Martin got to reunite with the whole family this past weekend.
Ever since graduating from Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Martin’s been attending technical school at Fort Lee in Virginia. For the longest time, I thought this part of his training was going to continue in Lackland, as mentioned in his orders. While it is true that the training group is based in Texas, Martin’s school is part of a joint training facility located on an Army base, just like my own tech school experience.
You can imagine how thrilled we all were when we realized that Fort Lee is only two hours away from us in Northern Virginia.
Regardless of his location, Martin’s considered a “pipeline Airman” right now. That’s a term given to brand new Airman who make their way through the “pipeline” — BMT and tech school — before joining the real Air Force.
In most cases, these pipeline Airmen are young and inexperienced, and away from home for the first time. BMT is a very controlled environment with a lot of restrictions, whereas tech school is not as intense. But a sudden burst of freedom could be dangerous for these young, impressionable troops after leaving basic training.
I mean, think of all the notorious college campus behavior you’ve ever heard/read about (because I know none of MY readers would ever participate in such unruly behavior) and apply it in a military setting. Young people do young people things, and it can lead to trouble. So, that’s one of the reasons there are so many silly rules as these pipeline Airmen transition into a new and normal life in the military, where they’ll encounter more silly rules, especially while deployed … but I digress …
Phase One is the most restrictive, and Martin’s current status.
There are many rules he must follow, one of which is that he has a curfew.
He is restricted to the Army base.
He can’t ride around in a personal vehicle.
He can’t go into the military housing area, and he can’t go into any of the military lodging (hotel, also known as billeting) buildings.
He must be uniform at all times.
And he can’t go anywhere alone: he always needs a wingman with him.
When he relayed all the rules back to me, I was really turned off about the idea of visiting his during Phase One (which lasts the majority of his training, by the way.) All the restrictions mean there is very little we can do as a family.
But all it took was a few Skype sessions with Martin and the kids to know that they really needed to get reunited as soon as possible. Lola, especially, was really missing her Dad. We would make the logistics work.
So, this past weekend, I loaded up Amelia the Minivan and headed south.
Since I’m still a reservist myself, I was able to use my military identification card to get on base (base/post = same thing), as well as book a room in billeting near Martin’s dorm. The kids and I got there late Friday night, and on Saturday morning, we headed over to the fort’s bowling alley.
That’s where Martin met us.
He snuck up on us as the kids were eating their breakfast of corn dog nuggets and fries because the snack bar there doesn’t serve breakfast. The girls were so excited to see their Dad, and best of all, Jaz recognized Martin right away. It was as if no time had passed for him.
For Martin, though, it was most shocking for him to see his son.
When he left in February, Jaz still had his floppy blond hair that hung in his eyes, and he had just learned to walk. He was babbling, but nothing he said made any sense. Since then, though, Jaz has really grown into a little man. He walks — even runs — with confidence. His hair is much shorter and styled sometimes. And he’s saying words and making sense.
Martin just couldn’t believe it.
Needless to say, given all the restrictions, we spent most of the day bowling. At some point, it became clear that the younger two needed their naps, so Martin headed back to his dorm while I went to our room with the kids. Surprisingly, all three of them passed out and slept for a few hours.
Then, we met up at the Post Exchange and food court with Martin and about a hundred soldiers who were released from training. Everyone got to eat pizza and sandwiches, and then we did some shopping. I got a new vacuum cleaner.
We decided to go bowling again, but ran into the problem of finding a wingman for Martin. But nobody was headed in that direction. The bowling alley was clear on the other side of the base, and there was no way the younger kids would tolerate such a long walk.
But Miss C didn’t mind.
So she stepped up as her Dad’s wingman, and the two of them walked together while I drove ahead with the younger two. It was a good 15-20 minute walk, but I could tell both of them really enjoyed the opportunity to hang out together and talk. They were all smiles when they finally joined us at the bowling center.
So we bowled again before returning Martin back to his dorm for the night. Once again, Miss C walked with her Dad while I drove ahead with the little ones. I parked at the halfway point, though, and all five of us walked together the rest of the way.
The next morning, we met Martin outside his dorm for breakfast. He and his BMT wingman, Larry, had walked to the nearby Burger King on base to pick up some breakfast sandwiches.
Then we headed over to the nearby track, where my goal was to exhaust the children before driving back to Northern Virginia. Martin and Miss C walked, of course, but this time, they were accompanied by four other Airmen, who promptly burst out in song when they approached me.
While standing in the middle of the track’s parking lot, the Airmen, Martin, Miss C, Jaz, and Lola all sang “Happy Birthday” since I turned 32 on Sunday.
It reminded me of the day exactly 11 years earlier when Martin had his whole Bundeswehr company sing to me at their annual dinner.
It was just as funny and sweet.
The kids ran around the track with Martin for awhile, and I took photos. After nearly an hour, I felt they were adequately exhausted, and loaded them up in Amelia to head home.
This time, we were able to tell the kids a specific time that they will see their Dad again once he has more freedom, and though it was still hard to say goodbye, there were more smiles than tears.
We can’t wait to see him again!