.  I mean really, when I ask you which beers are available for the keg, don't tell me I can have any beer I want.  So you're saying I could do a keg of Guinness? Or Sierra Nevada? Or....   I know you have a list somewhere!

Worst of the weekend was getting my dress. I was so, so excited! There it was, all white and pretty. I fluffed it out and stepped in. I'm thinking "This is it! This is the dress I'm getting married in, it's mine!"  And then, the zipper wouldn't go up. Apparantly, my rib cage is too big. I can't lie, I cried. I was so upset. As a female, I'd rather have my dress be two sizes too big and require extensive alterations than have it be too small!

The good news is, we went back the next day when the shop owner was there. By using two sets of hands, she was able to get me into the dress. As long as I don't need to take deep breaths, I could walk out the door with no alterations and it would work. As it turns out, I will only need a tiny bit let out to make it fit. But seriously, couldn't it have been too big??

The good news is, we're getting there. The minister we found is wonderful, the location is ideal. And we have a DJ. So if nothing else, there will be a bride, a groom, a minister, food, and music. And hey, all you need is love, right?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tell The World, I'm Coming Home...

I've chewed on this post for some time. Thought about writing it, put fingers to keyboard, wrote something else. Today, I saw a tweet from and Army wife that kicked me into action. Such a simple, basic tweet. "But I do miss the big homecoming celebrations."   That's it. A wife whose husband's brigade will come home in bits and pieces instead of all at once. So this time, I guess that means no giant homecoming celebration.

I've never gotten to welcome my soldier home with a big Army celebration.

Tour #1, he was brought home early due to a torn meniscus. If you can't walk, you can't patrol, you gotta go home. I know on that one, we were lucky. It got him home to safety about two months early, and was a fairly minor injury, with no lasting impact. But there wasn't any advance notice. I had actually planned a weekend to myself, traveling from Boston to DC for fun, and got a call that he was now at Brook Army Medical Center.

So tour #2, I can't lie, I was very excited for the big welcome home. I wanted to have my sign, wave my flag, run, jump in his arms. It would be great, awesome, and mentally helpful for both of us. To this day, I am furious over what happened instead.

The extent of FRG we received this time was an "unofficial" FRG lead by a sergeants's wife. (at least we had an FRG this time, right? eh, may as well have not had one...) My understanding is the sergeant was an idiot anyway, relieved of prior duties because he couldn't keep his guys in line. The wife clearly speaks English as a second language. They used to be Active Duty.Yes my dear friends, this would be the makings of a Cluster.    

Now, soldiers can list who they would like the FRG to contact. If you are not on this list, you cannot be contacted by them with any form of sensitive information (including dates, locations, etc.).  My fiance, his best friend in his unit, and from my understanding a good majority of the unit chose to NOT list their family members. Their reason was simple: FRGs are rumor mills, and command tells the soldiers important information, which they can then share with their family.           ....or not.

This unit was a fabulously amazing Cluster. The FRG had a facebook page, where they would leave cryptic messages, I suppose in the interest of adhering to their delusional definition of OPSEC. Our lovely 'leader' would post resources all the time. Most of which had to do with PCSing and other Active Duty-only topics. Nothing relevant or timely was ever posted (i.e. mental health resources, care package ideas, military family support groups, etc.)  But, we did randomly get to see pictures of the stupid crap they'd send to our soldiers, like pinatas. Oh, and I could see a picture of my soldier sitting in the corner at the deployment ceremony... surrounded by other lonely soldiers, texting me on his phone.  Yeah...  because up until the last second, they weren't even going to have a ceremony. By the time they did, I had no way to get to Arkansas on last-minute's notice.

But the coming home, oh, the coming home. Command never communicated a thing to the soldiers. Nothing. As is typical, the return date was changed about a million times. I slowly started getting notices from the fiance "We're in Kandahar, should leave tomorrow."  "We're still in Kandahar." "We're in Germany, we weren't supposed to be here, but the plane got stuck, should leave tomorrow."  "The plane's still stuck, we're still sitting here." I knew he was getting close, but as far as date, time, anything happening when they landed, none of us knew. He didn't know, I didn't know, and it was too late to add any of us to the FRG's list.

All of a sudden one day, the Facebook page tells us that families are gathering at Camp Shelby, because the soldiers will be there that night. I stayed up all night looking at their pictures, which of course were only of soldiers important to our 'leader'. I learned later that the wife of my fiance's best friend saw this post, jumped in the car and drove the 8 hours to get there. Being 17 hours away, I didn't have this option. I have heard just how painful it was for him to watch his buddy see his wife, while my fiance stood there alone.

But don't worry, it got worse. My fiance had not brought his phone. There was no point. His brand-new iPhone had arrived after leave, and he opted against having it shipped to Afghanistan. Not to mention, the FRG declared a mailing deadline two months before they actually came home...  So he borrowed his buddy's phone every now and then. I heard how they didn't know when they'd actually be done with de-mob. He thought Thursday, but some other unit was leaving Thursday, which took up time, so it would probably be Saturday.  Either way, he hadn't heard anything about a ceremony or homecoming. Just told that they'd all be done and the non-organic guys (about a third of the unit) would fly home from Arkansas. I had a Board meeting to plan that weekend, and told him I could get out of it. But since he hadn't heard a thing about a ceremony, he told me no worries.

Friday. Fucking Friday. I'm sitting at my desk, printing documents, all the things you do to coordinate a Board meeting. And of course, checking that Facebook page pretty regularly.  I see a post. "The busses are on there way. They're coming home!"  (yes, I distinctly remember the incorrect 'there'). Deep sigh of relief, along with some disappointment of course, but off to work. Approximately 4 hours later, I come back and notice there are about 20 comments.  I remember thinking, OK, it's all happy messages, but I should look.

"My son was stuck in the rain, locked out of the barracks!" "You mean only SOME of them are coming home!!!" "Have your happy reunion, my son is stuck without a flight home!!!"   WHAT?!?!?  I can tell you my heart dropped and my hands shook with anger. As I continued reading, I learned what happened.   The organic soldiers boarded buses and headed back to North Conway, Arkansas where all their families and a wonderful welcome home were waiting for them. At the time that they boarded the busses, approximately 11:00 a.m., the barracks were emptied of all soldiers. The non-organic soldiers, my fiance included, sat outside in the rain, and waited for the peons at Camp Shelby to book their flights. They sat, locked outside in the rain, and watched their fellow soldiers pull away on buses toward their families, all while they sat, not even knowing when they would get home.

It took hours to get in touch with anyone. I texted my fiance's friend, who had also been left behind. At this point they were separated. Again, I believe he was able to call his wife, have her drop everything, and drive 8 hours to get him. He was able to tell me which airport the soldiers had been taken to. We frantically searched flight schedules trying to find his flight home. Mind you, tornados were tearing through the Camp Shelby area on this particular day and working their way north. Finally, we were able to reach him! He was using his Kindle to get email, and then was able to borrow a stranger's cell phone. We found that he was NOT in fact booked on this direct flight, but instead routed through Atlanta (right where the storms were headed..). His brother worked for another airline, did a quick search and informed us that my fiance's second flight was already canceled due to the weather. So he'd be stranded in Atlanta instead of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Oh yeah, all while the organic soldiers were having dinner with their families post-welcome-home-ceremony.

In the end, my fiance paid out of pocket for the flight direct to his home. Of course, this took him home to his parents, so I still couldn't hug him, but at least he was home. He told me after that he had bought dinner for Privates from his unit, who of course couldn't afford their own. Before the FRG pulled down their entire Facebook page (as they now had 44 comments, 42 of which were full of anger), I learned that one family had resorted to a 12 hour drive, another soldier wouldn't be flying home until the next day and would be sleeping on the floor of the airport.

Now, you want to know why I roll my eyes when I hear about how much we care about our soldiers? Why it elicits a sarcastic "Ha!" when you tell me that we are focused on the mental health and resiliency of our military families? Why I am insanely proud of my soldier, yet insanely angry at the Reserves?  Because I was denied my celebration. Because he was treated like a second-class citizen by his own unit. Because in an organization that insists no man will be left behind, his General was sitting at home with his family while he was still stranded at an airport.

I was denied that celebration. That wonderful chance to see him and hug him and jump on him in tears of joy. I didn't get to wave my flag. To cheer. To run toward him as soon as I heard the "Di-" of "Dismissed". I cried. But out of frustration. I seethed with anger that this unit, who needed him, who pulled him with barely a whisper of dwell time, this unit essentially gave him a swift kick in the ass and a giant middle finger when they were done with him.

Before she pulled down the page, our wonderful FRG 'leader' attempted to blame our soldiers. She informed us that it is our soldier's responsibility to tell us about events like this. Maybe they wanted to surprise us. The anger that spewed forth included mine. My soldier never knew about the ceremony. My soldier had no phone or other means of telling me this wonderful information that HE DIDN'T KNOW. And regardless, how is it my soldier's responsibility to tell me about a ceremony he wasn't invited to? To tell me about sitting in the rain, locked out of his barracks? To tell me that he watched his unit abandon him and several of his fellow soldiers? To tell me about sitting in a tiny airport, waiting for a convoluted flight that wasn't booked until lunchtime that same day? To tell me about the pathetic, horrible, disgusting he received?

I want my welcome home. I want my closure. I want the anger and hurt we both suffered taken away. Army Strong indeed...

Update: I've been told I got a few facts wrong. In order to emphasize the rediculousness and confusion of the day, rather than fix it above, I will tell you the changes. My fiance's friend was not picked up by his wife. Rather, he rented a car and drove home. My fiance did not buy dinner for another soldier, but instead a drink. Additionally, there was free wi-fi in the airport, so he was actually able to check e-mail on his laptop instead of his Kindle, and we were finally able to reach him via Skype (which is not free when used computer-to-phone).

Update #2: While I have left the discrepancies in here to highlight the confusion of the day and week, I am aware that some could attempt to discredit the story based on this.   To those, I would offer this:  throw out every other fact, and focus on this single one. Did the unit or did the unit not leave behind the non-organic soldiers, and take only the organic soldiers to a homecoming ceremony?   Anything else aside, this unit deliberately chose, created a (terrible) plan, in a way that willfully denied certain soldiers the homecoming celebration they and their families desperately desired. Anything else aside, this unit gave these soldiers and their families a giant middle finger at the end of the deployment.

Monday, June 20, 2011

When You're With a Veteran...

When you're driving with a veteran, don't be offended that he points out every other vehicle, dumb driver, possible obstacle. When you're walking with a veteran, walk with purpose. When you're talking with a veteran, make a decision and move on. When you're with a veteran, take deep breaths, give yourself a pat on the back, have patience, go easy on yourself.

My fiance is a soldier. He serves with the Reserves. For this post, that makes the distinction that he came home from war to the complete civilian world. Not the military cocoon. I don't think either one is easy, and both present problems. But to understand my perspective, he returned home from war, had about 5 days in the states and was dumped off into the civilian world. Approximately two weeks later, he was forced to report to training for his civilian job, injured his ankle a day later, and is now living in civilian desk jockey limbo while he heals.

Take a guy who thrives on adrenaline anyway. Who just came back from the adrenaline of war. Yeah, as families, we worry, we think of the threats and we are scared. Many of these guys thrive off of it in a way that he's tried to understand, and I don't fully understand. I guess being shot at, hearing rockets overhead, being face to face with the IED that was supposed to kill you, it all makes you feel more alive than anything else. I've heard guys describe combat like a drug. Like the highest high you've ever experienced. And even when you're active duty, where are you supposed to find that high again?    Now, chain that guy to a desk. Give him a new uniform...   a suit and a tie. Plop him into a nice little routine where nothing will change, except for someone flipping out over the wrong email, the choice of dinner, or some other mundane, bullshit decision that they've decided to treat as life-or-death.       Welcome to just a chunk of reintegration.

Oh yeah, we've butted heads. We've had moments where I just want to walk away, storm off, maybe sit and cry. Times where he's wished he could just leave. No idea where he'd go. By nature, I am indecisive and a people-pleaser. I bend over backward to make the people around me happy, and often get treated like a doormat. What that means is that I will decide we're going to do something fun for the day. But then people don't seem excited, so I question my decision. Add to this a guy who wants and needs a plan. A decisive, firm plan. Yeah. He snaps at me. I take it personally. I shut down because I can't walk away and cry. He is angry that he can't fix it. He snaps again. Before you know it, we're both wandering on separate floors of the Newsuem instead of together, dropping $60 to ignore each other, and our "fun" day got ruined.  Luckily, we're both willing to talk it out. Usually at the end of the day. Usually we have to take a mulligan on the day. He apologizes, I sit silently. We talk. We figure out what caused both of our behaviors. And we promise to work on it.  Will tomorrow be perfect? No. Will it be better? Yes.

Driving with him is great. He's trained to observe his surroundings, to scan for threats and dangers. It's taken a while to realize he's trying to keep us both safe, not criticize my driving. But it's hard to not snap back "I see it. I know". I'm trying.

When you're with a veteran, patience is hard.  Even when you're past the first tour. When you understand that he won't just come home and be exactly the same and fit right into your routine like a peg in a hole. You're still not sure how it will go. Which things will be triggers this time. What he will need. And what you will need.   Sometimes I need him to be engaged when he can't. When he just needs to unwind from his day. From the stresses of putting up with civilian stupidity. 

When you're with a veteran, remember all the little things people did today that annoyed and angered you. Multiply that by at least 20. Give him time to decompress. When you're with a veteran, remember that difficulties with reintegration are normal. Watch him for things that are beyond the norm, but have patience with all of it.  When you're with a veteran, make decisions. Quickly. And stick to them. When you're with a veteran, be aware of his mood. If the triggers are getting to him. If he's getting overwhelmed with the things around him.

Mostly, when you're with a veteran, give yourself a break. He doesn't mean to snap at you. He doesn't mean to be a jerk. You're not doing everything wrong. You're strong, and you're shouldering a huge weight. When you're with a veteran, be patient and be strong. You're pretty amazing. When you're with a veteran, stand behind him, stand next to him, and move forward.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I Need Your Help...

Calling all Reserve family members!!  I need your input and your opinion. Please comment below with your thoughts on the challenges unique to being the family member of a Reservist. 

I believe that we are disconnected from each other. That we don't have the same community or access to resources Active Duty families do. I believe that there is a bias from Active Duty families and soldiers toward us and our soldiers. But because of this disconnect, I can't truly speak for anyone else.

In order to better meet the needs of the Reserve community, in order to make posts more on topic, in order to report back to the military family organization at which I work, I need your help.

This is completely open, just comment below. A few ideas/questions to start your thought process:
  • What resources are you missing? Do you wish you had?
  • How well does your FRG serve you?
  • Have you experienced an open bias from Active Duty spouses/soldiers?
  • What challenges do you face that you believe are unique to the Reserve community?
  • What could the Army do to help you?
  • What could a non-profit do to help you?
  • Do you feel that you have the resources to help your children during deployment?
  • What challenges do you face during reintegration that you think are unique?
  • Would you go on post (onto an Army base) to get help?
  • Do you feel comfortable going on post?
The list goes on and on. These are just ideas. Please, please give me your feedback, your honest and open opinion.  I will not personally respond to comments at this time. I WILL delete any comments that I feel are attacking other people who have commented. You may discuss, but I want an open sharing of opinions. No right or wrong here, just your experiences and feelings.  And,  thank you!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Things Spouses Carry

Read a great, brief story recently. "Anxiety Trumps Logic" from NPR. Seriously, if you want to understand, even just a brief insight into, your recently returned servicemember, take a peek.

I've got a whole post saved up about the things I've noticed, even if the SGT keeps many inside. But I want to open for feedback from my few readers. We're trying to grow, but hey, I know there's not too many of you yet : )

The article mentions the well-known book "The Things They Carried".Though I've yet to read it (on my list), it makes me think, what do we carry? We who stay behind. Our lives are altered a year at a time, and I believe we carry things with us too. Not the same, not as severe, but things. I've noticed a few.

For example, after this tour, I've noticed that due to the constant concern that I would have missed one of his rare calls, I regularly hallucinate that my phone is blinking. That I've missed one of his calls. And I still feel very nervous if I don't know where my phone is. Seriously. It completely amazes me that I will find his phone everywhere and anywhere around the apartment, while I still feel a need to carry it from room to room with me. Thankfully this is fading.

I'm a forgetful girl. During deployment 1 I became convinced that if I forgot any piece of jewelry given to me by the SGT, something terrible would happen to him. I've retained this through deployment 2 and to today. Even the watch he's given me...  if it gets left behind, I'm nervous, unsettled, anxious all day.

And, given that I have never been a spouse and thus "the" call would've come from his parents instead of the Army, I would have small heart attacks every time they called to say hi. Even with him sitting in the same room, I'm grateful that they can call him now and reach both of us so I don't have to have the small panicked wait to see why they're calling me.

I know these are basic. They aren't like feeling lost or unsafe without a rifle, or being wary of crowds, or constantly scanning while driving. But they are just a few of the things we carry...     I'd like some feedback.

What are some of the things you carry?

Maybe This is What They Meant by Army Strong...

I have no idea what to do when something goes wrong. Not for me. I'm really good at panicking, flipping out, shutting down, etc. When something goes wrong for me, I have a million, probably not-even-remotely-appropriate ways to react. But when something goes wrong for the SGT.

I've tried to tell him calming things, or just say, "It'll be OK. It's fine." This made him angrier. And he snapped before telling me that it was not a helpful reaction. Of course, his reaction results in me shutting down, which tends to result in more anger from him. Frustration is a better word. I don't want anyone thinking I'm describing abuse or anything over the line. That has absolutely never been an issue. Period. This man loves me, and I know it, and I trust him wholeheartedly, and he would never hurt me. It's just normal reintegration.

But normal reintegration isn't easy. Calming him doesn't work. Trying to argue or explain the otherside, somewhat of a "fix it" approach doesn't work. That frustrates him too. Then, he wishes I would just listen, let him vent, and just understand that he's angry. Ok..

Then the next thing comes up. OK....  what the hell do I do? How do I help? Clearly, I can't fix it. I can't say "it'll be OK". I can't just listen because this happens to be over text. I can't explain that here in the civilian world, this is a very minor thing that he won't even remember in a month or two. I am powerless. And lost.

I don't think they prepare you for this. At least in the Reserves they don't. And even if the entire solution is to let him just vent and stew until he's passed it, how do I fix the feeling of helplessness I have while I wait? I internalize things. Yes, sometimes shutting down when upset, but what I mean is that the mood of the people around me greatly effects me. Whether spoken or unspoken, I sense that mood and take it in. I feel it.  So when this happens, I feel his frustrations, I feel upset for him, I feel my own version of what he's feeling. And then I can't fix it! I can't even soothe it. Maybe it's just me. Probably not. Probably others feel the same.  I know guys are the fixers, and we're the feelers. But I'm feeling, and I want to fix.

I hate this.  This feeling like he's upset and I can't make it better. In fact trying makes worse. It's hard to learn to just wait it out. I don't want to take away from how he feels, because it's normal, and it's OK. It's part of readjusting. But the anger, the frustration effects me. And stresses me.  How do I learn to just wait? To just watch the man I love be upset and know that I just have to wait it out? And how do I fix the feelings of what waiting it out over and over does to me?  How?  I guess I just have to be strong...  

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Planning Without Debating...

Get ready...  today's brief post involves an odd mesh of topics. Reintegration + wedding planning. I will try to be kind to the fiance, but hey, I'm brutally honest with you guys, right?

Wedding planning. It is a mess of decisions, debates, and inane details. Which ribbon should we use here? What are the merits of this daisy over that daisy in arrangements? Feeding friends and family fruit vs. veggies... Now, during this process, I think any guy would prefer to simply say "Yes, No, Whatever you want honey."  But I want my guy involved, especially because he has agreed with me in the past on unrelated issues only to tell me months later that he didn't actually agree. I'm a firm believer that this is our wedding and thus I want him happy.

Except, I'm trying to do this with a guy who is approximately a month and a half removed from Afghanistan. I'm used to the occasional order. "Go." "Move." He's home, he's not entirely used to me yet, he'd still prefer to be in his NCO role, dealing with his soldiers. On top of that, he would much prefer that I just make snap decisions instead of debating each little one. Ladies who have planned weddings, I can hear you laughing...

Most recently, we debated menu decisions for the cocktail reception. Well, I debated them. I announced what I thought would be two good choices... fruit tray and artisan cheese. Ladies, you know where this is going... I began to wonder aloud if perhaps we should do cheese and veggies for more substance because guests would be drinking. Maybe that makes fruit better because it's hydrating. Maybe brie because my stepdad likes it. But then we can't have two cheeses. You know where I'm going. This decision still is not made. The SGT got frustrated, couldn't understand why I was even debating this, and went off to make a smoothie. I stormed off to my room.

Even registering can be an adventure. I'm always on edge right now. I know he has very little patience right now. I know crowds make him uncomfortable. I know how he reacts to these debates over colors, patterns, etc. Registering is instead a test in measurements. How long can he wait through it, how many people until there's too many, how much do I worry about decorating vs. deciding?

It's not all bad. And he's not as bad as you might be thinking. He's a normal guy, a normal soldier who is home from a messed up country, from the same clothes every day, from no real choice in his food, from a little cot in a tiny trailer, from snap decisions, from leading other soldiers, from war. Oh right, and there's that rattled brain thing...   But grand scheme of things, he's good. He helps cook, clean, etc. He often rubs my feet. And he tells me he loves me and thanks me for putting up with him. So we'll overcome this adventure too.  I just wish he understood fruit vs. veggies, and not in terms of Crossfit and his Paleo diet.  But hey...  I don't suppose any man cares about that decision!