Thursday, April 12, 2012

I was born into this Army life.  Raised in it.  After a few years separated from it (because I turned 23, and therefore lost all my benefits), I married right back into it. I am thankful for the experience I can use, the knowledge I have dealing with most aspects of it, and so grateful for the example of my mother and father. 

We were driving somewhere, all eight of us Smiths in the huge van my parents drove.  I couldn't have been terribly old, maybe in Junior high.  My father was stationed at Fort Hood, and was working at Darnall.  As we drove past the post, I saw the 1st Cavalry sign.  Even then, it had made a large impression on me, though much more abstract at that young age. I could never have known that my future would be intimately and deeply touched by that unit. 

We were fiercely proud of my father, and were obviously prone to sucking up.  One of us children saw the infantry sign, and a comment:

"Ha.  Infantry.  Not as good as Medical Service Corps." 

My father pulled the van over and turned in his seat.  He was very firm.

"I know you are proud of me, and that's fine.  But let me tell each of you right now, those men that serve as Infantry Soldiers work harder, sacrifice more, and are put in far more dangerous circumstances than I will ever be.  No matter what, you owe them respect and gratitude."

That moment stuck with me.  My father has always been so humble, but his earnestness in the van that day never left my memory.

Thirteen years later, my husband and Soldier received orders that he was to serve with the 1st Cavalry Division.  And that he was deploying to Iraq. That horse, that insignia, that yellow and black has become such a source of pride and gratitude and hard work for me.  I saw him go off to training three times; he was in and out of the house constantly for three months. 

Then he left for a year.  And I was scared to death. 

When we first started with the Unit, those colors struck the fear of God in me.  I knew he would be deploying in a matter of a very few months.  With them.  Then, they become a symbol of home, of comfort.  Soon, it bespoke Pride.  Sacrifice.  Survival. 

Family.  Comfort.  Survival.

Now, I have jewelery that I cherish in black and gold.  A pin from the spouses' coffees.  A diaper bag displaying the patch.  They all have the black and gold.  That horse.  The women that I befriended in the Brigade were a comfort when I got the most horrible text message from my husband, a source of laughter when no one else understood, and a source of constant strength and inspiration as I learned to walk in far deeper foot prints of Army Wives who had repeatedly sacrificed everything to keep a family together and a nation at peace.  These women taught me so much.  How to keep a joyful face when it felt as though the world is falling in around you.  How to keep the children from worrying.  They showed me how to Hold Down the Homefront through advice and example.  They let me know it was okay to cry, to let the tears flow, every now and then. 

I don't think these women can know how much I appreciated their example as I forged my way through my first deployment.  How important their presence were in my life.  How, each time I met up with them, I was hanging onto every word for strength, comfort, and the God-given comradery. 

Our Farewell is tonight.  And next month, we leave this unit behind.  The black and gold, the horse, the incredible Soldiers that served along and protected my husband.  That sent him home.  Alive.  The women, who in my weakest moments, infused me with Army strength to keep going.  Who, in my most joyful moments, gave me increased happiness and kept me marching. 

As we leave the Cav, I leave a part of my self.  My blood. Sweat. Tears. Sacrifice.  I will forever feel a part of that Insignia, a part of their story.  Because that's what makes up that unit, that patch: the blood, sweat, and tears of all the Soldiers and their spouses who give so much, sacrifice so much, to keep this country free.  Those who fight on the front lines, drive vehicles into dangerous areas, those who come home in pieces and those who come home in boxes.  The wives, who are constantly vigilant, constantly praying, constantly fighting to keep it together at home.  Waiting.  Praying.  Sweating, bleeding, and sometimes crying.

My gratitude will ever be with the 1st Cavalry Division, for bringing my husband home.  For teaching me so much.  For being the family, the anchor, that always understood.  I will miss this unit, miss the women I waited along side.  My pride for the Army grew tenfold since September of 2010.  My pride for the 1st Cavalry left its abstractness, and became concrete.  I used to see the patch and wonder at their story.  Now, I'm part of their story. 

Forever part of the 1st Team. 

Thursday, April 05, 2012

I should have known.  I can't even look back on the pictures I took during that time.  So much time went by.  She was so tiny at the beginning and so big at the end.  It hurts my heart.  So, when I sat down to re-read journal entries from before and during the deployment, I should have known I would be boarding a roller coaster.  Should have known I'd be riding it when I read through the pages.  Pages and pages.  Of change. 

In me. 

I started out a timid, scared woman.  Oh, I played a good game--made myself look confident, like I didn't care what other people thought.  But, I cared deeply.  Too deeply sometimes.  I was incapable of speaking up for myself, for my family.  I often couldn't state my opinions or share my thoughts.  I didn't want to rock the boat.  I waffled with every decision I had to make, regardless of how inconsequential it might have been.  I was scared to death of change, of being without him.  That was before.

The year--it changed me.

Now, I am confident.  I am strong, resilient.  At times, I am even defiant.  I still care what other people think, but I care even more about what I think.  My family, my husband, my children are at the center of every thought, decision, choice I make. I will share my opinions, because they are worth hearing, worth having.  And I really don't mind rocking the boat--sometimes, it's fun to do it.  Like I said, I can be a little defiant.  The decisions I make are firm, strong, and carefully thought out.  I am not scared of change anymore.  Just very weary of it.

I hardly know that girl who was here before my Soldier deployed.  There is just a shell of her left.  I still have a little of that child-like joy, though it has been dampened.a bit. Jaded, maybe.  I still find joy in the little things, but with that comes a thread of melancholy.  Because I know it won't last.  That piece of joy, as with everything, will end.  I still am proud of my husband, but that is now a fierce pride.  It comes with a sense of constant awareness, waiting and preparing to strike anyone who will criticize or attack him.  And they do, occasionally.

So much positive came out of this adventure that is still concluding.  But, I see some aspects of my character I must also temper.  That quick defiance.  Looking at the negative in life with an attitude of resilience and disregard is one thing.  But when that attitude starts targeting loved ones, especially my Soldier, I know I must temper it.  Quickly.  That pride that feeds the fear that he will just leave again, that whispers in your mind not to trust him completely to save yourself from pain at the next good-bye.  Those are terrible things.  Natural reactions, possibly.  But so awful.  

We are still adjusting.  Still transitioning.  This deployment didn't last just a year.  So many people think life just clicks back into place once your Soldier is home.  It does not.  There is work to be done.  Always work to be done.  Learning to be a family again, learning to trust and to be open.  So painful to admit, but a good dose of humility will do me some good.

As always, the deployment will not win.  That's where I will direct my defiance, my pride.  Because my children, my family, my Soldier are worth fighting for.  Eventually, we will be "normal" again.  Having him home, leaning on him, opening up to him won't be hard.  It will be worth it.

And then, he'll probably be getting ready to leave again.  Charlie Mike.