Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Surviving Deployment, Part 1

“If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him.  For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” (Deuteronomy 24:5). 

Ever since Matt and I started talking about marriage, we realized deployments were going to be a regular part of our life.  I fully anticipated him to be deployed within the first year we were married.  Thankfully due to all the training and schooling Matt had to attend, this wasn’t the case.  He did not deploy until October 2007, one year and four months from our wedding date.  Having been through the grueling three months of Ranger School, as well as four years of long distance dating, I was confident our marriage – despite its brevity – would survive a deployment.  In yet another example of God’s mercy to us, Matt was placed in a unit that was already in theater.  This meant he would only be gone for six months rather than fifteen.  6 months…no problem!

            We had just recently moved to Ft. Stewart, Georgia, where the Lord blessed us quickly and effortlessly with a house on post (our heart’s desire).  It turns out PCSing when half the division or more is deployed makes acquiring quarters fairly simple. 
 (Not our actual home but a typical looking version of the quarters we were given)
       In addition, about a month and a half after moving there, I started my first full time teaching job at a public school in nearby Richmond Hill.  I was excited and nervous but mostly thankful that after months of subbing, I would finally have my own classroom.  Plus, I knew teaching 5th grade, especially as a first year teacher, would keep me incredibly busy while Matt was deployed.  Within a few weeks of in-processing, Matt was placed in 2-7 Infantry with Rear D.  He was given an upcoming deployment date of October. 
Go, Cottonbalers!
      Since we knew he’d be leaving a few months after moving, we strove to settle in quickly.  We spent a lot of time setting up our house (super excited to be out of a 1 bedroom apartment!) and searching for a church.  Although we tried the chapel and a few other places, we decided to attend the local Baptist church, despite the fact that it didn’t quite feel like home.
FBC Hinesville
            With the start of the school year came a regular routine into which both Matt and I fell.  He began working fairly regular Army hours (anywhere from 0500-1900), and I a lovely teacher's schedule.  In the weeks leading up to the deployment, I grew more and more unsettled.  Neither one of us were exactly sure what Matt’s job would look like over in Iraq, and I had not met any of the other wives in his unit.  Although I made friends with neighbors and co-workers, I mostly stayed busy with work, coming home exhausted with still more papers to grade.  However, many nights I broke down in tears, worried about the unknowns, and mostly wishing I could just stop time so Matt wouldn’t have to leave.  Yet there was a part of me that knew this wasn’t only God’s will, it was His timing.  This is what Matt had trained for during the past five years, and it was time to get some experience “on the ground.”  Plus, it was 2007, and things had vastly improved in Iraq.  I knew the Lord would protect him, and in six months we would be back together soon.  In my mind I knew all I had to do was bear down and survive the next half a year.  Survival mode officially set in.

            When the day came for Matt to deploy, I took off work so I could spend every last possible moment with him.  He packed in the morning, and around 1 or 2 p.m., he had to report to the company area.  He said I could go with him so I quickly jumped in the car.  When we got there, I saw a few other soldiers and their wives.  Matt had to leave me a few times to sign paperwork, get his weapon, or stand in an accountability formation.  The other wives seemed completely fine - texting and laughing, as if this were like any other ordinary day.  My heart was beating fast and my mind was racing as I thought, “I’m not like these other women.  I’m not going to be able to do this.”  I couldn’t wait for Matt to come back and reassure me that all would be okay.  As soon as he returned and smiled at me, I was able to relax.  Although I didn’t want him to go, I couldn’t help but ask, “What now?”  He said we had to wait around for a few hours for the buses to arrive.  I will never understand the Army’s system of hurry up and wait.  So we found a ledge to sit on and just chatted casually, passing the time.  Although our minds were both wondering what this deployment would really be like, talking about everything else was better than talking about reality.  I told him about my students, and he told me about his job thus far.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop myself from asking questions, trying to ease my unsettled heart.  I asked him where exactly in Iraq he’d be, which led to him finding someone in the company to give me a map. 

       He said he would be in a remote area and didn’t know how great the communication would be.  Instantly, my mind flashed back to Ranger School and old school letter writing.  When Matt saw the panic in my face, he told me not to worry, that he would call or email every chance he got.  Certainly we would have more communication than Ranger School.  Right?!

            As the hours passed, my stomach got more and more nervous.  Waiting in anticipation of a goodbye is more painful than the goodbye itself sometimes.  Every few hours Matt would have to go check on something, and I’d be left alone with my thoughts.  This would have been the perfect time to pray or dwell on some comforting Scripture passage.  But I hate to admit, I didn’t do that.  I engaged my worries, tried to keep the tears at bay, and wondered how on earth I was going to be a strong Army wife.
Not my personal picture but one that captures the moment

           When the time finally came for Matt to form up with the others and load those white buses, my heart sped up and I began to panic, thinking we didn’t have enough time together.  Of course, this was completely irrational as we’d basically just been sitting together for the entire day.  Matt whispered it was time, wrapped his arms around me, and spoke a quiet, gentle prayer in my ear, asking God to protect us and speed the time until we could be together again.  I sobbed and kissed him tenderly, telling him I loved him.  He told me he loved me too, kissed me one more time, and say, “Bye, Melissa.”  The feeling that my heart was breaking was becoming all too familiar.  He joined the rest of the soldiers in formation, and I watched through bleary eyes as he loaded the bus.  I waved and blew him a kiss, wiping tears off my cheeks.  A glutton for punishment, I stood there in the now dark evening air, watching as the bus pulled away.  When I finally could move my legs, I found the car and drove the three minute drive home.

            When I got inside, I checked the computer – hopeful for some encouragement. One of my neighbors had instant messaged me, inviting me over for some Grey’s Anatomy.  She, too, was one of the ranks I had now joined – a deployed soldier’s wife.  With every intention of going, knowing this would help me, I attempted to pull myself together.  When I couldn’t quite stop crying long enough for the blotches to disappear on my face, I wrote her back, apologizing, and cried myself to sleep, resolving once again that all I had to do was get through these next six months.
            The next day I woke up, grateful I had a reason to get up – twenty two 5th graders would be counting on me. 
That's me on the left in the argyle sweater...I know I look just like one of the kids!
           Had I not had that job, I’m not sure getting out of bed would have been possible.  Teaching certainly kept my mind off things.  When the end of the day came, I was surprised at myself for not thinking more about my husband.  However, the thirty minute drive home and the greeting of an empty house (with the exception of my adorable Beagle Bassett Hound) gave me plenty of time to miss Matt and embrace the ache of loneliness and worry. 

Matt had told me he wasn’t sure when he’d first be able to call given all the travel time and transition from Kuwait to Iraq.  Thus in my attempt to survive the pain of deployment, I sought out as many distractions as possible.  I wish, looking back, that I would have dedicated this time instead to what the Lord wanted me to do.   Don’t get me wrong, my distractions were harmless.  They included things like grading inordinate amounts of papers, going over to neighbors’ houses for dinner, spending time on the couch watching TV, talking on the phone to my mom and other friends.  None of these things, in and of themselves, were detrimental, but they did not often help me thrive in the deployment.
     When I finally heard from Matt, I was so excited I didn’t care that it was the middle of the night.  He sounded tried, but I knew he was okay.  During our brief conversation, he told me that they were reassigning him to a new unit, 1-3 BTB.  He explained that this was a support unit with a mix of branches – not exactly the Infantry platoon he was hoping to lead.  In addition, he was no longer going to the town he’d originally been told.  Now he was going to Ramadi.  My first thoughts were of course, is it more dangerous there?  He said he didn’t think so, that it was a bigger city, and we should be able to talk more since they would probably have better communication lines.  Thank you, Lord!  After a few more exchanges, he said he had to go, and we hung up.  It was difficult to go back to sleep after that, but I was relieved to hear he was okay.  I also couldn’t help but be excited that we might be able to talk more often, even if it meant he was no longer with an Infantry unit.  I just wondered when I’d hear from him again.
Go Desert Cats?!
         The weekend dragged by.  Going to church and sitting by myself was especially sad.  Worship and praying just weren’t the same without Matt’s hand holding mine.  In vain, I tried to will away the tears that filled my eyes.  Listening to the pastor was more challenging than usual as my mind drifted to my husband.  How many more Sundays would I have to spend like this?  Oh yeah…26…give or take.  The Bible says, “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:4).  I prayed 26 weeks would feel like only a day’s time...


Anonymous said...

Reading this takes me back and makes me feel like I'm right there with you. You do such a great job expressing your feelings! Love, Mom

Melissa said...

Thank you, Mom, for being such a great cheerleader! I love you!