A year ago this month my youngest son, often referred to as DangerBoy, deployed to Afghanistan. I was woefully unprepared for this emotionally, and the fact that I was a reluctant supporter of his decision to join the military made this deployment even more difficult. TheCop, an Army veteran himself, was equal parts proud of DangerBoy’s choice and envious of his deployment, with a shot of parental anxiety to boot. Once we knew he was going to be deployed, I became hyperaware of activities in the Middle East, and because my knowledge of the military way was practically non-existent, my mind was always ready to fill in the major gaps with visions of death and danger. Honestly, I was not down with this in any way, shape, or form, but I knew this deployment wasn’t about me — I just had to survive it on the home front.
He left on a Monday, in the wee early hours. And that was all we knew. The Army does a great job of standing by their “need to know” basis and, by the military definition, I had no need to know. As a mother, however, I was a basket case by Wednesday. The reality was that I now felt incredibly alone. I was quiet at work, I withdrew from social media, and I became wrapped up in my impossibly small world of waiting for any word that he was okay. By Friday morning, I felt finally able to write about it. Then I discovered how incredibly lucky I was. Friends created a Facebook community group and over 300 people posted pictures of themselves wearing red (red for Remember Everyone Deployed) each week to show their support for me and my son while he was overseas. I would go to conferences and people would be wearing red, specifically for me.
It broke me. And then it built me up.
Being part of the larger military family — even only somewhat tangentially — is eye opening. Because while our soldiers are deployed to serve our country, the families are left behind to, quite literally, hold down the fort. Young spouses raise children, manage households, all while their soldiers are gone. They create their own support network to make it easier on each other. They’re able to reconcile “need to know” is for the safety of the troops, and they accept and adjust. They live for the letters, phone calls, and occasional Skype conversations that are few and far between, and when those times come, they always — without fail — show love, strength, and support so their soldier does not have to worry about the home front, but can focus on the job at hand. I think that is a huge task, and am reminded time and time again that with support, in any form, all things are possible. When soldiers return home, especially from a war zone, it is a celebration of pride, tears, excitement, and relief. And perhaps still more tears.
Last week, my nephew Marcus deployed to Afghanistan for the second time (it’s like there’s some rule that one of our kids has to be over there at any given point). Marcus is leaving his wife and two kids to serve overseas and while he’s gone, she and the boys are moving up to New Jersey to live with his parents so they can all be together while he’s away. The first time Marcus was deployed, I was a craptastic family supporter. I thought about him a lot and kept him in my prayers, but I didn’t write letters like I should, didn’t send care packages. In fact, most people who know me had no idea my nephew was serving. This time, I intend to fix that. This time, I am resurrecting my wearing red on Fridays routine, posting weekly, and I encourage you to do the same. If I’ve learned anything from DangerBoy’s deployment, it’s that the kindness and support of family and friends makes all the difference in the world.
Love you, Marcus. Here’s to welcoming you home with the rest of the family in a year.