The world has become a very cynical place. It has become so prevalent in my own life and in my career field that I have become convinced that along with a score of 107 or higher in the General-Technical section of the ASVAB and the ability to type 20 words per minute, cynicism is an additional requirement to enter into Army public affairs.
And it was with this same cynicism that I would speak of the “Army family.” And I don’t believe I’m the only one. I think the notion has turned into a punchline. A mention of the Army as a family at any dining facility, office space or motor pool might elicit at least one eye roll.
But in this time when people are enjoying time with their biological families, I have a renewed appreciation and faith in my Army family. Our Army family.
It all started when I was alone, driving down U.S. Highway 190 on my way to Scott & White Hospital in Temple on Oct. 23, 2014.
I’ll never forget that drive. It was then that the numbness first set in. A numbness I’ve become accustomed to, the heart’s defense mechanism when the pain is too intense to bear.
My husband of five years, best friend and soul mate of almost 10 years, was not doing well at all, and the nurses and hospital staff had called me to get there as soon as I could.
The staff met me at the elevators (never a good sign) and took me up to the intensive care ward. As we approached the room, all sorts of machines and monitors were being wheeled out of his room, and that’s when they told me.
A 46-year-old man. A husband. A father. A son. A brother. A nephew. A friend. A veteran. My rock was gone, and all I wanted to do was go with him.
And it was in this moment of helpless despair when I felt I couldn’t be more alone that my family — to include my Army family — sprang to action.
All activity in my office grinded to a halt. My soldier came to watch my kids. My noncommissioned officer in charge immediately completed the requirements to be my CARE team manager. My officer in charge showed up at the hospital along with the chaplain and sat with me.
At no time was I alone or without support.
The 1st Cavalry Division was my immediate Army family, but battle buddies from as far away as California, New York, Alaska and even Belgium rallied around me.
It felt like a matter of hours from notification that Sam had passed away, and people were bringing cards and food and condolences to my house.
The battalion even solicited for volunteers to help me and my kids move. I had no idea who or how many people were coming, but the day we moved, I was overwhelmed with First Team soldiers and family members all come to help.
At a time when all I wanted to do was lie down and die, my Army family picked me up.
I don’t say all this to brag. I say all this to serve as an eye-opener that although the Army is one big, dysfunctional family — we bicker and squabble; we fuss and fight; we don’t always get along; it’s not always hugs and kisses and kumbaya — but when one of us is in need, we are there.
And here we are — more than year later. The loss of my husband is still a painful wound that aches more than words can express. I still have days when I can’t do much more than cry. I still struggle to help my children understand and put words to what it is they are feeling. I still die inside a little every time my 2-year-old looks up at me and says, “Daddy’s not here. Daddy’s in heaven.”
People often remark about how strong they think I am, and how they have no idea how I’m holding it all together.
Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret.
I’ve got one heck of a support system. I’ve got brothers and sisters across the globe. We didn’t grow up in the same household, and we don’t have a single relative in common. We didn’t fight over toys as kids or squabble over whose turn it was to wash the dishes.
We share something thicker than blood. We share a commitment to each other — a loyalty — an oath — a creed.
And on those days — those unpredictable days — when the burden on my heart has become more than I can handle, I can and do turn, without hesitation, to my fellow soldiers to my left and to my right and find a welcoming shoulder there on which I can lean.
So all cynicism aside, when I say, lean on your Army family, I mean it. We got your back.