Friday, August 19, 2011

Five Questions-- My Battle Buddy

Rebecca is my battle buddy. We first met because my husband and her husband were roommates in Korea, and when they came home they both ended up at Fort Carson. So G says "you should meet his wife; you'd get along great". When Rebecca said she'd like to try out a church and would I like to go, I think "I'm not sure we will get along at all...I was thinking coffee or something.". My mental image is of this quiet, meek, perhaps goody-goody woman.

Looking back on that mental image now, I laugh. I laugh and laugh because Rebecca is not quiet, is not meek, and has been one of my best and dearest friends through so many changes and Army issues I can't even begin to describe them here.

1. What are five things you know now about military life that you wish someone had told you?

A. Tip the bagger.

B. Goodbye hurts ten times more than you ever thought possible.

C. Welcome home, ten times sweeter.

D. There is no right way, just the way that works for you.

E. Choose your friends wisely, and your enemies even more so, the Army is a very small world.

2. What is the most important thing you'd like to tell new spouses?

What would I tell a new spouse? This is a really tough question. I am from the old school, new spouses are not. I would tell them the Army is not just another job, it is a lifestyle. One filled with traditions, honor and respect. You may not have married the Army, you may not be in the Army but you are part of the Army family, like it or not. And as such I, and others, expect a certain amount of maturity, independence and honor. If you come in with a chip on your shoulder, lots to prove and you already know the way…..go for it, when you fall I will be there. The Army world is one that takes grace, patience and a lot of wrong turns before you find your way….and once you do….someone will change the map. And for GOSH sake you represent us all -- when you are in public PLEASE get dressed, comb your hair, and smell decent!

3. What do you love the most?

What do I love the most….for simple questions the answers sure are complex. I love that I have a multi-faceted life. I love how I can be so many otherwise not compatible people. I am the traditional, true blue Army wife. I love the traditions, I feel we both earn that rank, we represent a nation, I have a certain unspoken position to uphold that is time honored and noble…and then there is the independent me…who is my own person, goes to school, needs no man to fix a lawn mower, move furniture or buy a car…another flip of myself and you find the mother, the family person, the traditional wife….flip again….the “the single girl”…..(husband in a far of land kind of single) eating out most meals, staying up late, covering the other half of the bed with pets, books…whatever I want. I love the diversity it has brought to my life all steeped and rooted in traditions most will never see or know. Traditions we all complain about but for me, I would not have any other way.

4. What do you find the hardest?

The hardest….standing in that gym, taking in the last free breath for who knows how long. Watching your husband walk away…in a flash your eyes meet and there is a life time of unspoken words. You know tears are on the brink of both your eyes, fear eating at your soul, your heart tearing into 100 pieces…..and yet you somehow let go. Then you turn to the wife, mother, sister, girlfriend beside you who has no HOOAH or AI-YEAH under her belt, you hold her shaking body, feel her tears on your shoulder, you soak in her pain. You lock eyes with her other half , standing beside yours and the words between you, again unspoken, tell them to go, you got it…..that is the moment you realize what MILITARY SPOUSE really means. And next turn (deployment) the wife who is unable to keep it together may shed tears but now she will turn and hold the next one….that is what we do, that is who we are.

5. Tell me a story that sums up military life for you.

A story of military life….wow, I would need a month to write a story that sums up this life, and even then could not do it justice. Military life is what you want it to be, it is what you make of it.

Way back in 1991 there was a young girl who was very new to the Army, she knew no one, her husband an E-2, and she just shows up, tired of waiting for him to get things ready. She found an apartment, turns out in the worst part of town, rents it, goes to a rent-to-own furniture place, rents a house full of furniture and THEN calls her husband to say…hey, I am here, and this is our address.

Her husband, a little flabbergasted says ok…but I am leaving for NTC in two days. Umm, what is NTC? I soon find out.

The day after my husband left I was reading the paper. Now keep in mind I am on the wrong side of town in El Paso, Texas. Never been out of my tiny home town of 250 people, all white, all speak English. There have been some murders in this new town I live in, wait, I know that street, umm, wait…that is my backyard. I am without a car, and I know not a soul. I am scared out of my mind, oh, and I have no phone.

Seems others have read the paper, and there is a knock at my door. I answer, swing the door wide open…still not too keen on the city smarts, there stands a very big man. He asked if I am Mrs. Oakes, umm, yeah sure…but really that is my mother in law. He informs me he is my husband’s platoon sergeant and my husband, upon leaving for NTC that morning, informed him I was here. He asked if I would like to come live with his wife, and their two kids, while the husbands were at NTC….again, not too city smart or people leery. I say heck yeah, you know a bunch of woman got staked alive in my backyard. He smiles and says, yes, yes I do. Off I go with a perfect stranger. This was key moment one.

A few months later, after many and I mean many bumps in this life called the military I was on post at the grocery store….trying to figure out why that bagger was not leaving after she loaded my groceries….and this woman who was parked beside me asked if I was new in town. Yes, yes I was and I was beginning to feel like I had landed in Mars. She asked if we had a car…no, no we don’t …could she not see I was getting in a Taxi…I was a little cocky back then. She handed me a card(key moment two) and said call us if you would like to get out, we have a shuttle, oh, and you are supposed to give the baggers a tip…….a tip? Yeah, like I could afford a tip. That lady had some screws loose. I get in cab and glance at her card….ACS, Your Home Away from Home….hmm, sounds like one of those battered woman’s shelter, did I look battered? I shove it in my pocket and off I go to my apartment.

My husband informs me that night he is leaving…AGAIN…for something called gunnery. I have had it. I am so upset, lost, homesick and done. He leaves anyway. I walk to the laundromat and find that card from the crazy lady. It weighs on my mind all day. The next day I call, and hang up. Day after I call and holding back my tears ask if I can get a shuttle ride….had no idea to where but I wanted to go home, isn’t that what the card had said…Home Away from Home. The next morning got picked up by a van at 8:30AM just like she said, and onto post we went. The van was full of ladies and kids, all talking in some foreign language. …ACS, CDC, hourly care…NTC, oh I know that one means husband has to go away for work, STIX or is it STICKS…I have no idea. I am about to give up and I am not even there, I am feeling more lost. Then one lady says hi…and another…and another…they tell me their names, and start talking in that foreign language again when they ask what unit my husband is in…but I got this one…he is in the Army, at Fort Bliss, and he has a tank. I am feeling pretty good I could answer them. They just kind of look at me, shocked I knew the answer I am sure. We have arrived so it seems…to a house.

I get out and follow the others, once inside I am asked what I signed up for today…other than the shuttle…I have no clue. She lets me know there is an opening in the craft class, one in cooking and one in money handling. Off I go to craft class….I make a fan for over a doorframe or to put on the wall….wait, I am laughing. I am having fun and I can tell you the name of all the people in that room. Off to cooking class…quiche, what in the world is that? We make it, cook it and eat it. It is yummy. We then learn how to make a few other dishes, everyone get recipe cards and a monthly menu. Oh and today is food pick up day. They ask if I would like to get some food…sure. You see back then you could get cheese, peanut butter, butter, beans, rice and some other things twice a month…for free…no questions. They let me know I can pick it up at the end of the day. Off to money class….wow, did I learn some things there…and more names, more phone numbers. I had not felt like this in a couple months, I was not alone. I even learned that ACS and not a battered woman’s shelter, it was home. I did not want to go home but it was time. I had stayed till the last shuttle run of the day, ending the day in the living room watching a movie. I signed up for every day I could before I left. Oh, and I did not forget my food.

That was a long time ago and so much has happened since but I can tell you if that lady had not given me that card I would not be married today. They no longer give the food, and no longer have Home Away from Home houses on post with a shuttle, and that is a horrible thing in my book, so many could still use that service. I learned everything from sewing, checkbook management, cooking and laundry to Army traditions. They still teach some of these things but having a home to learn them in is far different, it was more heart friendly, and that shuttle…wow, what a life saver. That house was open five days a week from 8-6, you could come watch movies, hang out, take classes and you got free child care for every class you taught.

Anyway, back to why this is my important story. Military life is a new world, a world you make your way, you get what you put in and you take what you need. In 1991 I needed far more than I had to give. One person smiled and spoke, one person handed me a life line, one person saved my life, my marriage and set me on the road to who I am today. That is military life. I have had many things happen along the way, some good, some downright heart-breaking but there has always been that one person and I can proudly day I have been that one person a few times on this journey.

I have strived to be that crazy lady, to reach out, to help when I can, to make a difference but for in my life right now that honor goes to someone else at this time… husband deployed, again, almost 12 months ago and even though I have learned a lot since 1991, it still hurts. And many knew this one was going to be tough for so many reasons….and out of the blue one day I got a note in the mail, then a card, then an unexpected Christmas package and this continued for the duration of this deployment…this person was not a stranger like that day in the commissary parking lot but she is just as much a life saver. It was not my turn to give this deployment but to receive, and to learn to receive, to let someone else come into my life and hold my heart while I hurt. This deployment will be over for me in a few days, but my angel will be in my heart forever …writing this for her blog is my THANK YOU. Thank you for holding my heart while it broke, thank you for being strong while I fell this year, thank you for picking me up and thank you for reaching for my hand when it got too heavy to walk alone. I did not see this angel much over the past year but there she was….like a miracle… every time I fell or needed a boost her timing was perfect.

I learned as much this last year as I did my first in the Army. I learned that in this thing called Army life we have a time to learn, a time to give and a time to receive, the magic is learning which time it is for you and acting upon it. (my third key military life moment)

Military life is about touching the heart of another, trusting to let someone touch yours, and knowing that each day is a new day, a new challenge and tomorrow even newer even more different than yesterday but the one thing that never changes is we are never alone….we are a military family.

P.S. Thank YOU, Rebecca. We give a little, sometimes we get a little. I hope when this posts, your husband is home in your arms again.

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