Today’s Soldier Story Saturday is written by Lisha Fink. Lisha is the mother of 3 boys, the wife to a retired National Guardsman, a blogger and like most Moms wears many more hats than I can list here! (Click here to visit Lisha’s blog, The Lucky Mom.) In this post, Lisha gives us a glimpse into what it is like to endure the deployment of a family member. Her husband, LTC Robert Fink was in the Louisiana National Guard when he was deployed from October 2008-October 2009. He volunteered for the deployment with a unit from the Delaware National Guard, the 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade (TTSB), who needed an officer with his skills. During the deployment their 3 sons, Kevin, Charles, and Brian, were 16, 13, and 8. For his contribution to the mission he was awarded The Bronze Star. (The Bronze Star is the fourth highest combat ward given by the US military.) Here is Lisha’s story.
The public sees the beginning and the end.
At the beginning, the TV cameras are scattered among teary families. Husbands patting pregnant bellies and wives clinging to the necks of their mates. Nervous mothers and fathers proudly holding posters of their sons and daughters in uniform. Marching bands and dignitaries are there to send the unit off with a patriotic bang. For the families, there is a conflicting swell of pride, fear, and apprehension. For the soldier, there’s a clash of duty, responsibility and anxiety. For all, there is sadness.
At the end, there’s a joyful reunion. The reunion with my husband took place at an Army base in New Jersey, far from my home in south Louisiana. Hundreds of anxious families were gathered, waiting for a bus that brought our loved ones home from Iraq via Bangor, Maine. Again there were cameras filming the blissful reunions, and dignitaries making speeches for the world to see.
But the hardest part of a deployment – the part no one sees – is the part I call The Middle.
After the buzz of the send-off has died, and the stories of the departure ceremony no longer on the news, the reality of a deployment sets in for a military family. Each person takes on new roles and responsibilities to fill the void left by the deployed solider. It takes time to adjust to the new reality. It takes a toll on all.
In a letter to another Army wife a few months after my husband’s deployment ended, I described The Middle:
“The first half of the deployment I had all of the strength I could muster. I kept my chin up, my attitude positive, moving forward. But after a certain point, I just got tired of being positive. Tired of saying ‘Fine.’ when others asked how I was doing. Tired of the fake smile and the pretense of energy. All I wanted was restful sleep, with my soul mate next to me. The middle was the hardest part. The memory of ‘before’ was fading, and the ‘after’ was still too far away to get excited about.”
The Middle seemed to last forever.
For the rest of the world, time continued at a regular pace. But as the wife of a deployed soldier, the tick of every second of every day resonated through my body like an aftershock. And the more I counted the days, the slower they went.
For my husband, time in the ‘real world’ was standing still, like going on vacation and expecting everything to be where you left it when you come back. He didn’t have a grasp on the changes we were all going through, many of which would turn out to be permanent.
On both sides of the world, my family was learning to cope with a new, albeit temporary, reality.
We took advantage of all the technology at our disposal to keep in touch. Having Dad on the laptop screen via Skype on Christmas morning wasn’t at all the same as having him physically present, but we felt blessed to have it. We clung to every piece of each other we could while the days slowly ticked by. The “Daddy doll” the Army sent my boys followed us on vacation, had his own seat at holiday tables, and provided us with a surrogate to hug, talk to, and (for me) occasionally yell at.
And eventually time did pass. The days turned to weeks, the weeks to months. The Middle soon ended, and the end finally approached.
And again there were cameras, and dignitaries, and tears.
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