[dropcap style=”color: #9b9b9b;”]A[/dropcap]s I mentioned in my last post, Martin is away from home again, fulfilling his annual two-week Air Force Reserve obligation (called “annual tour”) at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.
Once again, it’s just the kids and me at home, but this time feels a little different than the previous times Martin’s been away from home. Maybe it’s because we just did this less than two months ago, maybe it’s because it’s only for a short period of time, or maybe it’s because we knew about this one for a long time and everything fell in place according to plan, but in any case, life at home has been pretty breezy, if not the usual controlled chaos.
And for proof that things are, indeed, going swimmingly, I was able to leave the house without the children on Friday night. Ashley came over the hang out with the kids while I ran off to play bunco with my friend Yvonne. I’ve never played the game before, but it wasn’t hard to pick up, and I got to meet several new ladies who all lived in Germany at one time or another, or who had a connection to the military or government work. I had a blast.
Other things the kids and I have done while Martin is gone include:
Going to the Native American museum in downtown DC.
Taking up yoga. For real. Every day. Our smart TV offers an easy yoga app and the kids love doing it with me.
Sorting and purging all our clothes, books, and toys.
Got caught up on laundry. Yes. You read that correctly.
As for Martin, he’s doing well down there in Little Rock. He was immediately put on “swing shift” which means he starts working in the middle of the day and doesn’t get off of work until late at night, which makes it a little complicated trying to catch him for a web chat or quick phone call, especially since he’s an hour behind us.
He and the group of Airmen he’s traveled with all went on a road trip to Graceland in nearby Memphis, Tennessee. He was especially pleased when he learned that I’ve never been there myself.
He also had lunch with Livvi, who is the youngest sister of my high school best friend, Jessica, back in Northern Kentucky. The last time I saw Livvi was right after my high school graduation, and she was Lola’s age and still in elementary school. Now? She’s grown up, married, and also serving in the Air Force as a loadmaster stationed at Little Rock. The world is really that small, and I love that we can really go just about anywhere and bump into people we know.
Anyway, he is scheduled to be back next week, and it’s a good thing. From where I sit right now, August is already looking to be a very busy month for us. The girls will be heading off to spend time with family for a few weeks. We will celebrate two birthdays.
[dropcap style=”color: #9b9b9b;”]Y[/dropcap]esterday moved with a frenetic pace. There was my morning commute. A full day of work with meetings scheduled back-to-back with few breaks in between. Then I was a part of a panel discussion at the New America Foundation (which I’ll write about in another post), where I got to answer questions about government data monitoring, information privacy, and Edward Snowden.
Admittedly, not a usual place for Martin and me to land on a Thursday evening, but it was an incredible experience for a few reasons.
First, the performances were wonderful, and the story of a woman in the grips of her mental illness was very moving. In one of those funny life coincidences, I just read the memoir “First Person Plural” a few weeks ago, written by a man with multiple personalities, who I learned about while doing some job-related research, so I was familiar with the disorder, and recognized the aspects of it alluded to in the play.
Second, it was wonderful being back in a small theater environment. It’s been a long time — too long — since Martin and I attended a show like that, even though we both used to work in theater all the time: me in Cincinnati, and he in Germany before our military careers. Being so close to the stage, and being able to really pick up on the details of the costumes, set, and lighting … it all brought back a sense of nostalgia, and really fun memories.
And finally, our attendance last night was especially nice because Martin and I were there as guests, the result of a really amazing opportunity the theater group extended to me.
About a week ago, I was sorting through my email late at night when I got a message from this blog’s “Contact Us” page. It was from Elliott Bales, who explained he is the managing director at DC’s Theater Alliance. He wrote that while doing research for his theater company’s upcoming production, he discovered my blog.
He explain that his company is preparing for an upcoming world premiere production of Obie Award-winning playwright Caridad Svich‘s play “Spark.” The play is about a female soldier returning from war to an economically depressed home with a family of three sisters who have their own problems and do not understand each other. Mr. Bales noted that he himself retired from the U.S. Army after 26 years, and found the story to be “a poignant and beautiful representation for all veterans, and women veterans in particular.”
He spent some time reading through my blog, and based upon my writings about my personal military experiences — both as a female veteran, and as a spouse and having my loved one away from home — he invited me to meet his staff and discuss my unique perspectives as part of their pre-production work as most of the staff never served in the military at all.
I reviewed the information and script he sent me, and responded, and we talked over the phone the next day, where we talked of our past military assignments and I mentioned that I’m the oldest of three sisters, too. It was one of those funny life coincidences, right?
Of course, I accepted the invitation, both to meet with his cast and crew, and to see their current production and become familiar with the theater and the type of work they do, as most of their productions focus on socially conscious themes with a lot of educational and community outreach in the mix.
After last night’s show, as Martin and I walked to our minivan, with both the Washington Monument and the Capitol building lit up in front of us, we spoke about the play, about the upcoming “Spark” production (which begins later this summer), and wondered about the types of things I’ll share with the cast and crew, what kinds of questions they may ask, what they would want to know as they develop their characters and stories.
We also marveled at how all of this came to be, how Mr. Bales found our blog, how these opportunities stumble upon us, and how fortunate we are to be given these opportunities.
For that reason, for Flashback Friday (when I take a dip into my blog archives), I’m sharing a post that I wrote in 2007 shortly after coming home from my deployment, and the immediate adjustments Martin and I were experiencing. I was reminded of this post as I read one of the scenes in the “Spark” script, as it rang remarkably true.
[dropcap style=”color: #9b9b9b;”]M[/dropcap]artin, Jaz, and I visited our old stomping grounds this afternoon: the Fort Myer commissary which is where we did our grocery shopping when I was still active duty in the military. For those who aren’t familiar with them, military commissaries usually aren’t as expensive as civilian grocery markets, and we always found good deals there. Since it’s a good 30-to-40 minute drive (at least) from our home, we only went shopping every other month or so, filling two shopping carts full of goods to last us.
However, we stopped doing the commissary runs once Martin became a full-time stay-at-home dad and active couponer who shopped more frequently at the stores near our home. Even when he joined the military, (which allowed us commissary privileges again), we didn’t return because he was able to stretch our dollars much further through local couponing. Even when he was gone all those months for basic military training, he had shopped and planned ahead of time, so I didn’t need to go shopping (except for the fresh stuff) while he was away.
Unfortunately, this last trip of his was so last-minute, he didn’t have time to prep our cupboards and food pantry, at least not in the way he did before. Of course, the kids and I were totally fine and not wanting for anything. But I don’t coupon like Martin does, and I refused to go shopping in his place. So, we just used up what we had.
After he came home, he resumed couponing to replenish our pantry, but it takes time since not everything is on sale at the same time. Yesterday, as we used up the last can of red beans and the last box of rice, and as Jaz walked past us clutching the last box of cereal, Martin and I looked at each other and admitted, “We gotta go to the commissary and resupply now.”
So, off we went and it was a wonderful trip down memory lane as we passed my old office building, familiar restaurants, and other places we haven’t seen in awhile.
We had Jaz all to ourselves, and it was the sweetest, easiest shopping experience in a long time. It wasn’t crowded, and Martin and I were in agreement for almost all of the purchases.
“…Yes, I need THIS brand of coffee creamer. Yes, I know that costs less, but this is MORE delightful…”
The commissary still looked the same, and as we walked through the aisles full of elderly retirees and servicemembers in uniform, I couldn’t help but think of all the times we were there with the girls, when we went shopping as a family, as chaotic and overwhelming as it was.
Crazy times. But sweet memories, too.
For today’s Flashback Friday, this was a post about one such commissary run.
Like the corners of my house, this corner of the Internet has collected dust in recent weeks. The only thing missing here — other than my presence — is a wad of pet hair, but frankly, my expectations and standards right now are pretty low, I wouldn’t even care if there WAS a dust bunny on this page.
And I usually hate dust bunnies very much.
But I’ve since decided dust bunnies add character. Let’s just say my house is exploding with character, thankyouverymuch. Continue reading →
I’ve written about the “deployment curse” on this blog before. It’s a military thing, and not specific to deployments. It also happens when the military member leaves on temporary duty, or even just a short business trip. It’s very similar to Murphy’s Law, but in addition to the whole “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong” part of it, there’s the caveat that all of it will happen within the first week or two of the loved one’s departure.
I took some leave time and drove Martin out to Delaware yesterday. He’s on active duty orders for a month now, working at Dover Air Force Base, one of the Air Force’s busiest transport hubs in the United States. He was originally scheduled back in January to do three months of this hands-on work experience there. His bags were packed, our childcare arrangement was in place. However, the morning of his scheduled departure, he was put on hold because of ‘paperwork issues’ and we hung in a state of suspension ever since.
Of course, after awhile, one gets a little numb from just hanging there, especially being told so many versions of “I’m waiting to hear back from so-and-so … just hang on … the paperwork will get to you tomorrow … I’ll call you back …”
Not our first rodeo, of course. But nevertheless, it was still jarring when he got an email — an email –on Monday with his orders requiring him to travel to Delaware on Tuesday for him to begin work today.
That was awesome.
Fortunately, I am blessed with Sarah, my friend and fellow Air Force mom who lives just five minutes away, the same one who used to come over and help me fold clothes when Martin was at BMT. She came over and stayed with the kids while I dropped off Martin. We wanted the minivan to stay with the kids, and I need my car for work, so he took his bike and metal detector because there’s not much else to do in Delaware.
When I returned home, the kids were all fed and ready for bed. And she cleaned my entire first floor. Even the bathroom. That’s a true friend.
No lie, though — even with a super clean house, all my planning in place, and my flexible attitude, this first day was rough and exhausting. Jaz was wired. Lola was a tad bit more dramatic than usual, no doubt a reaction to having her Dad suddenly gone again. Admittedly, I was also a bit more dramatic as well, having had less sleep, and needing to get up earlier.
But we’ll get used to this new routine in no time. And, thank the lord, this is only for a month. I’ll sneeze and it’ll be over. It’s nothing compared to the six-months to a year some of our friends are doing for deployments right now.
Before I know it, Martin will be back and we’ll adjust with a new routine all over again.
I am pretty awesome at making lists. Any occasion. Any need. I have several lists running in my mind at any given time. Here’s one that I call “Things That Happened on a Monday.”
1) My zebra-print wellies (love that word) arrived in the mail just days after I ordered them. For awhile, I was leaning toward polka-dots, but then I saw these, and the search was over. Though not intentional, I have more than a few zebra prints in my wardrobe. Plus, zebras are known for their stamina, and so am I. However, zebras are also known for their excellent eyesight and I’m blind as a bat. So … moving on … Continue reading →
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.”
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.
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 →