In the midst of all the excitement with Jaz last week, I didn’t get to share the good news.
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.
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.
* 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 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.
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.
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.
Martin and I accepted an invitation to be a part of a really awesome opportunity.
Matthew Jordan Smith, who discovered our blog while doing research, reached out to us to ask if we’d like to be a part of his upcoming book called Future Presidents. A photographer based out in Los Angeles, he’s worked with a lot of people you’ve probably heard about, and his images have been featured in a lot of places. He himself has appeared on a show you may have watched.
After becoming familiar with our family’s story, he wondered if Martin and I, and our three future presidents, would like to be featured in the book.
After doing much research of my own about Mr. Smith and his project, I knew our answer.
Of course we will participate.
I wrote back to Mr. Smith and told him if he hadn’t found us first, I would have chased him down to request participation. There are many things about the book and it’s message that really resonate with our family. Martin and I are doing our best to raise our kids to think big and take advantage of every opportunity available to them to have a positive impact on society and others. This book shares that aspiration.
I like that he’s getting the kids themselves to write about their hopes and dreams. I’m also so impressed by the beautiful images Mr. Smith has captured already. These glimpses of America and American children are just stunning. And so full of hope.
Despite what the headlines say, despite all the frustrating things happening in the world, I know the future is bright for my children and their generation.
My family looks forward to working with Mr. Smith!
And of course, I’ll post updates about this as they come. 🙂
That Sunday after his graduation ceremony was the last we saw Martin while down in Texas.
He earned a town pass for the day in two ways. First, he won it by maxing out on the physical fitness standards, earning himself a “warhawk” status for extraordinary fitness. Because of that, he got a certificate, a t-shirt, and a town pass.
This incentive is something new to BMT (or at least, new to me), and when Martin told me about it over the phone, his German accent threw me off, and I misunderstood that he was a warthog.
It was a few days later until I realized my mistake. I just assumed he was referencing something from BEAST week, and didn’t bother to get clarification.
It’s Warhawk: the Air Force God of Fitness.
(I made up that last part.)
The second way Martin earned the Sunday town pass was through his flight, and their designation as the honor flight. All the others in his flight also got to spend one extra day with their families as a reward for earning the most points through their exams, inspections, and fitness tests.
So, Miss C and I picked up Martin early Sunday morning and immediately drove down to the city, where we enjoyed breakfast on the Riverwalk.
Halfway through our meal, an older gentleman approached us, and introduced himself as a former B-52 pilot. He had been eating at the table behind us with his family, and when he saw Martin in his uniform and overheard our conversation, he realized Martin was a recent BMT graduate, and he wanted to treat us.
So he bought our entire breakfast, thanking Martin for his service.
The gentleman wasn’t the first to thank Martin that weekend. In fact, just about everywhere we went, people approached Martin to shake his hand, thank him for his service, and welcome him to the Air Force.
Martin said this made him feel really awkward because not only is he naturally a pretty humble dude, but for so long, it was people coming up to me and thanking me for serving, and occasionally treating me (or us) with some random act of kindness.
But most of all, Martin said he felt weird about it because in his mind, graduating from BMT didn’t really count as a significant contribution of service.
But he is wrong.
Every time someone approached Martin, I wanted to speak up about my husband, to bring them up to speed about how he’s already served and sacrificed. And it’s not even that he gave up his own Bundeswehr career, or offered such unconditional support to my own Air Force career.
But despite having witnessed all of that through my career and those of our good friends, and despite having a comfortable life as a stay-at-home dad with us at home, my warthog STILL decided to serve.
Thank you for your service.
The rest of that Sunday was definitely more low-key. After breakfast, we let Miss C decide our plans. This led us over to the IMAX theater near the Alamo, where we saw a documentary about monarch butterflies.
Afterwards, we drove back to our hotel, where the three of us ordered room service and watched animal reality television shows featuring adorable puppies and psychotic cats while all piled up on the huge bed. The only thing missing were our two babies, Lola and Jaz.
At least, though, we knew that the hardest part — BMT — was over, and we were that much closer to being all together again.
Our goodbye to Martin that day was relatively quick and painless. I pulled into the parking lot next to his dorm, helped him unload his new luggage set, and gave him a quick hug and kiss goodbye. He had an early morning flight out of Texas — the airport bus picked him up at 2 am — and then he would be off to technical school to learn how to become an air transportation specialist.
This meant he was now a lot closer to home, too.
For the longest time, I thought his tech school was there at Lackland Air Force Base. But as it turned out … of all the places he could have gone for his training, his school is at Fort Lee, Virginia.
Just two hours south of where we live.
Can you believe that Martin already wrote something for the Air Force’s official blog?
That Sunday, while we were hanging out in the hotel room, Martin typed up some thoughts about his BMT experience.
I think it happens in all marriages or long-term relationships: at some point, that zing — that mysterious and powerful tension — that cackled and sparked in the early days of the relationship dissolves into something that’s a lot more tepid.
It definitely happened in ours.
And let me be clear: I’m not talking about romance or attraction, or even THAT specifically, either. With a little bit of effort, I think all of those things are sustainable. Martin has always been good about finding little romantic things to do for me, and I like to think I‘ve done the same for him. And I’ve never doubted that he finds me attractive, just as I’ve always found him to be one good-looking dude. No complaints here. But after awhile — and especially after three kids and more than a decade together — things become … comfortable, right?
Like, it’s just assumed onewill get a kiss from the other before leaving the house, if one’s not in too much a rush. What was once bought at Victoria’s Secret gets picked up from the clearance rack at Target. Putting on anything other than yoga pants is a sign you want to be taken out. Nobody thinks twice before passing gas under the sheets. And there are no surprises, except maybe when helping identify whatever it is that’s growing on the other’s back that he/she can’t see in a mirror.
It’s not that this level of comfort is a bad thing. In fact, being at that comfort level with each other is a comfort all by itself, in a way, because it means we’ve been through it all, we know each other completely, and are free to be ourselves.
Yet, being at that level also means that gone are the days of that zing, that puppy love and anticipation, right?
Wrong. It IS possible to put zing back into one’s marriage even after fourteen years together, three kids, stretch marks and hair loss. Here’s how you can do it, too. 1) Send your spouse or significant other to basic military training, or some other environment that’s going to completely remove them from your home for months at a time. Deployments are an alternative, but I don’t recommend them. Be sure that all forms of communication are severed, except for traditional letter-writing and maybe one phone call every two weeks. It also helps if wherever you send them uses physical fitness as punishment in the form of push-ups, situps, and flutter-kicks. 2) While your spouse is away, write a ton of letters and feel free to share things that are much easier to share on paper than they are person-to-person. 3) Lose nearly 20 pounds, but don’t mention it at all to your spouse. On the days you reunite with your loved one, wear clothes that fit you well and show off your assets. (Hey, that’s advice straight from Tim Gunn!) In fact, wear a snazzy dress in his favorite color on you. Bonus points if it’s two sizes smaller than what you were wearing when he left. Get your nails did and your hair done, too.
4) No matter what, do NOT forget the rules. Most importantly, don’t forget that Airmen in uniform are not allowed to participate in any form of PDA (public display of affection.) This means no kissing, no hugging, no snuggling, no hand holding. Even if the closest you’ve been to holding your spouse’s hand in public in about five years were all the times you were handing a diaper bag/stroller/baby bottle/flashing the bird to him, you will suddenly want to hold his hand all the time. Nope. Don’t do it. You get about 20 seconds to do this when you FIRST see your spouse, but anything after that is unacceptable. 5) Don’t gawk too much when you finally see your spouse and you see that all the running, push-ups, sit-ups, and flutter kicks shaved about 10 years off of him, and that he still looks really, really good in uniform. Try not to stare.
6) Be prepared to feel incredibly awkward at all times. Don’t take it personally when, after the official graduation ceremony and after he’s already seen you the day before, your spouse just sort of pats you on the back because he doesn’t want to break any rules … and he doesn’t want others to think he’s breaking the rules, either. Use your kid — who is allowed to hold hands with your spouse — as a barrier. Be prepared for questions and clumsy behavior. Such as when your daughter asks in the car why Dad won’t hold Mom’s hand, and as he’s explaining the reasons, you turn on the car radio only to realize you left the volume turned up and the song that’s playing on the radio just happens to be “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye. Bonus points if your husband’s wingman from Nigeria is in the back of the car, singing along as you fumble for the volume because he thinks it’s a really good song. Yeah. Awkward.
7) At other times, try sitting or standing far apart from your spouse so that nobody suspects you really just want to jump each other’s bones. Try not to blush when your good friends — ah, those good, ol’ friends — point out that they can tell you just want to jump each other’s bones. Be horrified when they actually capture this in photos.
8) When touring your husband’s dorms while wearing that snazzy dress, be sure to remember that there are chrome strips running along the floor and they’ve been polished to shine. And reflect. Since you are a lady, don’t panic: just swiftly step/shuffle over them so that nothing is revealed. But as you are leaving the dorms, lean over and whisper to your husband that a warning for such an issue would have been nice because one can see everything — everything — in those chrome plates. Pretend not to notice his jaw drop. 9) In the most gracious and vague way possible, ask your husband to (gently) ditch his wingman — who has provided excellent wingman support for two whole days — because you and your daughter had your hearts set on going to SeaWorld for some family time on his first day of town pass. Pick him up early the next morning and mention that your daughter went to the early morning Shamu show with a friend, and that you guys will join them there. But the truth is, you’ve actually arranged it so that your daughter gets to spend her day at the zoo with a friend’s family. But he doesn’t have to know that. 10) Don’t be alarmed when in the parking lot of the resort hotel where one has booked one of the finest rooms in the whole place with deluxe room service and lots of food, your husband looks confused, and after a moment of silence, says, “So, we’re NOT going to Sea World?” Zing.
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We almost missed seeing Martin during the Airman’s Run that Thursday.
It was a combination of the time change (San Antonio is one hour behind DC), me underestimating San Antonio’s rush-hour morning traffic, and me also having no idea what this Airman’s Run was really all about.
Back in my day, there was nothing like an Airman’s Run at the end of Air Force Basic Military Training. My flight participated in a 5K at some point. I got a t-shirt. We ran two miles for our final fitness assessment. I did a good job with that.
But an Airman’s Run? Where family members line the street and scream for their Airmen while holding up huge signs and taking photos while all the flights run around singing jodies and running in step?
That’s something new. So I didn’t know what to expect or what exactly we were supposed to do, but in the end, it all worked out. Miss C and I arrived on base and parked a few blocks away from where the whole thing takes place. I thought I had at least 30 more minutes, and I had a general idea of where things would happen, so we started walking in that direction.
At some point, though, we started to hear people screaming and chanting, and then I noticed other family members were running in a particular direction.
So I grabbed Miss C’s hand, and together we started following the stragglers until we ended up at the end of a street.
And it wasn’t just any street.
It was the street where all the flights were running. But instead of ending up alongside the street, Miss C and I were actually at the very end of the street, facing the flights as they ran toward us before being forced to turn left.
It ended up being the best place to stand, because if we were standing on the side of the street, there was a chance it would be the wrong side, or we would be lost in the crowds.
But at this spot, there was no way Martin could avoid seeing us. There were only a handful of others standing next to us. We were looking at everyone. And everyone was looking at us.
Including Martin, who was just one flight away from being right in front of us.
I barely had time
to whip out my cell phone and set it on video. I didn’t get any photos. (Fortunately, I found a photo of Martin running on the BMT Facebook page.) Instead, I got incredibly shaky video as I held the phone in one hand and waved frantically with the other.
Miss C was jumping up and down next to me.
I made eye contact with Martin.
I knew right away he saw us.
And then he was gone again as the flight turned and ran away from us.
Miss C and I were giggling the whole time. We half-heartedly ran across the way, hoping to catch another glimpse as the flights ran back from where they came, but that meant falling into the crowds lining the streets. There was no way we’d get a good view.
We didn’t care, though. We definitely saw Martin.
And we couldn’t wait to see him again.
But we had to wait. We didn’t see him again for another few hours.
In the meantime, Miss C and I huddled together on a set of metal bleachers lining a drill pad where the Airman’s Retreat and Coin Ceremony was to be held, shivering as the Texas temperatures dipped down into the 40s.
At one point, a lady brought over a towel for Miss C to use as a blanket.
The Coin and Retreat Ceremony is another new BMT experience. Back in my day, the Airman’s Coin was a relatively new collectible item for enlisted folk. It was explained to us that the coins were to be carried, and not dropped unless you wanted to buy everyone around you a beer. At least, that’s what I remembered.
I was handed my coin by a chief master sergeant after my Warrior Week experience, standing alongside a metal warehouse with all my flight members. A Billy Ray Cyrus song blared over the sound system, and shortly after, a bus picked us up and drove us back to the dorms.
There were no family members around. In fact, back in my day, the first time family members got to see their Airmen was right after the official graduation ceremony on Friday.
Not on Thursday.
But alas, when BMT got stretched out to eight and a half weeks, the time needed to be filled, and all these little traditions became more significant ceremonies.
So that’s why Miss C and I sat on those freezing cold bleachers for a few hours, waiting for the Retreat and Coin Ceremony to start.
To pass the time, we took pictures. I walked to the food stand and got breakfast for the two of us while Miss C saved our seats.
I also chatted with some of the mothers I met online in our flight’s forum on the Air Force WingMom’s page. We all recognized each other from our posts.
That was awesome.
It seemed like forever before the flights started arriving.
But sure enough, they started to appear shortly after the honor graduates were recognized. I knew Martin was an element leader in his flight, so I knew he would be marching in front of his group. We were seated in the center of the drill pad, though, and while I could make him out, I couldn’t really see him, so I switched to my zoom lens to get a better look.
And I literally gasped when I saw him.
It was like seeing Martin from years ago.
Like, actually seeing my young German lieutenant standing over there, at attention, waiting to swing into step.
It was surreal.
He looked amazing.
In his letters, Martin wrote about the times he marched past the groups of families waiting to see their graduating Airmen. At one point, he was working a detail and witnessed the many happy reunions. Watching those with young children really choked him up. He admitted he didn’t think he would be able to hold it together if he saw Miss C and me.
And that was true.
He later said he was able to see Miss C and me right away since we snagged the best seats: front row and center in the bleachers right in front of his flight. He said he kept his attention on the top of the canopy above us, and refused to make eye contact with us.
That didn’t stop me from taking a million photos, though.
Truthfully, I didn’t pay any attention to the Retreat and Coin Ceremony. I know there were speeches to the history and significance of everything. All around me, mothers and girlfriends were sobbing and pointing out their loved ones. I even saw a few fathers dab at their eyes.
But I just couldn’t be moved to tears.
Instead, I was giddy with excitement, and I could feel Miss C growing anxious, too.
We just wanted to get to Martin. We just wanted to grab onto him, to see him up close.
Once they officially ended the ceremony, families were able to step forward and walk to their Airmen. Just as I stood up, my friend Karen appeared out of nowhere. She is still active duty, working in public affairs and stationed in San Antonio, and decided to swing by the area, knowing we were there somewhere.
Even though it’s been years since we saw each other, she just appeared and offered to take my camera to video the reunion. I just smiled and handed it to her.
It was seamless.
And the result was this video, which I posted last week.
By the time we reached Martin, he was a mess.
He was making what Miss C calls the “puffy face.” He admitted he lost all bearing when he saw us approach, and was in tears by the time we wrapped our arms around him.
It was one of the best moments ever.
We got to spend the rest of the day with Martin on “base liberty” which meant he was free to hang out with us, but he couldn’t leave Lackland Air Force Base.
So, we had lunch with Karen and Martin’s wingman, Larry, who is from Nigeria and also a Reservist from Andrews Air Force Base. (He and Martin are going into the same career field, too.)
Then Larry, Martin, Miss C, and I went to the base bowling alley, where we played a few games. If it weren’t for the uniforms, and Martin’s new skinny face and lean body, and all the other Airmen and their families, it really would have felt like it was an ordinary family outing.
But of course, it wasn’t.
Every now and then, another Airman came up and called out to Martin by our last name. Some of them introduced him to their families as “the German MTI.”
Still others approached him asking him for permission or confirmation of something, and I realized they were Airmen from his flight, seeing him as their element leader.
I found it all very amusing.
Miss C and I ended up staying on base until ten minutes before Martin was due back to his dorms. To be honest, we weren’t even bummed about saying goodbye. We knew the next day was going to be the official graduation ceremony, and then he would have a town pass to the leave the base.
It was hard at work. It was hard at home. It was hard for the country. It came after a joyful and emotional weekend visiting with Martin after his graduation from Air Force Basic Military Training: a weekend that reunited the three of us — Martin, Miss C, and me — with people from our past, from my Air Force career, who have known us for more than a decade. All of us were buzzing off that high on Monday, only to be thrown in a week that’s probably been the most personally trying of all the weeks since Martin’s been gone, all while the country reeled from the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the factory explosion in Texas.
I feel like I’m recovering from some sort of whiplash.
I felt no motivation whatsoever in sharing the photos and moments of our wonderful weekend when the days that followed were so heavy.
It just didn’t seem appropriate.
As I thought about what to post, and when, I kept going back to a moment during our trip in San Antonio when Martin and I were talking about the transformations we’ve both experienced in the nearly 14 years we’ve known each other. We were walking toward the Alamo in downtown San Antonio. Martin’s wingman Larry — his buddy throughout basic training — was walking just ahead of us with Miss C.
I was commenting on how Martin seemed to be more himself now in uniform, how it was like walking alongside Martin from a decade ago, when he was in the Bundeswehr, and it’s nice to have “military Martin” back again.
Then I wondered out loud if there was such a difference when I came back to Germany after my basic training and tech school experience.
And Martin immediately said, “No. The greatest difference was when you came back from your deployment. You were not the same for a very long time, and I worried that I wouldn’t ever get you back.”
It wasn’t the first time he said something like that, but for the first time — seriously — I didn’t deny it.
For the rest of our walk, and again at other times that weekend, Martin and I got to talk about that change in me, and how far we’ve come since that terrible year. Not just from the deployment, but from my friend Nancy’s suicide, and all the other devastating and heartbreaking things that have happened in our lives.
We talked about many things, actually. Not just the hard stuff.
But I recalled this particular conversation just days later when the bombings in Boston happened, and the explosion in Texas, and the media was inundated with the photos of all that carnage and destruction, and the personal accounts from runners of what it was like to be surprised by such a massive explosion, to have such pain in one’s ears, to see such things, to be in shock and disbelief, and anger …
It was all something I could relate to very well.
But I can also share with certainty the knowledge that time does heal.
Forgiveness of such evil is possible.
And life can reach a new normal, and while it will never be the same, the new normal can be incredible and great.
Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with all those who were affected by the events last week.
It was the first time we heard from him in almost two weeks.
Every time he’s called in the past, he always seemed a little disoriented about the dates. To him, the weeks have flown by; he’s been so busy. And with little access to the outside world and absolutely no access to the Internet, it’s been easy for him to lose track of the seasons and current events, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if he didn’t immediately recall that our wedding anniversary is later this week, but he did.
He remembered, and wished me a happy anniversary right away.
Such a good man.
This is the first time in our marriage that we are apart on our anniversary. Last year, we renewed our vows in a small ceremony with our family and friends in Cincinnati. At the time, we were feeling pretty settled and in a good place — in our 30s with three kids and a nice house and steady income, living the dream — and we wanted to celebrate the milestone of keeping it together for a whole decade.
At that moment one year ago, Martin joining the military again was not on our radar.
But there we were then, and here we are now.
Communicating through sporadic letters and phone calls.
Disconnected as we individually deal with stressful situations.
Despite all that, though, I feel like we’re experiencing a different type of renewal this year.
And it’s not a benchmark, but a beginning.
So I’m not disappointed at all with our circumstances this anniversary.
Because even on the days when I’m overwhelmed and feel like an unbearable clamp is on my heart from the frustration and loneliness, I feel so confident that we’re right where we’re supposed to be.