Epilogue

I am a huge advocate for the one percent of our citizens who volunteer to be in the military.  My deployment has been more than a swell of appreciation and a truly enlightening understanding of what deployment is like.  Living and seeing first hand…not through theory or academic exposure…gave me a deep understanding of the impact and cost of “dropping warheads” by the Airmen who do it day-in and day-out…even from the “safety” of where I was deployed.  The brotherhood and alliance that comes with those you deploy with is a powerful solidarity that is unmatched to any experience I’ve ever had.

Version 2It has been the honor to wear the uniform.  On base, people often told me it “was cool” or “awesome” that I wore the uniform. Yes, I did volunteer and yes I did chose to wear the uniform, but it was all done with the greatest respect for those who serve…and I served with.  Over there, where the mission to fly and fight is waged, you understand fully why we training, and why we must have engaged subject matter experts and leaders, and how any vulnerability is magnified and impacts the capability to execute the mission.  And, when you take a moment and step back to reflect, you realize what you experienced and had the privilege to be a part of was “the military machine” in action:  working, supporting and doing what our military do best….working as a synchronized team.  To have been a part of it “out there” is my capstone experience as a devoted civil servant to our military community.  I am absolutely humbled by the amazing men and women who serve our country.

And I am also forever grateful to two amazing Airmen who encouraged and believed in me and my ability to serve in the capacity as Deputy Commander to a deployed squadron.  Thank you.  Thank you to my former boss and forever friend.  I carried you with me in so many ways.  You were a part of the internal dialogues I had with myself as I pressed forward and into my deployed service.  You readied me to understand that deployment would stretch me in ways I would not have anticipated, that “being me” would help all our Airmen (which I truly didn’t understand at the time), and to allow my “heart, head and soul” be my compass in the rapid fire/make a decision deployed environment.  You are and always be the wind under my wings and a cherished friend.  Joe&MeAnd to my Commander in that undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, thank you for your trust in me, your leadership and friendship.  Hayesman was right on target…serving as your deputy and trusted and forever loyal Airman was the right thing at the right time. I have tried to express the gratitude and appreciation for you and our expeditionary work together. When you get back to “the other side,” know our friendship will always be enduring. Thank you my Wingman….my friend.

Deployment is not an individual experience; my blog is my perspective.  I served with folks who deploy about every 2 years…or less!  They leave behind their children and spouses, aging parents and friends.  They willingly accept their service and take each deployment as another experience in their service to our country.  Some military married to military try to deconflict their deployment cycles, but sometimes they overlap, like the 21 year hold Senior Airman who worked for me.  Her husband deployed as well so their one-year old stayed with her sister.  These Airman missed Thanksgiving and Christmas, birthdays and life milestones.  Their sacrifice and their families sacrifice should leave every one of us humble and grateful.

I’m fortunate that I have been trained and educated about the deployment cycle and the impact on deployed members and their families.  It certainly prepared me and helped me navigate the journey.  What training can’t provide is the full appreciation of how absolutely every level of you and your family is touched by deployment.  I tried to share here the challenges and experiences I faced when deployed, reunion and all the emotions leading up to and being in the “honeymoon” period of being home. This blog has been my therapy….a way to ground my thoughts and feelings, wrestle with them, accept and deal with them.  I also hope that this blog has provide you with a window into a world…a world that was safe and unlike the many who serve at “boots on the ground” locations which are truly in harms way.  May my experience provide you with a lens to look through when contemplating and trying to understand the significance and consequences that come from when our countries leaders and citizens advocate to leverage and dispose military forces and the “who” who execute those orders…military members and their families.  Planes don’t fly without people to fly them…it’s done by the  uniformed personnel who put themselves in harms way and leave behind families and loved ones.

What my blog couldn’t speak to is what it was like for Mac…for Morgan (Caitlin) and Liam, for my mother, brothers and sister-in-laws, for my friends, my church-family, and work-family.  The ripple effect (or, as we say in the military, the second and third orders of effect) of deployment is unmeasurable.  I felt it when I was away and I feel it and see it now and will likely continue to in the many days, weeks and months ahead of me. How grateful and blessed I am to have my loving, supportive and understanding family who embraced my deployment and were there when I reached-back and reached-in to check on me.  How grateful and blessed I am to have my dear friends whose cards and “text chats” were buoys of support.  And how fortunate I am to have supportive colleagues who held me with them and a church-family whose thoughts and prayers made it to me across the thousands of miles.  Thank you to all, for your positive energy and love which continues to fill me up.

But all of this would have been fiction…because there is no way I could have volunteered and taken on the challenge of deployment without Mac.  You are my life partner, my anchor, my sailboat.  Your unconditional support, love and friendship is my strength and my endurance.  You are my home and my nourishment and I am so blessed to have you as the foundation of my life.

~~~~~~

As is the greeting in the country I left, “Peace be with You.”

Version 3

Home!

There were over 150 of us leaving on the chartered flight from my undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.  It took 40 hours to get home…and I’m home!

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The way the redeployment process goes is you report to an assembly location four hours before your flight is scheduled to depart.  As folks report it is almost festive….everyone there is going home.  Your Commander and other leaders are there to say good-bye and wish folks well.  Our squadron had a big group, those scheduled to redeploy at that time and a group of us who stayed on a few extra weeks to help the new rotation get off to a positive start.  Once report time is reached, all unauthorized people have to leave, you are in locked-down and roll-call is conducted to ensure the names on the manifest match those present and accounted for.  Well, my name wasn’t called (along with 3 other “extenders” from my squadron and several others).  So, instead of staying in the locked-down location, hanging out, getting released to get food, etc., myself and all the others “not on the manifest” out-processed (paperwork and stamps clearing you from the base) and quickly jumped in the bus that brought us out to the flight line and our plane.  We were the baggage detail!  For those of you who have never deployed, this is like a “self-help” project….all the bags are collected the night before departure, loaded by those redeploying into a container truck and then brought out to the flight line with airplane.  Our job…unload the container, get the bags on the conveyor belt, and load them in the cargo hold of the chartered Boeing 767.

It was a classic day, hot and luckily with a bit of a breeze.  There we were, out in the middle of a desert on a ramp to the runway, with our uniform blouses laying over our “72 hour” carry on bags (pillows, etc) resting on the side of the ramp.  We were dressed-down to our T-shirts and ready for work.  None of us complained…we were going home and, in a way, grateful not to be sitting and waiting for our flight.  For me, this was perfect!  I volunteered to be here and I’m redeploying just like the rest of those who wear the uniform and don’t have that choice. A lot of bags…with a lot of weight…in the desert sun with respite under the shade of the wing.  It took well over an hour and a half to load up the bags.  While we worked (and sweat), we watched fighter jets take off, and you could look back at the hangers on MOTown and see the business of getting ready for missions. It was just perfect…this was how to end it.  (The bag-detail got the first seats on the plane…we spread out and waited for everyone else to arrive.)

So my strategy to long travel and significant changes in time zones is don’t sleep before and during travel (learned when we lived in Guam).  I didn’t go to bed until after 1am the night before (waking up at 5:30am), finishing last minute items to help my replacement hit the ground sprinting.  I did my “vertigo thing” as my Commander called it (since I’m a Virgo and everything needs order), making sure everything was e-filed, finalizing documents with helpful links, notes and explanations, and double e-filing.  Turnover with your replacement is like having to transfer tons of cargo from your sailboat to theirs in a raging storm and with a hard-fast deadline that you’ve got to fall-out of the race.  For my replacement, he’s in that storm, revisiting the tied down cargo full of info and stuff to keep sailing the boat…and he can’t capsize; it’s all about the mission.

For me, I sailed out of the storm into calm waters, looking back over my shoulder at the clouds but with my eye on the horizon…home…my family…yes, home.

GermanyAir

A “layover” in Germany gave a bit of time with my team of folks before we scattered in different directions.  Our landing in BWI was after midnight.  I got to see a reunion of one of our SNCOs who lives in the area.  Her daughter jumping up and down when she got sight of her…the embraces, the joy; it’s what coming home is all about. The beauty of my “here and now” survival mode was taking in all of it…every step of the way…from throwing bags, to using my time on the plane to transition, to watching this large group of our Airman warriors collect their bags at baggage claim, to letting go of where and what I left (not the who!) and travel to where I was heading….home.

We scattered….those from my squadron and folks you worked with in the desert.  There were hugs, hand shakes and things said like “it’s a small Air Force….I’ll see you again” or “it was great to know you” and, of course, “good luck.”  I checked into a hotel to take a long, hot shower and catch (literally) a few hours of sleep; woke up, did a short abs workout, got in my uniform, and repacked my bags to lighten the load of my carry-on.  It didn’t need 72 hours of clothing and supplies anymore…I had one more flight and I was home.

As I sat waiting at the gate I watched the busy travelers darting here and there.  I was like watching a movie…I wasn’t quite in it but I knew the flight up to Boston was my portal back to my life.  My headphones played songs that flooded me with memories and love for Mac and our times as a family together.  Occasionally, tears would swell in my eyes.  No words can describe the feelings I had as I watched folks moving about, or taking to a colleague they were traveling with, or working on their computer.  They had no idea what was going on with and in me.  Even though I sat there in my uniform, I was invisible.

Boarded….got my seat…felt the take-off. The turbulence of the flight cancelled cabin service and I thought…perfect!  This is the tension between the world I left and reentering my world.  The touch-down, screech of the tires on the runway, taxi and slow roll to the gate was my last transition.  When the doors open and I deplane, I’m home.

While landing and taxiing, I played the Billy Joel song “Your My Home” and the lyrics repeated in my mind as everyone wrestled for their carry-ons and the isle to exit (still invisible).

When you touch my weary head
And you tell me everything will be all right
You say, “Use my body for your bed
And my love will keep you warm throughout the night”
Well I’ll never be a stranger and I’ll never be alone
Whenever we’re together, that’s my home

Me&Mac

I know my heart rate was up as I waited in the isle and it rose as I finally started to depart the plane.  When I could see the gate door to the terminal, there was Mac!  Good thing no one was in the way cause he would have knocked them over to get to me; I would have done the same.

No words can describe the feeling of that embrace….nope, no words.  

Then there was Morgan who enveloped me with his size and hug…and then Caitlin.  And that’s when I realized that the Hanscom folks were there at the gate.  I lost my breath…. No words can describe the feelings, seeing my colleagues and friends who greeted to welcomed me home.

Balloons…flowers….hugs…greetings.  A walk to baggage claim, “see you Monday” and out to the car with Mac, Morgan and Caitlin.  I’m home.

We pulled into the driveway and I waited near the car for Jack to come out and see me.  He hesitantly approached, rolled on his back for a belly rub, still seeming unsure.  And then he stood up, stuck his nose right into the top of my boot and pant leg and the recognition was obvious; body tail wag…hip check against my leg for a side rub…attempts to “jump up”.  I’m home.

The three of us spent a lovely day together.  I think I was like a little kid trying to share experiences and stories.  It took me probably an hour to get out of my uniform.  Mac said “get changed and get comfortable.”  I remember thinking, but I am comfortable.  When got changed, took off my uniform I realized that I needed to do that.  Be in the “here and now”…be home!

I’ve been home now for 4-1/2 days, easing back, laying low with Mac and seeing and feeling things that are home:  dog hair (everywhere!); Mac’s home cooked meals; walks with the dog; my bed (oh so comfortable) and with my guy….and Billy Joel keeps singing in my head.

If I travel all my life
And I never get to stop and settle down
Long as I have you by my side
There’s a roof above and good walls all around
You’re my castle, you’re my cabin and my instant pleasure dome
I need you in my house ’cause you’re my home.
You’re my home.

 

I’m home!

WelcomeHome

Three’s A Charm

So my deployment is coming to an end;  I go home very soon.  In a way it’s very disorienting.  The long days/short weeks and the intensity of everything you do here makes it feel like a blink…like it went so quickly.  But then when you see the newly deployed folks walking around with  a look of confusion, (recognizable because that’s how I felt 6 months ago), it feels like a life time ago I arrived.  I know we all feel that way from time to time, “like it was just yesterday” when it was a few months or more…but this is strikingly different.

It’s like the feeling I have getting ready to go….gleefully excited.  Hearing a song and thinking of Mac and my boys (a time we would be singing it while making dinner or in the car on some driving adventure) makes me tingle thinking of going home.  And then, I return to here…that “here and now” coping mechanism and I feel sadness and loss.  You put every essence of your being into everything you do here…that’s why I’m here; that’s why I volunteered.  And you do it with a ferocity that is so intense and connected to the mission and the people.  I feel like I’m letting “my people” down because it’s time to go home.  I navigate these last days with my Commander and my Chief and think, I’m leaving my Wolfpack….how can I do that?

FrontDoor

It’s a world of contrasts. The perception of time…the juxtaposition of emotions…the contradiction of this deployed location which is stark, austere and remote.  Then you get in a car, drive through 3 military gates, down a highway for 40 minutes and you are at the most stunning architectural beauty and symbol of peace, the Grand Mosque. That’s the visual that reflects the contrast of worlds.

I tear-up leaving my brothers-in-arms, who are so much more to me then co-workers. I feel “separation angst” when I think about saying good-bye to my team of amazing Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (SNCOs)…I’ve had their backs and they’ve had mine for six intense months.  I’m leaving.

GrandMosqueCourtyard

And I start to cry with joy as I imagine seeing Mac, Morgan and Caitlin at my arrival gate at Logan.  …..          I can let my guard down (now), and imagine being back home and being back in my life. I’m going home.

I’ve got three legs of this journey to get me home and each time the wheels of the plane screech as they hit the runway and eventually come to a slow roll and stop…I will too. I will practice each landing to let go and slow down knowing the wind under my wings is my amazing Wolfpack and men and women I had the honor and pleasure to serve with.

Three takes-offs and three landings.  Three’s a charm…I am ready to go home.

Hello from the Other Side

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By the time I post this I’ll have been away for 175 days…eight days shy of “One 83”, the name of this blog (and how long I was to deploy).  I should be home in 210 days.  In some ways it feels like a blink and in other ways I feel like it was a life time ago that I climbed into bed and curled up with Mac wondering what was in store for me….what did I sign up for?

A theme song around here is “Hello” by Adele.  Every time you hear “hello”…it’s the first thing that comes to your mind…. “hello from the other side.”  But really, when we call home and say “hello it’s me,” we may be calling from the other side but we are saying “hello from the outside”… outside of our personal worlds, the world we get to go back to soon.

Folks have started to arrive and depart.  When I see the bags for those who are leaving on the collection pad outside my office door, I get an excited twinge knowing that will be me soon.

As the  winds of “personnel rotation” really start to blow, I’m leaning-in to gales and trying to have the good work we have done here be repeatable and sustainable….to be lasting and carried on, not to be swept away from the rotational swap-out and the desert winds. I took the charge to “leave it better than you found it.”  And as it’s time for me to “leave it,” I do so leaning-in and pressing towards getting my bag out to the pad and boarding a plane to go home.

Thirty five days and I should be on the other side…and when I hear Adele sing “hello from the outside”….she’ll be singing to me.  I’ll be outside this world; this intense world that I will carry with me as I deliberately return back to my world.

I’m ready…in an excited and energetic and happy way, I am ready to go home!

So….hello from the other side…I’m coming home soon.

The Red Line

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Six plus months is a long time.  When your at home, 6 months goes by day by day in a way that is measured and marked by daily life routines and experiences….commutes that take 2 hours, weekly/monthly/quarterly meetings at work, the building and ebbing piles of mail at home, planning a comfort food dinner, going to church and all the volunteer work….it’s ticks by with little notice.  Your iCalendar reminds you it’s time to give Jack his heart worm med, or your dental cleaning appointment is coming up, and you say to yourself “really, has it been that long?”  There are anticipatory events like holidays, a concert, Liam coming home from school and then going back again, a snow storm, a birthday….these all fill your days and weeks in a manner where the passage of time is measured and somewhat predictable and, in a way, comforting.

And change happens through that measured “time lapse”. People get married, friends move away, babies are born, folks change jobs and new people are in your office, someone you know and care about loses a loved one, the Patriots lose the play-offs…and you share these changes in that measured pace.  You feel, you notice, you celebrate and you grieve the changes.  You experience them within your world and your support network and, although sometimes they may have occurred suddenly, you navigate that change in measured time and with support.

Out here, its another universe.  This is Interstellar.  (For those who have not seen the movie, it’s about group of explorers that must travel beyond our solar system in search of a planet.  Their travel has them going through “worm holes” and landing on planets and all the while, time for them is completely warped from home on earth.) …… Here I am, away in this world where, as I’ve tried to explain before, has it’s own time altering experience.  I’ve been so focused on “the here and now”, really a very important coping skill for a deployer, that taking in the changes at home have been like looking out the window in a fast moving subway…flashing glimpses of things that are happening.  It reminds me of an advertisement on the Red Line leading into Boston.  The advertiser put up posters and the flashing imagines became a moving message over a stretch in the tunnel.

This week, I just realized I’ve been riding the Red Line and, snap, I see the advertisement…that story line behind those flashing images…realizing that the message, the story line, is my life…it’s my world at home in those flashing images. They are my family, my friends, my experiences I would have shared if I were there.  And those images and those changes…they are real.

So back to Interstellar, that’s where I am…in that alternate dimension of time, looking back on my life, my world (that world that grounds me), and I’m watching it change with a feeling of being unable to have influence, or impact.  Why now?  Why is it that my train ride through this tunnel is showing an advertisement of my life…now?

It is likely because on Friday Liam started off on an awesome adventure to New Zealand for a semester abroad. He has been wonderful, sending text messages and providing updates along his many flights to Christchurch.  And I wasn’t there.  Instead, I’m looking in from my deployment-world and hearing about how Mac helped him get prepared and packed, likely shared last meals.  He took Liam shopping for a good duffle a week or so back and they likely shared more “last time for this/last time to do that;” it makes the starting point of his adventure.  So Friday, Mac got him off at the airport…in a rush to get him there…and our “baby bird” really left the nest.  Mac goes home by himself, without me.  I missed and imagine the experience we would have had together…that feeling you have as a parent when your kid makes a wonderful leap into life.  I’m just looking and seeing the jerky images flashing by in my life…out here.

I’m looking in….and feeling the loss of a very dear friend moving on, not being able to say good-bye in person or give him a hug and tell him face-to-face that I so cherish that our paths have crossed and will stay “soul-friends.”  He won’t be there when I get home.

I’m looking in….at my Church community, that I care for and that cares for me, go through changes and struggles and victories and good work and the departure of members…a changing fabric to a community that, if I were there, I would experience in the fullness of that journey.

From here, it’s the flashing images of my life’s changes without the experience of living it.  From here, I’m watching the Red Line advertisement from another place, and suddenly, it just really hit me that that is my life going by in the flashing imagines…and it will be until I come home.

In Interstellar, the main character, Cooper, looks in and watches from another time dimension.  You cry with him and feel the emotional wave of having no influence to change the events he is seeing.  No worries all, that’s what I say in my head as well.  What I’m experiencing now are emotions that I need to.  It’s easy to “check out” and push it all off….we have a mission to do and I have many people counting on me in the “big picture” as well as the person-to-person level as a leader…as a mentor.  The parallel to Cooper though holds….I know I will have much to adjust to when I get home. And it’s OK to feel the way I feel…and sharing it connects me to my life.

 

My Walk through Lives and Worlds

IMG_2149Every morning on my way the the Dining Hall, and many other times during the day, I walk through The Camel Campus.   The Camel is our open air common area that has a large open air pavilion and several smaller sunshade canopies. The campus is filled with tables and chairs, the large pavilion has a stage where we host concerts and all sorts of programs and events. This time of year it is lovely outside. The mornings are cool and a bit damp, days warm with a breeze…not hot at all, and evenings are pleasantly cool.  Even in the hotter earlier months of my deployment, people are out at The Camel.  (It’s actually cool enough under the pavilion and sunshade because there are these  “Big Ass Fans”….that is exactly what they are called….40 ft diameter ceiling fans that really do cool things down.)

The Camel is the place where folks cluster in groups chatting…night shift workers having a beer at 7am before heading off to bed.  Lunch time groups of people are sharing a meal and evenings are filled with board and card games and many out socializing over a few beverages (a maximum of 3 only though!).  It’s where you go…to be together or to be alone….or to be somewhere else.

Walking through the Camel Campus is like walking through many lives and worlds.  People are on the phone doing FaceTime Audio or video or Skype talking to loved ones and friends.  In a two minute stroller, I hear parents talking with kids about homework or how “mommy ran the 5K today”…spouses talking about bank accounts and explaining a charge on their credit card…someone negotiating their new lawn contract and another saying the cost to repair the car is too much.  And you always catch someone sharing how many days they have left here and what they want to do when they get home.  All of these lives…independently connecting back to the world outside of where we are deployed.  Friendships maintained, relationships strained and strengthen…all connected by Wi-Fi but none connected with each other, at least not in that moment, or minute, or 1/2 hour.

And then they hang up, or close their iPad or laptop.  You always see that “pause.”  That delay that helps you reflect on the moment and person you just left.  That pregnant moment when you realize that you’re still here, that you can share and exchange information and words and love, but not the experience of being here.

I cherish my walk through The Camel and I always feel that wonder and amazement of how a short stroll takes me through so many lives and worlds of so many people.

Grateful to be Still in My Boots!

Stockings

It’s hard to believe I have been here three months, it’s flown by and it’s been very rewarding work.

Our squadron’s mission is to serve, sustain and support…..All Day, Every Day as our bumper sticker says.  As you can imagine, starting with Thanksgiving and right through to New Year’s, what we do is so important to those we are supporting. I came here ready to navigate the holidays without my family…without my joy of cooking and serving the holiday meals…without sharing time with extended family….without attending Christmas Eve church service.  No picking out that Christmas tree that say “take me home.” No Yule Log on the TV Christmas Eve while trimming the tree and eating and drinking…plenty.  I deployed here ready to stay “emotionally neutral” …. keeping the “missing” and “loneliness” at bay.  I still missed my family, but the joy of the holidays filled me like I couldn’t have imagined and prepared myself for.

When your goal is to provide respite from the stress and work of performing a mission. When you are able to bring folks pleasure, make them feel connected, share time together and be thankful….and thousands do…WOW! It was truly as “magical” as the season can be.  We didn’t need endless weeks of holiday music, or decorations up starting the day after Thanksgiving.  A few days before Christmas, you started to see stockings hung over railings, holiday BBQs by squadrons and units, folks in santa suits…all in great contrast to our desert base with nothing on the horizon but brown sand.

I strive at home to be grateful for all the love and wealth of family and friends I have, to be giving and supporting.  I was thrilled I could send money to my church so that two of my church friends could go shopping on my behalf for a family in need.  I again received a gift of a lama or ox though Heifer International.  There is little “I want” and little “I need”.  But being here…in my remote, undisclosed location, where everyone has volunteered to serve and be away from their families…all of my goodwill for the season now seems less selfless.  You truly know the meaning of “grateful”…and “giving”…and “counting your blessing” when your deployed.

I’m rambling I know, but it’s because of this experience.  I raised my hand to be here…specifically to be here during the holidays. I wanted to do my best to help our military members, who deploy more than is fair or reasonable.  I wanted to help them feel a bit less lonely and to be able to shift their longing to be home to an enjoyment of being in this moment…in this place, with this “deployed family or community”.   And they did.  And I am so grateful to be here to help bring that to them and feel it myself.

I’ll never forget Thanksgiving and Christmas 2015 or where I was on New Year’s Eve.  And I wonder how the holiday seasons of the future will be and feel like after the privilege of being here.

What I do know is that we must all wish for and pray for peace.  My job here and the role it serves needs to end.

~ Wishing for Peace in the New Year and beyond ~