I can’t begin to describe the feeling of being a soldier deployed for a year to a war-torn country while his wife and kids try to manage things — mainly by themselves — back home.
Brandy, my wife, is pregnant now and has her hands full with taking care of a 2-year-old whose fits are getting to be in the “legendary” category. Brandy runs the household, which also includes two dogs, a cat, and most recently, a kitten that popped up on our back porch the other day.
Brandy calls me regularly:
“Please pick up a can of spaghetti sauce on your way home.”
“Daisy (our daughter) is running a fever.”
“Please mow the grass this weekend.”
It’s all part of being a husband, which I can imagine is pretty hard to do for a soldier deployed to the other side of the world. When politicians and the like talk about the “sacrifices” that our military members make, it really should be noted that sacrificing quality family time and family needs is at or near the top of the list.
In my time in the Army, it was a different era — in between the Gulf War and the War on Terror. Units didn’t deploy much, and the only time I heard the term “downrange” was when we were actually downrange on one of the many firing ranges at Fort Hood.
Still, my unit did get called up to deploy for Operation Intrinsic Action in 1995 after some of Saddam Hussein’s generals defected to Jordan and threatened to reveal some of his “military secrets.” Hussein positioned troops along the border, threatening to attack Kuwait again.
On our way to Kuwait, we shook hands with some politician whom I didn’t know as we boarded the plane. We were there for three months, and not much happened other than some training with the Kuwaiti army, and we got to pop off a few live rounds in our Abrams battle tanks at some old, destroyed vehicles still there from the Gulf War.
When we came back, and the buses dropped us off at Fort Hood, it was an emotional experience, but especially emotional for the guys who had wives and kids.
In his book, “Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community,” Kenneth MacLeish describes deployments and homecomings as one of the most impactful things to happen regularly on post.
“They are a bureaucratic roll call combined with either a prolonged, devastating farewell or a quick, joyful reunion,” he wrote. He went on to describe the events as full of “intensity that define the collective experience of absence, anxiety, separation, strained attachment, the stone-faced inhumanity of the war apparatus, and the extravagantly painful human frailty of the people caught up in it.”
I remember all too well being a single soldier when I returned from deployment. I didn’t have a wife there to kiss. I didn’t have children there to pick up and hug. That’s the life of a single soldier, I suppose.
Nowadays, though, I hear that the many family readiness groups on Fort Hood try to make homecomings nice for single soldiers, too. They buy new sheets, pillows, goodie bags and other things for the soldiers, placing the items in the barracks before the soldiers return.
That’s a fantastic effort by those family readiness groups, but no matter the items, it can’t match the emotional impact of a soldier seeing his wife and kids after a year of deployment.
And for the single soldiers who see those reunions, it gets them thinking about marriage, perhaps earlier than they might otherwise.
Don’t get me wrong, homecomings are nice no matter what, but a homecoming that includes the wife and kids with open arms … well, there’s just no comparing that.
Or so I imagine.
Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker, is the city editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at email@example.com or (254) 501-7468.