Good Life: Be Thankful

JB and me after his retirement ceremony.

There was a moment a few months ago when JB’s wife, Jessica, paused as she was talking with me and a few others after his retirement ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada.

We were standing at a back table in the room, looking over JB’s military memorabilia, and she was explaining a few of the photos. She had stopped herself after saying, “… after he got hurt.”

She smiled at us.

“You know, there was a time when I couldn’t say that without bursting into tears.”

It’s taken me a few months to write this blog post for much the same reason. I still get teary when I think about it, but it was such a moving and emotional experience, and one that really made me appreciate what it means to be thankful, which is one of the recommendations for living the Good Life.

While I have written often about that day in Iraq, and can talk or write about it without feeling as much of a tug anymore, attending the retirement ceremony for my team’s broadcaster was way more emotional than I expected.

As far as Air Force retirement ceremonies go, it was nice and traditional. There was a summary of JB’s military accomplishments as a broadcaster, and recognition of his family and colleagues. There were laughs, nodding heads, and polite applause at all the right places. You could tell everyone involved and in attendance really admires JB, and put a lot of effort into it.

However, it was after the ceremony when I got a huge emotional wallop straight to the heart.

His mom came up to me.

Until that moment, I never met JB’s family. While he may have mentioned his parents a time or two, I knew more about Jessica and his kids from the stories we shared while deployed together.

And since the deployment didn’t stop for JV and me after JB was evacuated, I wasn’t able to really keep connected to his recovery as much as I would have liked. The most we got were updates through our colleagues and mutual friends until social media allowed us to reconnect some years later.

Of course, I knew that JB’s family would be at the retirement ceremony, but it never occurred to me that they would want to seek me out, but that’s what his mom did. I was leaning over to read some of his certificates when she came up to me and asked, “Are you the young lady who was with JB in Iraq?”

I looked up at her and said, “Yes, I’m Julie. I was the writer on his team.”

She politely put her hand out.

“We’ve heard so much about you, the girl who was with him,” she said.

“Oh, are you a relative?” I asked, still not sure who I was speaking to. She offered me a warm smile.

“Oh, I’m his mother,” she said. “I can’t thank you enough for being there for him.”

I remember repeating, “His mother? His mother!” as it dawned on me who she was, but before I could think or say anything else, she was wrapping her arms around me as I began to cry, telling her I was so glad to finally meet her.

Let me be more honest: I was a shuddering, hiccuping, sobbing mess, totally caught off guard by my reaction. I just never considered that I would be mentioned whenever the events of that day were shared with JB’s family, but then to have his mom there, wanting to meet me?

It was a lot.

She rubbed my back, explaining how she and her husband had no idea where JB was while he was deployed, that they weren’t expecting a call like the one they got when they learned he had been injured, how they traveled to him when he arrived stateside for care at Walter Reed, that they were relieved to learn he wasn’t alone when the attack happened, and how grateful they were for the things everyone did for JB that day.

Between gasps for breath, I blubbered about how bad he looked the last time I saw him, how pale and weak he was, how the last thing I did was kiss his sweaty bald head as they carried him away, and how great it was to see him so healthy again, to see him standing and walking.

And then she said, “You know? He’s okay now. You don’t have to worry now. And you’re okay, too. We are so thankful for that.”

JB’s wife Jessica pinning on a retirement pin.

I’m not sure how long we stood there like that, but eventually, she pulled away and turned to her husband behind her, and said, “Hey, this is the girl who was with JB over there.”

And then her husband approached me, and JB’s older brother (a former Marine), and even though I tried to compose myself, it was just so much to be surrounded by all of that. After we talked some more, I rushed to a corner of the room to check my make-up to make sure my meltdown wasn’t too obvious.

I was fine during the rest of the reception, and even stayed behind to help clean up, but as soon as I returned to my hotel room, I sat on my bed and cried some more.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I cried out six years worth of tears.

For as much as I’ve shared about my deployment experience, there’s so much more I haven’t shared because it’s just so exhausting and draining.

The aftermath of that incident (both immediate and long-term) and the way things were handled by some of the “leadership” (quotes intentional) were about as traumatic as the incident itself, and changed my perspective on many, many things.

For all the wonderful things that happened to me because of my Air Force service, there were very bitter things to happen, too. Time, focusing on all the opportunities ahead of me, and the amazing support of those close to me during that time helped lessen the burden.

Yet, when JB’s mother approached me, and talked to me, she unintentionally opened up some things that are still very raw and emotional … and yet in the process, her words healed my heart in a way I absolutely wasn’t expecting.

There was a reason I was there that day, why I was a part of that team, and why I was moved to do the things I did, and as I thought about these things, and the words she said to me, I felt like an incredible weight was lifted off my shoulders.

I’ve never questioned or doubted my service over there, but she gave me an answer I didn’t know I needed.

And for that I am thankful.

Visiting with Friends

Even though my friend Mike and his wife Amanda just PCS’d to Maryland about 30 min from our home in DC, we all decided to meet up here in Cincinnati for brunch! Not only is Mike an Air Force public affairs NCO, he is also a Cincy native.

We ate at a local chili place in the area Mike grew up. He knew the menu by heart.

We Air Force PA types are everywhere!! Continue reading

Honoring a Hero

Exactly seven years ago today, I stood with many others at Arlington National Cemetery to honor Maj. Troy Gilbert after his F-16 crashed in Iraq while he was defending soldiers on the ground who were under attack.Today, on the anniversary of his burial, I stood once again at Arlington National Cemetery with many others to honor and welcome a part of him home again.The circumstances of Troy’s death in November 2006 are pretty dramatic. He was providing surveillance and reconnaissance for ground forces north of Baghdad when a coalition helicopter went down. As American forces were securing the helicopter and the people inside it, insurgents attacked them. Troy flew in, strafing the insurgents, and flying less than 200 feet from the ground. Continue reading

The One About the Flash Mob

As you are aware, it’s December already.

Which, of course, means November is over, as is my National Novel Writing Month challenge to write a 50,000-word novel. The good news is that I accomplished that goal, and the novel isn’t even done yet. I’ll keep writing and working on it, because it’s a great story, if I do say so myself, and I like where it’s going.

But more on that later.

In other news, we had a pretty busy month — a birthday, some traveling, lots of eating great food — and I’ll be using the next week or so playing catch-up and sharing some of the highlights.

In the meantime, I’m sharing a video that the U.S. Air Force Band posted overnight. They performed a flash-mob concert here in downtown Washington DC, at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Funny enough, Ashley and I ate a late lunch there, hours after this all happened. I’m sad we missed it.

But fortunately, it was beautifully captured in this video for all of us to enjoy as a kickstart to the holidays.

Flashback Friday: Greetings From Baghdad and Other Fun Memories

I put my eyes on JB this morning.

His office met up for breakfast, and he invited me to come along. He was walking through the dining area as I was walking in.

Did you get that?

He was walking.

I mean, I know he’s recovered and has been back on his feet again for years.

But the last time I saw him, he wasn’t walking, and he wasn’t going to be walking for some time after that.

Yet this morning, he walked up to me and gave me a huge hug.

Later today, I will be heading back to the base to attend the retirement ceremony, and I’ll share photos and such next week.

But for Flashback Friday, I’m sharing the links from our time there in the Middle East, when it was J-Team 1.0.

Gearing Up For Our First Assignment

Greetings From Baghdad

Surviving Baghdad

Reporting from The Triangle of Death

One Down, Two Remain

 

On My Way

JB and me in Iraq in 2007. I’m the short dude on the left.

 

I’ve been lucky.

Ever since my deployment in 2007, I’ve been able to keep in touch with my team: JV, JB, and JZ.

Unlike the experiences of my grandfathers and uncles who served in previous conflicts, I didn’t just go home and never see my fellow Airmen again.

Through social media, the grapevine, and in-person reunions, I’ve actually been able to keep track of retirements, career changes, families, and such.

Out of all my connections — military and professional colleagues, friends, and family — there is a special place in my heart for these three men.

For six months (if you include the time I spent training with them, too), I worked, lived, traveled, laughed, annoyed (I admit it), cared, and thankfully, survived with those guys. In the entire span of my lifetime, those months are just a small chunk of my life experience, right?

But whoa, was it extraordinary.

Because we actually worked together at the Pentagon for a few more years upon our return home, and because we live in the same region and invite each other to family barbecues and birthday parties, I actually get to see JV quite a bit.

JV at his surprise birthday party in 2012

I also got to reunite with JZ, who ended up being an attendee at one of my social media briefings a few years ago.

That was an awesome surprise for me, and I actually had Martin drive up with the kids so we could all sit and talk and catch up.

When I saw JZ, and got the scoop on how well he and his family were doing, and how his career was doing, there was such an unexpected sense of relief there for me. It’s one thing to see updates on social media or through the grapevine, or get emails every now and then.

It’s another to actually put eyes on your battle buddies, and see that they are well.

With JZ and Miss C in 2011. Jaz was still baking at the time. 🙂

Which leads me to JB.

He’s the one dude from my team that I haven’t been able to see again in person.

The last time I saw him and his bald head was when they ran out of that kitchen (which was set up as the medical clinic) with him on the stretcher, out to the helicopter waiting to take him to Baghdad after his legs got shredded from the mortar blast.

He spent that summer in Washington DC at Walter Reed in recovery. Martin even got to visit with him.

But he was released and flown home just days before JV and I returned to the United States.

And we haven’t been in the same place ever since.

Until now.

This evening, I’m on my way to put a status check on him as he retires from the Air Force.

It will be good to see him.

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I did not know it was International Talk Like A Pirate day when I picked my nautical-inspired outfit this morning, ahoy! But thar you have it.
Thanks to Ashley  the Intern for takin’ t’ picture.

This Is the Rest of Your Life

My thought as I took this photo in 2000?
“This is soooo going on my future web journal when I get this film developed.”

I forgot to point out a special anniversary/birthday earlier this week.

This blog turned 12 years old on July 28.

If it were my child, it would be going through puberty now. But I feel like blog years are sort of like dog years in that things grow and change rapidly, so in Internet/social media/technology years, my blog is really almost 200 years old.

I’m pretty proud of my archive over there.

For fun, I’m sharing with you some photos that were taken around the time I first started blogging/recording our history in 2000/2001, as well as the podcast Martin and I created a few years ago about that year.

You’ll see skinny Martin. Such a hunk.

Oh, and in recognition of my blog going through puberty (sort of), I’m also including one of the most delightful things I’ve seen on the Internet yet.

Enjoy. And happy belated blog birthday!

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Shut up. This was one of my clubbing outfits. Not even joking. There are no other photos of me in this shirt.
Grateful there were no cell phone cameras back in 2001. Thank you, Jesus.

His and her vehicles. Mine was a 1988 Ford Sierra and Martin had a 1992 Honda Civic.

Martin and his mother in fall of 2000, the day he left for Bundeswehr basic training. Love. That. Hair.

Martin wearing my BCGs — birth control glasses — from basic training while talking on the phone in my Kaiserslautern apartment to my family in the states in early 2001. I can assure you he did not put those glasses on himself.

I traveled a lot back then. This photo was taken in Berlin while I was visiting my friend Pam. I found the people in Berlin to be very friendly, although they had a thing for very strange hats.

Martin, his sister Carola, my dad, and my ol’ roommate, Stephanie, in Nuremberg in early 2001.

Dress shopping in the summer of 2001 while visiting Ohio.

That’s Martin on the far right during his Bundeswehr days. Look at those computer monitors.

Getting promoted to airman first class! Two stripes! YES! That was in the spring of 2001.
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On another note,  some habits die hard.

It’s gray and dreary today, and as I wrangled the kids out of the house this morning, I called over my shoulder, asking Martin to grab me an umbrella I could take to work with me.When I saw which one he brought me, I blurted out, “Oh, no! I can’t use that one!”

And he said, “Julie. It’s fine. It’s pink. And you are not in the military or in uniform anymore.”
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Satisfaction

Amelia the Minivan is in the shop and Martin took the car to Andrews. We ran out of milk, so we grabbed the bikes and headed to the store. Which, I realized, is uphill the whole way. And it is a freakin’ sauna outside. But there was a sale on Cheez-it’s and Gatorade, so Mom’s heat exhaustion was totally worth it.

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There’s a certain sense of satisfaction I feel as I listen to Martin try to log into the Air Force website responsible for his travel orders and such. It’s the password requirement. Hearing him curse in two languages … seeing him throw his fists in the air … “Why the hell do they need 15 characters? WCKR is NOT a word! Why is it saying it’s a word? It’s NOT A WORD!!”

I know now: it wasn’t me. No. It was never me.

PS – After about 15 minutes of entertainment, I finally went in there and showed him the trick. Sure, I could have let him suffer for about nine years, as I did before learning it, but I *do* have to live with him.

 

Martin Graduated

Some final words with one of his tech school instructors.

In the midst of all the excitement with Jaz last week, I didn’t get to share the good news.

Martin graduated.

He officially finished his military training last Wednesday and left technical school as a certified air transportation specialist* for the US Air Force Reserve.

I took off from work that day and drove down to Ft. Lee to attend the ceremony. A few other family members were there as well, and we all got to watch as our Airmen were given their certificates and words of encouragement from class leadership.

And I even got to step up and take the grip-and-grin photos for everyone.

 

After the ceremony, we headed over to the dorm so Martin could collect all his belongings, and within an hour, we were on the road again, heading home.

For good.

Martin is no longer considered a “pipeline” Airman. He’s done with his initial training.

Starting next month, he’ll be putting on the uniform at least one weekend a month, two weeks a year, and doing his work at nearby Andrews Air Force Base. Of course, there may be some travel to other locations here and there, some time apart, some more training down the road.

But now? He’s back to be being a full-time stay-at-home dad.

He’ll be posting soon about his tech school experience, and of course, we’ll be sharing as we follow this new path for all of us, especially as he re-integrates with the household again.

It probably goes without saying that we are so proud of him.

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* Here’s an Air Force video showing you what air transportation specialists — or  “Port Dawgs” — do in the Air Force/Air Force Reserve.

The One About Tech School

This is the blog post about tech school.

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.

Continue reading