Friday, March 30, 2012

And Then There Came Hope

My last post, The Real Cost of War, fortunately doesn't tell the whole story.  I'm a glass-half-full kind of girl, and even in the midst of tremendous grief I try to find a rainbow.  I've heard this described as "hunting the good stuff" and I like that analogy.  Sometimes you have to be a regular CSI and use a microscope to find it, but the good stuff will be there.

So here are some signs of hope--

Resilience-- There are some who, with help, really do come back.  My friend's brother-in-law, who first told me about PTSD?  He is one of these.  He spent years with the Paralyzed Vets of America, helping other vets like himself find answers and hope.

Inspiration to Others-- Our friend, Staff Sgt Joe Beimfohr, was a recruiter when we met him.  In 2009, he was gravely wounded in Iraq.  Ulimately, his wounds left him a double amputee, but his story does not end there in the hospital room.  Failure is Not an Option-- This link is another one that I found but I especially like it because it shows other stories from the veterans themselves.  This sums it up bit by bit.

Helping the Youngest-- Programs that help children cope with deployment and feel better equipped to handle their Soldier's absence can be helpful, and fun, ways to make sure we don't forget how deployments can affect them as well.   Video from last year's Mock Deployment shows the attention to detail in this program.  There are also special camps available for children who have recently dealt with a deployment.

So there is hope.  Always, there is hope.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Real Cost of War

Today, I heard about another one.  A family, which has lost their Soldier.  A Soldier, back from deployment and needing services.  A unit, not holding him accountable nor recognizing the true risk.

I remember when I first started college, a friend of mine had a brother-in-law who was a Vietnam vet.  He wore braces on ankles that had been irreversibly injured, and slept on average two hours a night, plagued by nightmares.  He taught me about PTSD, which wasn't something most people had ever heard of at that time.  He was picking himself up and creating a good life for himself-- but it took him 20 years after he returned home from war, to start to be "okay".

Is that what we want for our Soldiers today?  Have we learned nothing at all?  Do we want 20 years to pass before they can regain their lives?

A church in a New Jersey town recently memorialized the 6,358 American servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by planting a small American flag for each of them.  The visual is a stunning reminder of our loss as a nation, and of the true cost of war.

I think the loss is far, far greater than 6,358.  I don't think there are enough flags to show the true cost.  Every week, I hear about another marriage that hasn't made it.  Suicide rates skyrocketed until the Army realized something had to be done and implemented new programs to forcefully address the issue.  Child abuse?  Spouse abuse?  How many partially healed bruises and stolen childhoods are as a result of Soldiers coming home to units that are incapable, ill-equipped, or unwilling to make sure they get the services they need?

Then there is the horrifying story of a Staff Sergeant who is charged in the murders of 16 Afghani citizens.  How much of what happened is personal and how much of it is a systemic breaking-down, we won't know for a long time.  But I pray it's a wake up call.

They say war is hell.  But the aftermath of war, when the Soldiers come home broken in every way they can be broken, can be just as devastating.  I hope it doesn't take this generation's military 20 years to find healing.

Field Of Flags Memorial -- More than 6, 358 flags would be necessary to show the true cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday's Ten: Sweetness

There are many things that help me during long periods of "away" and I had many of them happen over the last week.  In no particular order:

1.  Hugs.  A simple touch can make a huge difference in a long day.  This is true for anyone, I think, but for a spouse whose Soldier is absent for a long time?  What a gift.

2.  Random moments of understanding.  When someone says "please tell your Soldier thank you," and they have actually served, it means so much.  When they understand that vast improvements in communication don't make up for having him home, it helps too.

3.  Chocolate.  Hey, I'm a girl.

4.  Anything marked "free" from USPS.  Something about that stampless mail just makes my day.

5.  A chat with a friend.  Over the phone, on Facebook, face-to-face in the middle of a huge shopping expo-- brief or long, conversations make a world of difference.

6.  A run of good songs on the radio.  Even if you have Pandora's amazing app (my personal favorite) or Sirius/XM in your car, sometimes there are a zillion songs in a row that you just can't stand.  Other days, your favorites join you the entire way through a hated chore or down a long highway.  (Today's gift-- Hallelujah.)

7.  Helpful friends.  I try really hard not to ask for a lot of favors, but sometimes I just can't be in two places at once.  When people love my kids and lend a hand?  Bliss.

8.  The sound of mowing.  And it's not me.  While I'd love for it to be My G out there making that buzz-buzz-drooooone sound, it's still pretty darn nice that we found a service that does a good job at a reasonable price.  Hmmm...maybe I'm not in such a hurry to fix that mower, after all.

9.  A good pros/cons list.  The suckiest thing during any away, for me, is when My G and I have decisions to make and we have to do it long-distance.  Some life decisions are hard enough when we are right here with each other and can just breathe in the silence of our thoughts.   But when those thoughts and worries and questions come in the middle of the night while we're alone?  This is where the list comes in handy, and helps us connect when we can talk again.

10.  Time.  The simple fact is, even as the "away" sometimes seems to last forever, they don't.  Each day, each week, even each hour in the nighttime, brings him closer to home.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

It Still Gets Me

On Friday, I had the opportunity to participate in a huge craft and sales expo, where Fort Hood military spouses and other residents got to sell their wares, their services, and their ideas to the community.  I have to say, it was awesome.  This was their third expo, the biggest yet, and it was so neat to be able to take part in something that felt so professional and well put-together.

For me, the best part of the expo was the very beginning, where a volunteer sang the National Anthem.  Upon the first notes, voices stopped.  Bodies turned as one, and hands pressed against reverent hearts.  The room was silent, save for her lovely voice and the hope and pride she poured into these ancient lyrics.

It still gets to me.  20 years into this "Army gig," and the song still makes me cry.  There is such hope in these lyrics, such beauty in the well-sung song, and it renews my faith every time.  

When was the last time you read all the words?  I knew there were more verses, but it's been many years since I've read all of them.  They are worth sharing.  Nearly 200 years after the words were first penned, they still speak to us of dark times, fearsome enemies, and the hope and steadfast courage of our military and our people.

The Star Spangled Banner-- Francis Scott Key
(Defence of Fort McHenry)
Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave! 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday's Ten... Or, What I Should Be Doing

We had a pretty nasty storm last night.  It seemed like it was going on and on and on and so even when I did get to sleep, I didn't sleep well.  I am a zombie today, stumbling through the simplest things (including typing) and otherwise feeling like a slug.

I have a lot to do.  I don't want to do any of it.  But I'll at least make it into a nice and neat list.

1.  I have a big event this week.  I should be writing prices on things and putting tags on bags.

2.  I need to get change for the event, so customers can use cash.

3.  There is a newsletter that is one step away from being finished.  Well, maybe two steps but I digress.

4.  The floor needs to be vacuumed.

5.  I have three things to fax to two different places.  

6.  I have a quick online class to take.

7.  I have a box to send out for Easter/birthday.

8.  I have another box to get ready for Easter.

9.  I have a birthday card to find.  Then mail.

10.  I have a nap to take.

Guess which one will get done?    What do you have going on today?

Lyrics aside, this is hilarious.  :)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Middle Aged? I think NOT.

Several people made comments about me being "middle aged" after this birthday.  Like I am somehow magically "halfway finished" with this life.  


Too much to do, and anyway the "second half" isn't guaranteed so why would I act like it's all downhill from here?

Then I read this bit of loveliness, from an older gent who takes a test drive around Houston's Loop 610 to make sure he's still okay to drive.  He's 90.  I've been on that road, and it's NOT fun, but if he's testing himself on reaction time and eyesight and hearing-- I think he's probably okay to keep going.

I had to write to him.  I don't want to be "halfway through" this life (or worse, more than halfway through!) and I hope I'm just like him as I grow up.  Hale, hearty, and interested in all life has to offer.


I found your article about the 610 loop driving test via a blog I read called "Free Range Parenting" and I wanted to comment briefly.

I hope I can be like you "when I grow up".  Yours is the example I hope to follow, about age and interests and well being in later years.

I turned 40 this year, and I was asked asked me how it felt to be "middle aged".  I informed her, jokingly, that I intend to live until I'm 115 so "I'm not there yet".  She asked me why I'd even want to live that long.  I thought it was sad that she had to ask-- there is so much out there that I haven't enjoyed yet, and so much I want to keep enjoying.

Your driving test sounds like one of those things.  I admire you, and I hope you do well on your test, whether it's in your country truck or some other vehicle.

Thank you--

When I drove this, it was the day before Thanksgiving. Shudder...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday's Ten: Signs of Spring

Spring is my second-favorite season, and rapidly closing in on Fall for that special spot of love in my heart.  When we lived in Kansas, I loved to see the forsythia burst golden, almost overnight.  In Colorado, the teeny little grape hyacinths and the happy nodding daffodils were my favorites.

I grew up in Arizona, where spring is hard to find sometimes.  You have to look closely and you have to pay attention to the small things.  The cactus may look greener, there may be wildflowers here and there if the monsoons were plentiful enough, and the corner palo verde tree may be awash in yellow pollen.

So here are ten signs that spring is here (early) in Texas:

1.  There are bluebonnets along many roadsides.

2.  The redbud trees are vibrant and pink.

3.  You hear sneezing nearly everywhere you go.  (bless you)

4.  The once-quiet streets are filled with a buzzing sound as everyone finally gives and mows down that first crop of weedy grass.

5.  The rain isn't quiet so cold (when it comes).

6.  Lowes' parking lot is not navigable on a Saturday.

7.  Tractor Supply Store has a sign proclaiming "Chick Season!"

8.  The candy aisle is packed with pastels.

9.  There are birds building in our wall ornament beside the front door.

10. Suddenly the playgrounds are full again, and the sound fills my heart.

What are your signs?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Deployment Brain, Kids' View

I think my heart just broke a little bit.  The below paragraph is from my Little G, and came after I showed her a website for younger children whose parents were deployed.  

"Kids my age, we don’t need all that stuff.  We can just deal.  We try NOT to think about the deployment, because it makes us sad.  You mentioned deployment brain? If you notice sometimes you’ll explain things and I’ll seem to be listening and I’ll say “sure, okay” and then a few minutes later I won’t have any idea what you’ve said— it’s because I’m zoning out, trying NOT to think about the deployment."

I think of her as my little stoic one.  When she was four or five, she had to have several shots all at once.  She only let one tear slip silently down her cheek, and that one tear had the nurse nearly in tears himself.  When she was 6 or 7, we had her tested for allergies to see if we could control her asthma by knowing what triggered it.  She had something like 15-20 little pricks on her back.  No tears, just "this has to be done".

Sometimes with kids, it is too easy to think they are adjusting well and having an easy time of it.  Sometimes it is too easy to think the same thing others mistakenly say to us-- We're "used to it".  

Just because we don't see them crying, doesn't mean they don't weep.

Just because we don't see their fear, doesn't mean they are not afraid.

Just because they don't constantly talk about their parent, doesn't mean they don't miss them.

And I, for one, am glad of the reminder.  There are many resources for kids whose parents are deployed.  There are camps, there are marvelous "Mock Deployments" where they have out-briefs and road marches, there are special events.  But when kids have been through multiple deployments and they are "used to it", what's out there?  What do you do? 

I think...  I could be wrong, but I think we do the same things we would want for ourselves.  A funny note in the mail.  Activities to keep us busy, but not exhausted.  Good food, adequate rest, and lots of friends who love us.  

Thank you, Little (stoic) G, for the reminder tonight that there is much below the surface.  While this post is about kids who are going through deployments, I think it stands as a reminder for anyone whose kids are going through a rough time.   We may not see what is going on. We may not always hear directly from the kids what they feel and think about their experience.  We may even tell ourselves the greatest lie of my generation "kids are resilient".  But we must, absolutely must, remember that they are just children and we are shaping and forming the adults they will become.  

Keep talking.  Keep listening.  Keep asking them what they need from us.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Deployment Brain

I don't know about anyone else, but I like to be organized.  I have (too) many calendar apps, reminder apps, and a paper calendar that hangs in the kitchen.   I also have a weekly planner calendar white board that keeps me on track for meals and that week's appointments.

Hence, forgetting an appointment is embarrassing.  Thinking that a meeting is one day when it's really another, also embarrassing but thankfully salvageable if checked in time. I tend to be on the ditzy side sometimes, but the biggest time I forget things is when my brain is just...full.

Full of school.  My G likes to share the story of the taco meat I browned during finals week.  He came into the kitchen to find a little Mt. Etna of seasoning piled onto the rapidly-cooling meat, but no Casey.  I'd emptied the packet, and seemingly wandered off to do something else.

Full of children.  Many moms know what I mean.  Your head gets full of kid stuff, especially if they're sick or going through something stressful/big/momentous/weepy.  All sorts of other things get sort of muddled in there and we lose track.

And...full of the deployment.  I think I've reached the point in this one where I am thinking "oh my gosh, will it ever end?"  That usually happens after about 6-8 weeks, and it goes away and life goes on.  But that period of forgetfulness, of stress, of "am I completely losing my mind" frustration-- sigh, it takes some serious patience.

Patience with ourselves, that is.  I'm trying to tell myself the things I would tell anyone who is a little frazzled.

Self-care, stay hydrated, eat well and regularly, go for a walk.

You know what?  Those tips work pretty well.  In the meantime, I sure appreciate those around me who have been through this period of "duh" before, and made it out.  I appreciate the laughter as people share their own stories.  And I know eventually, I'll be back on track.

P.S. Does anyone else go through periods of intense "duh" when you're normally pretty focused?   Tell me your funniest stories.  :)

What Not To Say: Reprised, New Perspective

My father-in-law is a Vietnam vet and a distinguished DOD civilian (retired).  He is steadfast as they come, and has a way of telling you like it is but making you feel good about yourself anyway. My husband's grandmother has a tendency to fret and worry and stress and think the worst, but My G and his dad are both very good at helping her laugh it off and stop the broken record in her mind.

That's where this comes from.  Dad decided to write something that would help her think before she spoke, and help her see things from My G's (and family's) perspective.

How To Support The Family Of A Deployed Soldier

The following comments are taken from a compendium of sources and from just plain folks trying to cope when their soldier deploys. Whenever you feel like complaining to us about a deployment, read these notes again, and then again. Our job is to support the soldier and his family, and not to be an additional burden during a stressful time.

Please Remember ::

Military service is voluntary and Soldiers believe in serving our Country. Service to Country means your freedom to choose how you live. They are doing it for Us and they are well trained for their jobs.

What Not To Say and What To Do:

1. “Darn them politicians anyway!” 

NO! Don't go there, that is not a discussion we want to hear. Soldiers serve so you can vote and be active in your community. Don't complain to us about about politicians. Our soldiers serve the Commander and Chief, who IS the President. We don't need to be reminded of politics that place our family members in a war zone.

2. “Will he get home for his birthday?” 

Get real! Do you think he can ask the enemy for a weekend pass to come home to visit? He will be home when the deployment is done and even that date can change depending on what's happening where they are deployed.

3. “Oh this is Terrible and I'm so's dangerous over there!” 

A combat zone is a bad place and things happen. Please don't remind me and keep your platitudes to yourself. It's hard to stay positive with reminders like that. This is their job and they are well trained for it.

4. “How long will it be till he can get out?” 

Read the above about how Military service is voluntary! They believe in what they are doing and care deeply for their units and YOUR freedom. It is their decision
to serve and our job to support them.

5. “It must be really hard for you!” “Aren't you afraid?” “Do you miss your soldier?” 

YES! And please don't remind us again!

6. Please don't just keep us in your prayers. Take some time and write or call and just be normal and supportive.

7. Please don't forget those special days, like birthdays and such. The soldier is deployed and it's hard with them gone as the days can pass without notice. Help us to remember in faith and love.

8. Don't be fooled by our cool and casual posture. We have plenty of concerns, trials, and terror behind those closed doors. Do not be a burden to us with a negative outlook, we have enough to worry about.

9. Never underestimate how helpful you can be with a generous and loving attitude. Hugs are always welcomed as well as kind words and a willing ear to listen to what we say and what we can't say. That is what Family is all about.

10. Be Thankful and appreciate our sacrifices as our soldiers who are serving so you can be safe and live in freedom. Don't gripe at us, we're doing the best we can.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tuesday's Ten: Moments of Grace

Over the last two weeks, there have been some remarkable moments of grace that have helped make this deployment skitter along a little faster, a little smoother.  There is a lot out there (even on my own blog) about what not to say, what not to do, what makes it difficult, etc...  But here are some little shining moments.

1. The retired Navy couple at Baskin Robbins:  They'd both been in the Navy until full retirement, and had alternated shore duty with being on the ship.  Both of them knew what it was to be away, and both of them knew what it was to be home with the kids.  They asked me to send along a "thank you" to My G, and they thanked me as well.

2.  The promotion ceremony I went to last week: The traditions and patriotism of military honors do well to remind us why we fight, why we stand behind our military.  Duty. Honor. Country. They're not just words.

3.  My friend, the first "best friend" I had so very long ago:  She is in training for a brutal-sounding event that raises money for Wounded Warriors. I didn't realize until today that the event was designed to be a fundraiser.  What touches me most is that I know people who are not seemingly connected to the military, but who want to do what they can to help.

4.  The Hug Lady:  She's been to every homecoming that Fort Hood has, and she hugs each Soldier who comes through.  She's the first one to hug our husbands, fathers, daughters, mothers as they return.  I got to see her in person at the promotion ceremony the other day, and her small stature belies her great strength and commitment.   Grown men, weary and hardened by battle, grow misty-eyed when they talk about her.

5.  A Department of the Army civilian, standing behind me in line to congratulate our newest General Officer:  He simply said he looks forward to the day when our team gets their hugs, too.

6.  The lady at the gardening center:  When My G is away, I try to "keep things up".  I know I'm not going to do as good a job as he does on the yard, but I want to keep the weeds away and keep the yard looking like someone cares.  She helped me figure out what products to use, and she gave me a free product that would help.  Just because.  The fact that she acted out of kindness for my obvious confusion without making a big deal out of it, was what made the difference.

7.  A new friend:  Simply saying "oh, yes, I've done that too" when I confess to not only missing a previous meeting but writing down the wrong date for an upcoming one.  I guess she figured I had probably kicked myself enough times and didn't need to rub salt in it by asking "Are you losing your mind?"

8.  The person I was supposed to meet:  If I hadn't mentioned that I could have sworn we'd scheduled a meeting but couldn't find it anywhere in my notes, he wouldn't have said a word.  Instead, he called later and arranged for another date.  Grace.

9.  Technology:  I fully realize how blessed I am that I can virtually chat with my husband on a regular basis, occasionally even see his face, and hear his voice like he's right here with me.  I am blessed beyond measure.

10.  A Soldier, wounded beyond words, learning to walk again:  He's home to see his daughter's birth, home to hold her and her Mama.  Even as the rest of his unit begins to arrive home, he continues to fight because for him, this battle is not over.  But he's home, and sometimes that's all the grace we can hope for.