Once again, we traveled south to Richmond to spend the Memorial Day weekend with Martin. Not only were we blessed with three whole days together, but there was a twinge of excitement knowing it was the last time we would make such a trip since Martin graduates from tech school very soon, and will be home for good.
We decided to go all out.
Fortunately, several attractions in the area offered free admission for military members and we took full advantage at Kings Dominion (normal admission is $62 for adults/$40 for kids) and Colonial Williamsburg ($50/$25) since regular price as a family of five = never happening.
Since I didn’t get around to posting these earlier, I’m using this Flashback Friday to share some photos we took during our holiday weekend.
The one I meant to write and publish earlier, after Martin’s graduation from Basic Military Training before life and all its distractions got in the way.
As you know, Martin is attending his technical school for his job in the Air Force Reserve right now, but this post is specficially about my tech school experience, when I went through it back in the spring of 2000.
For those who aren’t familiar with this part of military training, technical school is where an Airman (or Soldier, Sailor, Marine, or member of the Coast Guard) learns his/her job. In some ways, it’s like college or a trade school, with all the classes, studying, and exams. (In fact, one can earn several college credits there.)
There are even dorms and instructors and dining facilities, just like a college campus.
But with more rules, and uniforms, and military order, of course.
Everyone who wears a uniform performs a job in the military that falls within certain categories or career fields. Each branch has a different way of calling these jobs. In the Army, these are called Military Occupational Specialties, or MOS. In the Air Force, the categories are called Air Force Specialty Codes, or AFSC.
Within days of graduating from basic training, I was on a plane for Baltimore, Maryland. Unlike the majority of my fellow Airmen, who were headed to other Air Force bases for their training, I was heading to Ft. Meade, Maryland, an Army post that is home to the Defense Information School.
A lot of the people I knew and worked with in the Air Force are now instructors there themselves, to include some folks who went through tech school with me.
But I digress.
I was sent to Ft. Meade to attend the basic journalism course for three months.
The day I showed up at Fort Meade, I was assigned a roommate, Carolyn, who attended basic training the same time I did, although we were in different flights and didn’t know each other. She was from Minnesota and I was from Cincinnati, and we both were sort of obsessed with Ralph Fiennes and The English Patient at the time.
We got along just fine.
We shared a room in the Air Force dorms which were housed in a long, narrow building right across from the school. We each had a bed, a nightstand, a wardrobe closet, a book shelf and a desk, and we shared an ironing board and mini-refrigerator.
And while we still shared a bathroom with all the other girls on our floor, there were individual shower stalls for more privacy. While it was different than sharing a huge bay with 50 other ladies, we were still expected to make our beds every day, line up our shoes underneath, and keep everything dust-free.
Not all the Airmen were attending the public affairs course. Some were being trained as photographers. Others were there becoming broadcasters and videographers. A few were learning graphic design. Carolyn was training to become a photographer, which meant I was a frequent subject for her photography assignments.
That first weekend there, all the Airmen were involved in a fitness challenge. All the classes were divided up into flights, and my flight was the newest right out of basic training. So collectively, we maxed out on all the scores since we were all in prime condition. For the final obstacle, our commander — a captain who once played football at the Air Force Academy — challenged everyone to a chin-up contest. If someone from our flight could pump out more chin-ups than he, we would get the top prize: a weekend pass with no restrictions.
You see, there are “phases” during tech school. I wrote about them in an earlier post, but to sum it up, the phases are in place to ease the transition away from basic. Under normal circumstances, my flight would have remained in the first phase — which meant an early curfew, no civilian clothes, no leaving the base — for at least three weeks.
Fortunately, my flight had a few young men who could do chin-ups all day.
That first weekend, all of us got to put on civilian clothes again and head downtown to Baltimore. We went to Washington D.C. the next day.
That’s when I fell in love with this city. It was my first visit ever, and I just knew I would return to it in some capacity at some point in my life.
But at that moment, I was focused on Europe.
When it came to my classes, tech school was pretty easy for me.
From the age of nine, I knew about the public affairs career field, and my curriculum choices in high school reflected my goal to enlist in that career field. All those years in journalism and writing classes, learning about the media, all those public appearances during my theater years and on my mother’s television show really paid off at DINFOS.
Public affairs was a perfect fit for me.
But where was I going to go after tech school?
Like all active-duty Airmen in tech school, I expected to get orders to my first duty assignment sometime in the middle of my schooling there. We all got to fill out a “dream sheet” listing the locations we preferred, and all of my preferences were in Europe – most in Germany. When the instructor said I really should list some stateside bases, too, I explained my reasons for not listing any.
Of course, my ancestors came from Germany, and my dad loved it when he was stationed as a young Airman, but any time there was a major international military event, what location was in the news?
Ramstein Air Base. Germany.
Throughout my high school years, I paid attention.
If I wanted to be in the middle of it, in a place where things happened and media activity was constant, I wanted to be there.
So, long before there was Martin, there was a desire to speak the language and live and work in Germany on behalf of the Air Force. As a sophomore in high school, I signed up for German classes and took it for three years before signing up to be a foreign exchange student in the summer of 1999.
I wanted to be as prepared for the assignment as possible.
The instructor laughed when I explained all this, and said my enthusiasm for an overseas assignment would lead me straight to Korea.
Another student, though, overheard me.
She was a technical sergeant, a Reservist, and was cross-training into the public affairs career field. She didn’t live in the dorms with the new Airmen, but attended classes with us.
During our lunch break that day, she wrote an email address on a slip of paper and handed it to me.
“I heard what you were saying about going to Germany,” she said, “and I think you should write to this person. She’s the one who manages everyone’s assignments. I heard her speak at an event recently, and she seems really invested in people’s careers. I don’t think it’ll hurt you to reach out to her.”
So, in a moment of inspired bravado, I took the sergeant’s advice and wrote to the chief master sergeant in charge of assignments.
I later learned that the email was circulated from Fort Meade to Texas to Germany … throughout my career field’s entire senior leadership, actually.
It’s not every day that an airman basic — the lowest rank in the Air Force — writes to a chief master sergeant — the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force — and explains how the Air Force would benefit by sending that brand new baby Airman to Europe.
But I did.
The weekend after I wrote that email, my family from Ohio came out to visit me during the Cherry Blossom festival in DC, and it was the first time they got to see me in uniform since they didn’t attend my graduation from basic training.
I was in Phase Two at the time — I could go off-base yet I had to wear my blues uniform. During the first day of their visit, we spent the day walking around the Mall to see the monuments.
At the Women’s Vietnam Memorial, a lady approached my father and me. She identified herself as an Air Force senior non-commissioned officer, and wanted to know what I did for the Air Force. When I said public affairs, her face lit up.
“I work as a career field manager down at Randolph Air Base in Texas,” she said. “I don’t handle the public affairs assignments, but the lady who does sits right across from me.”
Needless to say, I started talking.
She took down my name, saying she would put in a good word for me to her colleague.
My dad was flabbergasted.
“I can not believe that just happened,” he said. “I think it’s a sign.”
About a week or so later, I got my orders to Ramstein Air Base.
To say I was excited is putting it mildly.
I couldn’t wait to head over to Europe.
But I had to finish tech school, of course.
In addition to the classes, there were “GI Parties” every Sunday night, when all of us Airmen were assigned household chores, such as mopping the hallways or dusting furniture in the open areas of the dorm.
There were random fire and evacuation drills in the middle of the night.
Early morning “fun runs” with the squadron.
Physical fitness (PT) in the afternoons in the field next to the dorms.
Curfew. Random room/uniform inspections. Custom and courtesy drills.
But there were fun times, too.
I really did enjoy my journalism and photography classes, completing assignments, and hanging out with the others after school or the weekends, when we ventured off base to the local malls and movie theaters, or to Baltimore or Washington DC again.
I got a belly piercing in a tattoo parlor right off base. (That was interesting.) And a few of us discovered a thrift shop not far from the base: I invested a nice chunk of my new paycheck on some great vintage finds.
I also bought a portable CD player and a huge CD storage case to begin my very own CD collection. (10 Internet points if you even know what any of that means.)
And I celebrated my 19th birthday there, too. A group of Airmen and Marines (who lived in the dorms across from ours) took me out for a birthday dinner that weekend, and brought me a cake and candles that morning.
I graduated in the last week of May.
The ceremony lasted about 20 minutes. I don’t even remember who spoke at it.
Later that day, my dad arrived from Ohio to take me back to Cincinnati so I could start two weeks of the “recruiters assistance program” which allowed for me to visit with family before heading over to Germany.
I went in to Urgent Care this evening to get my hand checked out after a dramatic reaction to chigger bites. Nothing serious: just seriously annoying. Over-the-counter meds weren’t helping, so I got a prescription for it, and all is well.
Nevertheless, as I walked out of Urgent Care this evening, Martin sent me a text, telling me to stop by the cafe where we get our fave Afghan food on my way home.
The cashier knew exactly who I was and she had my dinner hot and waiting for me to take home.
Photo taken by my Dad during an Air Force awards ceremony in January 2011.
Tomorrow is my last official day of military service.
My final enlistment in the US Air Force Reserve comes to an end, and I will no longer be a public affairs non-commisssioned officer in uniform.
For the first time in my adult life, I’ll be an ordinary civilian again.
Well, maybe not ordinary: I’ll always be a veteran and I’m proud of that distinction.
I wasn’t surprised how nostalgic I felt earlier this week when I walked through the halls of the Pentagon to outprocess all my paperwork. I first walked into that building in 2005, when I was only 24 years old and serving on active duty. Of course, lots of memories made in that building, just as they were in every location I served.
It would be impossible to describe my military service in simple terms. It’s like trying to describe an identity with all its nuances. Nothing is ever entirely good, just as nothing is entirely bad. The challenges are what made me grow the most; the incredibly good parts are what made it worthwhile. It was never the mission, but the people who made me love it.
While tomorrow signifies the last day the Air Force identifies me as one of their own, my disconnect will never be complete. Of course, Martin’s just launched his own Air Force career: I will be his card-carrying family member dependent. I’ll proudly wear that hat in a support role, of course.
For this week’s Flashback Friday post, I’m sharing some links to posts I wrote throughout my Air Force career. Some extraordinary. Others not so much. All a reflection of certain times I’ll always remember.
(Julie’s Note: Before Martin left for Air Force basic military training, I implemented the Guest Blogger Series (GBS) as an invitation for friends, family, and fellow bloggers to share advice and showcase their writing talents. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was so impressed by the talent and stories people submitted us for the GBS. While I meant for GBS to be a temporary thing while Martin was gone, I’ve decided that I will continue GBS from here on out as posts come in. Enjoy today’s post.)
For those of us who have adopted, we know exactly where we were and what we were doing when “the call” came. It’s the call that comes that turns your life upside down in the most amazing way!
But this time the call came in a dream. In my dream, a woman was on the other end of the phone saying the words, “Isaiah is here!” She was so excited. It was definitely a referral call. I should know: after all, I have received 3 other referral calls, so I know how they go.
But this was a bit different. In my dream, when I responded, “So we can travel to get him now?” the woman kept saying, “No, he’s here.”
Then I actually SAW this child. A 3- or 4-year-old little African boy. Thin, a little timid-looking, not much hair and big, sweet eyes … Isaiah.
Then I woke up!
Great….so now what?
My first response was, “We haven’t been talking about adoption. We don’t know anyone named Isaiah. We don’t have ANY money for adoption. I’ve never been to Africa…nor do I plan to go.”
I told the ladies in my small group about my dream, wrote the details down in my journal and tried to let it go.
Of course, God wasn’t about to let that happen.
Over the next weeks — then months — I found myself thinking more and more about who this little boy was, and where in the world he was, and when he would be shown to us. I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that someone was definitely missing from our family.
I mean, why would God give me a specific name and the beautiful face of a child, and then not lead me to him? So, I finally went to a website called Rainbowkids.org, a photo-listing website for waiting children. I entered some very basic data about our family makeup and the information that I thought I knew about “Isaiah”…boy, African, under 6 years old, etc.
I was disappointed to find out that:
1) At that time, not very many countries in Africa were even open for international adoption. 2) Our family didn’t meet the qualifications for many countries in Africa (i.e: we have too many children). 3) None of the little boys’ pictures that I saw matched the face in my dream and they certainly didn’t have the name Isaiah.
So I set up a profile at Rainbowkids to send any matching descriptions to me via email and went on with life. From time to time, I would look back at my journal or search the faces on Rainbowkids looking aimlessly for Isaiah…where was he?
After a while I really started to think it was all just a dream or maybe God was trying to use it to tell me something else…but not to adopt.
Two years later: November 2011.
I had been teaching a student earlier in the day a lesson about ancient trade routes between China and Ghana.
Now, keep in mind this small detail: we have three children adopted from China.
Later that evening I flopped down exhausted from a busy day of teaching.
My husband Jeff says to me, “What did you think about that email?”
I half-heartedly grunted, “What email?”
He says a little more seriously, “Uh, Brooke, the email from Rainbowkids… Isaiah?”
Ok, so NOW he had my full attention!
I excitedly sat up and said, “What are you talking about?”
To which Jeff replied, “Haven’t you been getting pictures and information about available children from Rainbowkids for the last several months?”
“Yes, but we suddenly got so many,” I said. “I know we don’t have the money to adopt and we’d be CRAZY to adopt another child, right?”
To which Jeff replies, “Don’t you want to see the picture?”
Oh sure. Why not? What could it hurt?
So he brings the laptop over, pulls up the email (which I had already deleted), and right there in the subject line is the name: Isaiah.
Well, we clicked. We looked. We fell in love.
We finally found Isaiah!
Remember the China-Ghana part I told you to keep in mind before? What are the chances that on the very day that God first revealed our future son to us (who is living in Ghana) that I would have been teaching a lesson about the relationship between China and Ghana?
It was like a foreshadowing of the relationships that the children that we already have in our home would have with their new brother. Only God can orchestra that!
And the part of my dream that he was 3 or 4 years old….that part was true too. He turned 7 years old at that time, making him 4 years old at the time of my dream.
Now you would think that we would immediately start the adoption process after all this positive confirmation, but some of us need God to smack us upside the head with a 2-by-4 a few times first.
So we asked a couple of trusted prayer partners to PRAY, PRAY, PRAY about our decision. The more we prayed about it, the more we knew that this dream was most certainly from God and that this child was meant to be a part of our family.
So we finally started the official adoption process in late January 2012.
As with our other three adoptions, we are following God’s lead and stepping out in faith to adopt this little boy. To defer some of this expense, we’ve come up with a unique way to help us raise money for our adoption.
We’ve had a puzzle created using Isaiah’s picture posted below. We’re asking folks to consider sponsoring puzzle pieces. By doing so, donors will assist us with our remaining adoption expenses.
Everyone who sponsors a puzzle piece(s) can specify a name to be printed on the back of the number of pieces they sponsor. We will then place the completed puzzle in a “floating” frame so the back of the puzzle can be seen. This will be a treasure to our son and a lasting reminder of the many wonderful people who helped bring him home.
As we work together as a family to put each sponsored puzzle piece in its place, it will also serve as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. Hopefully by the time the puzzle is complete, our precious new son will be home with us.
If you would like to donate and contribute to Isaiah’s adoption/puzzle, visit Finding Isaiah to learn more.
Julie’s Note: I’ve known Brooke for more than half my life. I was 15 years old when we first met, and she was the mentor/manager of the acting group, The Troubadours, that I belonged to all four years of high school. The group went from school to school, performing skits about drug and alochol abuse, eating disorders, date rate, stress, etc. At the time, she and her husband had been married for a few years and were in the midst of fertility treatments as they tried to start a family. She was candid about it, and as we all adored Brooke and knew she would make an amazing mom, it hit all of us hard when those treatments didn’t work. A few years later, after I graduated high school and was living in Germany, my Mom sent me an email with the news that Brooke and her husband adopted a beautiful little girl from China. And they named her Juliana … not for me, but because it’s the most awesome name ever, of course.
And since then, their family has grown a lot more! Thanks to social media, Brooke and I are connected again, and I’m happy to share her family’s story here.
And good news: Brooke is traveling to Ghana next week to see her son.
It’s been a lot easier keeping the kids connected to Martin now that he’s at tech school.
We no longer have to wait for letters, or the ten-minute phone call every two weeks. Now, during the weekends and evenings, all I have to do is flip open the laptop and sign in to talk with Martin.
It’s pretty nice.
Because our laptop is portable, we’ve been able to incorporate Martin in some of our household activities, and vice versa.
One morning, Lola and I lay in my bed, laughing as we watched Martin shave with a traditional razor and shaving cream. He just propped up his cell phone on the sink and talked with us as he did it. When he’s here at home, he normally uses an electric razor, so Lola found it pretty amusing to see him like that.
Watching Martin shave one morning.
Other times, Martin’s watched as Jaz sits through a nebulizer treatment, asking him questions and getting Jaz to hold up his fingers as they played counting games. I’ve sat our laptop on the kitchen counter and prepared dinner while Martin feasted on cereal or sandwiches in his dorm room, and the girls have held dance competitions in the family room with Martin voting from the laptop.
It wasn’t like this back in 2007 when I deployed.
It wasn’t as simple as sitting down and logging on. Of course, the nature of my work over there — traveling from location to location with my three-man news team — meant we weren’t always near computer/Internet access. But even if I did find some free Wi-Fi or a morale tent with some Internet access, not all the computers had web cams. Our home computer at the time certainly did not: Martin had to go out and purchase one and install it. It was hit-and-miss, depending on the connection and network restrictions. (Back then, all social media sites were blocked from most DOD networks.)
But there were a few times we were able to chat over the web cam using AOL chat — Kandahar being one that comes to mind — and we got to see each other in real time.
In the moments when we could communicate, it was so wonderful. I remember seeing Miss C bouncing around behind her Dad, wanting to show me random items from home (“See, Mom? Here’s our lamp! Here’s my teddy bear! Wanna see this plate?”) and just looking adorable. Sometimes, we just sat and stared at each other without saying anything.
Technology is much better and more reliable. I’m home. Martin’s just two hours away and safe, too. And I can expect with reasonable certainty that when the day is winding down, and the kids are ready to say goodnight, I can flip open the laptop and send a note, and Martin’s right there ready to connect.
I took a sick day today because I’m not feeling very well, and while I was resting this morning, I could see outside that it was a GORGEOUS day and could hear that someone was out mowing their lawn. Continue reading →
Late last night, as I was scrubbing the kitchen floor and pulling broccoli bits out of the corners, I heard footsteps coming up from behind me, and there was Lola with a bedtime book.
For a split second, I felt a pang of anxious dread.
After a super long and stressful day at the office, I arrived home two hours later than usual only to learn that our food disposal and sink were completely non-functioning. I spent several hours dismantling the underbelly of my kitchen sink, where I removed a clog from beyond the goose neck by fashioning a snake from a coat hangar, coached from afar by Martin, my dad, my friend Jennie, and my neighbor Bob via telephone and web chats.
It was an awful, frustrating experience.
Fortunately, I got the disposal to work again, but then I had to focus on sanitizing my entire kitchen because everything spewed when the nanny tried to get the disposal to work before she left for the day. This means the cabinets, the area below the sink, the dishwasher, the window AND the ceiling, too, were coated with sticky, green sludge.
Good thing I’m used to late nights! But I felt bad having to lean heavily on Miss C to get her siblings fed for dinner and off to bed. Somehow, the kids sensed that something major was going on, and all three of them went to bed with little fanfare.
But then, here was Lola out of bed not even 30 minutes later. In the kitchen. Holding a book.
Before I could open my mouth to shoo her back to bed, though, she spoke up.
“Mom, I heard you cleaning down here and I know you are all by yourself. I’m here to keep you company.”
Anxious dread melted away, replaced by just abundant gratefulness for my daughter’s heart.
Of course I didn’t send her back upstairs. I told her she could keep me company if she stayed on the couch so I could keep scrubbing the floors.
She started reading me her book, but didn’t finish it. She fell asleep.
The kids and I drove down to Richmond to spend the weekend with Martin.
Not only was it Mother’s Day weekend, but it was also the first opportunity Martin was able to exercise his new “freedom” from technical school.
Unlike our first visit with him a few weeks ago, Martin was able to wear civilian clothes, drive in a personal vehicle, leave the base, and stay overnight with us.
So, I booked our stay in an extended-stay hotel just outside the city, turned off all our electronics, and made the most of our time together.
The four of us arrived late Friday night with Martin greeting us at the hotel since he was able to get a cab and check in on time for us. He had everything set up for us: the pull-out couch done up for the girls and a crib for Jaz so all we had to do was carry our sleeping kids up to the room and toss them in.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to sleep in on Saturday morning because more than half the people in his dorms failed their room inspections and he was required to be back in his dorms for a 6 a.m. room inspection. But that didn’t stop the rest of us from sleeping in!
By late morning, all of us were together again, though, and the very first thing we did was head over to the nearby shopping center to get Martin some new clothes.
Seriously — the man needs new clothes. When I pulled up to his dorms on the post, he was standing outside waiting for us, wearing his old jeans and t-shirt. It’s an outfit he’s worn for years, but it was hanging off of him.
To be honest, I thought he looked sickly. Not that he looked pale and weak: on the contrary. Martin’s probably the healthiest he’s been his whole life right now. But he looked like he was swimming in his old clothes and it just didn’t look right.
So we snagged him some new jeans and tops, and I was so amused as he kept going back and forth, grabbing smaller sizes off the rack.
Next, we went to the grocery store for some food items, and we returned to the hotel to eat lunch and hang out.
We took our afternoon nap all piled up in the king-size bed.
We went swimming in the hotel pool.
We popped popcorn, ate Oreos, and watched a marathon of movies.
And then we threw all three kids into the room’s giant whirlpool tub before getting them in their pajamas and tucking them into bed.
It was so nice just being able to do that simple family routine again.
Fortunately, Martin was able to sleep in on Sunday morning.
Or rather, he was able to stay in bed after the kids woke us up shortly after sunrise. All three of them bounded into our room and leaped into the bed once they realized he was still there in the room.
We took our time with breakfast and getting ready for the day, packing up our things to check out of the hotel.
We decided to head to the Richmond Children’s Museum for the afternoon, which was a very wise decision on our part. That place is perfect for kids, with various learning corners and play areas. There’s a little “town” set up, where the kids could play in a grocery store, a bank, a school, a news station, etc. There was a giant apple tree where the kids could “pick” the apples. At one point, we lost track of Lola while everyone was running around/playing in the center “playground” of the museum.
We weren’t concerned: it’s an enclosed environment with lots of areas to play. But there were many corners and rooms where she could be. We found her in the theater room, up on the stage, performing a puppet show for about ten people (a mix of parents and kids). I’m not even kidding: they thought it was a part of the museum.
She had a storyline, each character had a specific voice, and everything. Martin and I stood in the back, filming part of it and taking photos. It was too funny.
After the museum, we ate a late lunch at nearby Galaxy Diner which had a retro/futuristic space theme and really good food. It’s not often that all three kids eat ALL of their food at a restaurant, but they did.
And even Martin and I finished our plates, although we both regretted it later. It was the most both of us ate in one sitting in a long time.
But worth it!
After that, we went to a nearby movie theater to watch The Croods, and by the time that was done, it was time to drive Martin back to Fort Lee.
Yet, we couldn’t give him up right away, so we drove into the family housing area to find a playground. That’s one of the most reliable things about a military base: if you find the housing area, you will find a playground.
We let the kids run around for about an hour, hoping to wear them out for the road trip back up to Northern Virginia. It worked. By the time we really did drop Martin off at his dorm, the kids were very tired.
Which meant they were a little grumpy, too.
Nobody wanted Martin to go.
But fortunately, he only has one month left before he can come home for good with us.
This one was for the books: I drove all the way into work today only to be turned around all over south DC as traffic jammed because a gas leak had my building (and others around) evacuated, a Metro stop closed, and about four city blocks shut down due to a natural gas leak.