Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Soldier's Wife

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette has put together a very thoughtful multi-media story that follows the family of an Arkansas National Guard soldier during his 15-month tour in Iraq. It's called The Soldier's Wife and it is referenced in two places on the blog sidebar. The photographs are very, very personal and say much about how much families must endure during a deployment.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday

I'm not sure when the media termed the biggest shopping day of the year as Black Friday. I don't remember that term when I was wandering the floors of the newsroom way back in my first career.

At any rate, 23 years ago today at eight minutes past Thanksgiving Day, our airborne trooper arrived in this world. Little did we know then.

In 1984 with Vietnam still fresh in our memories, I don't think we could have ever imagined the events of 9/11 and the wars that have followed. Or that we would ever have a son who went off to war.

But he his home now. And we are very grateful (and mindful of those who are still overseas).

So today he and his brothers are out doing their part to make sure retail sales are not so bleak. No Black Fridays here.

What do you give a soldier son who appears to have everything? This year it will be a hug and a "Thank God you are back!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Military Appreciation Day

Sunday was Military Appreciation Day at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. We were lucky enough to have a few tickets to see the Jaguars take on the San Diego Chargers. There was the requisite flyover by four A-10 Thunderbolts and lots of fireworks.

The featured hometown hero was a soldier from the 82nd Airborne who sent a video message to the fans and his family from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

At halftime, 125 young men and women took the oath of enlistment for all branches of service administered by a general officer from White Sands, New Mexico. After the oath, Phil Stacey, of American Idol fame and a sailor himself, sang "Proud to be an American." Needless to say, Gayle and I were a bit overwhelmed.

As part of the ceremony, fans in six sections in the north end zone (left hand side of the picture) where we were sitting were to hold up cards on cue that would form a giant American flag. The stunt would take all of 60 seconds.

But the seven folks in the row ahead of us couldn't be bothered. About halfway through the song they bolted for the concession stands.

Gayle and I were both a bit incensed. After all, these 125 men and women, this was an important day. They deserved more than a dash for food.

A woman behind us tapped Gayle on the shoulder.

"They just don't get it."

She was right.

Her husband is a helicopter pilot who had just returned from Tikrit.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Still smiling

It's been a very busy week. Lots of meetings with cranky folks still reeling from the effects of last week's new moon. Normally by Friday, I'd be a little cranky as well.

But as I sat down at the computer, I noticed my deployment countdown calendar gathering dust on the bookshelf. Hadn't touched it two weeks. No reason to. And I had to smile.

The smiles are tempered with the notion that there are still thousands upon thousands of sons and daughters still overseas and thousands more going. Our military support group meets tonight at a local restaurant. We will toast the sons who are home and pray for the those who are there, have just left or are going.

If there is an upside to all of this, it is the truly remarkable and courageous people we have met in the last two years. God bless them all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Coping strategy, number one

Getting through last 15 months with a son in Iraq wasn't easy. To help us get through it, we devised a couple of "coping" strategies to keep our minds off what we were seeing on TV. Here's the first one:
Her name is Olustee and she is a three-year old border collie (much younger in this picture). If you know anything about border collies, you know they are very busy dogs and not the best fit for everyone. But she is perfect for us. She is always eager for a romp in the yard. Because Gayle and I both work out of the house, we are always here and she is ready to play at a moment's notice. She is a great distraction.

Of course, when we got her, we were with the 99 percenters and the war was over there. She was the runt of an 11-pup litter and my oldest son has her sister, Bodie. Both dogs were so small when they arrived in Florida, we had to keep them in a covered pen for fear that they would fall prey to our neighborhood broad-winged hawk.

My airborne trooper is partial to our older pound puppy who never learned to play with people. She was two years old when we adopted her. She is very friendly malumute-German shepherd mix with a ferocious bark.

At any rate, whenever we felt a bit down, a thirty minute frisbee toss with Olustee would cheer up all concerned and we could move on.

Both dogs like to ride in trucks, especially new ones. But I don't think they were so lucky this time.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. There is a chorus of voices today across the country who will pause to say "Thank you" to those who are serving, those who will serve and those who have served before us. Please join that chorus today and thank a veteran for all they have done for us.

I've attached a link on the Recently Read sidebar called "Wounds of War." It's a story about three Red Falcon soldiers who were wounded in a mortar attack 13 months ago. It's a sobering reminder about the meaning of Veterans Day.

Economic boomlet

Fayetteville, N.C., home to the 82nd Airborne Division, has been on hard times because the entire division has been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq for the better part of a year. After all, Ft. Bragg is a $4.5 billion a year economic engine for the city.

But 3rd Brigade is back and the Red Falcons, 1-325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, arrived Nov. 3.

So after 15 months on deployment, an amazing display of penned up, restrained consumer desire of thousands of soldiers was unleashed on Fayetteville and points near by last week. The targets of opportunity? XBoxes, HD televisions, and, of course, the pick-up trucks. And who can blame them.

But for all of us parents who believed it was the care packages, letters, and thoughts of loved ones that helped get them through deployment, think again. .....It was the dream of a new pick up truck.

Truck of choice for our trooper: 2008, extended cab, 4X4, GMC Sierra 1500 with a Z71 package. It's big enough to carry him and his whole platoon. :)

Friday, November 9, 2007

To do, don't do lists

Everybody has to-do lists. But with the arrival of our airborne trooper back to the U.S., our daily to-do list has changed dramatically:

  • Don't have to keep a countdown calendar (On Oct. 31, the calendar showed he had 71, 63, 57 and 12 days to go based on what we had been hearing. In fact he had three days left);
  • Don't have to keep a clock set to Baghdad time;
  • Don't have to watch CNN;
  • Don't have to check about a dozen different Iraq websites;
  • Don't have to read Stars & Stripes or the Fayetteville Observor on a daily basis;
  • Don't have to write a daily letter or make a weekly video newsletter;
  • No more shopping for care packages;
  • No more manning the telephone seven days a week;
  • Don't have to check Baghdad weather (It was always hot);
  • No more cruising around Baghdad via Google Earth;
  • Don't have to compare Baghdad news stories with a Baghdad street map.

In short, we have a 12-month vacation ahead of us and we are much relieved.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Family get-togethers

Bravo, Delta and elements of HHC companies arriving at the Green Ramp on Saturday.

At Sports USA Sunday afternoon

To paraphrase an TV advertisement (I hate doing this, but it works):

Jacksonville Jaguar jerseys: $80

Beer, wings, onion rings, cheeseburgers, etc.: $85

First family get-together without a deployment in the future: priceless.

We have been fortunate to have several family gatherings in the past, but for the last two years there has always been the specter of an overseas deployment sitting in the room with us. Last year, before Mark's unit was scheduled to redeploy to the States, there had been persistent Joe rumors about being extended. When they finally arrived in the States, they had been here for six days when they were told they were heading back. Block leave was cut short and they took off on Jan. 4.

At least he was home for the holidays.

This year, no rumors. So we are allowing ourselves to relax and knowing he is going to be around for awhile.

But we know that for every ounce of euphoria we feel, there is a pound of anxiety being felt by a family whose son has been sent back overseas.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Boots on the ground

SPC Mark is on the ground and turning in equipment. Family status: Mom - jubilant; Dad - numb; Brothers - happy. SPC Mark is worn out, as expected.

Friday, November 2, 2007

More smiles to come

This was taken in June at Jacksonville International Airport when Mark was home for R&R. We are counting hours now.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween Ponte Vedra Style

I moved from Gloucester Point, Virginia to Jacksonville, Florida on Halloween 24 years ago. I had taken a job with The Florida Times-Union as a reporter and expected to be at the paper for three to five years on a career path that would have landed me with a national daily in Washington D.C. (glad that didn't happen).

When Gayle joined me two months later, we moved into a Ponte Vedra Beach neighborhood of squat, solid brick ranchers, home to many retired military. We were the new kids, part of a new wave that would transform the neighborhood.

By the time our airborne trooper was 10, our neighborhood was wall-to-wall with kids and Halloween was the event. Refugees from nearby gated communities would come here because it was the place to be.

About five years ago, the kids started disappearing. They had all grown up, gone to college or to work and some to war.

Last year only two trick-or-treaters showed up.

But a new wave appeared last night. About 50 assorted goblins, ghosts and their young parents came to the door. The kids were all younger than 10, including one in a stroller. The highlight was a well-spoken fairy princess, barely three years old.

When she came to the door, she stumbled and fell.

"Are you OK?"

"I'm fine," she said. "It happens all the time."

When she disappeared into the dark with her parents, she called out, "Bye, Big Man!"

Big Man indeed. Gayle and I laughed. Looking at my waist line, the fairy princess was dead on.

But this Halloween, the Big Man is somewhere over there sleeping in a cramped charter flight with his M203 and his assault pack or waiting for the next flight with 125 other Big Men.

Last Halloween, he was stuck in an irrigation ditch carrying a SAW gun, 1,000 rounds of ammo and a spare barrel. This Halloween, he is fiddling with his IPod on his way home.

What a difference a year makes.