Daily Archives: July 14, 2009

Going to War: Last Night together and a Kiss Goodbye

This is part four in my “Going to War” series. Previous parts are noted here:

Part One:Going to War: Reflections on My Journey to Iraq and Back- Part One

Past Two: Going to War: Interlude July 4th 2007

Part Three: Going to War: Wills, Living Wills, Immunizations Gone Bad and Christmas in July

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time Let me kiss you
And close your eyes and I’ll be on my way
Dream about the days to come, When I won’t have to leave alone
About the times, That I won’t have to say

Oh, kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
Cause Im leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

From “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver

The night before leaving on deployment and the actual day of departure are some of the hardest that any military couples or families experience.  This has certainly been the case with us and this was no different.  This time I was not merely going on a ship and being part of a boarding team, the latter which Judy did not know until about halfway through the deployment, but this time going boots on ground into the most bitterly of Iraq’s contested provinces, Al Anbar.  The last night together was rather somber to put it mildly.  Judy and I went out to dinner on Friday night.  Since I knew that I would not be having a good beer for quite some time we went to Gordon Biersch.  For us Gordon Biersch is generally a good time kind of place. That last Friday it was not a festive occasion, it was almost like a wake.  Judy and I were both quite subdued.  In between the silence Judy talked about her fears about the deployment while I tried to reassure her that everything would be fine. My reasoning was that since I had taken out the extra life insurance that I would be okay.  For me such logic makes sense.  If I don’t get it I will need it and if I do get it I won’t.  It’s kind of like Yogi Berra who said “You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

After dinner and for me three half liter glasses of Märzen we went back home where I finalized my packing. I ensured that all my field gear, uniforms and clothing were packed and rechecked my EOD issue protective gear. I then packed my Mass kit, Bible, Prayer Book and my Marine Pattern camouflage reversible desert/woodland stole.  The stole was special as Judy had made me a few years back from woodland and desert pattern shirts which were way too big for me.  My final check were my books on counterinsurgency, a few DVD movies and music CDs and my hygiene items.  I wrestled the big bags down the stairs and put them in the back of my Honda CR-V so I wouldn’t have to fight them in the morning.  That accomplished Judy and I just sat together, she was feeling pretty low. On the other hand I was a mix of conflicting emotions.  I was excited by knowing that I was going to get to do what I had trained all of my life to do, but very cognizant of the reality that it would be tough on Judy.  The last couple of deployments had been very tough on her. When I deployed to support the Bosnia mission as a mobilized Army Reservist and newly ordained Priest we had three of my relatives in Huntington West Virginia die.  One was my maternal grandmother “Ma Maw” who Judy had become very close to over the past couple of years.  They had become buddies and Ma Maw had taken Judy in not as my wife, but as “her” granddaughter.  Ma Maw’s death hit Judy very hard and my mom and uncle in the midst of their grief over the loss of their mom understood the depth of the relationship between Judy and Ma Maw and as a result pretty much treated Judy as an unwanted outsider.  In the week before Ma Maw’s death Judy tried repeatedly to get Ma Maw to go to the doctor only to be ignored.  The morning of Ma Maw’s death Judy called me in Germany to call Ma Maw and insist that she go to the doctor.   I called and insisted that she go to the Emergency Room but she refused and said she would call her doctor.  That night she died. I had lost my grandmother and could not go back to help and Judy had lost a woman who had become closer to her than her own grandmothers ever had been.  In 2001 during my deployment with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Japan and Korea we lost our 16 ½ year old Wire Haired Dachshund Frieda.  Judy did her nest to keep Frieda alive for me, but there was nothing that could be done and finally with Judy being worn down to nothing herself, she was persuaded to have Frieda put down.  My 2002 deployment on USS HUE CITY to the Middle East and Horn of Africa came less than six months after my return from Okinawa and was also very difficult on her.

With all of this in the background we spent our last night together.  I barely slept as did she.  I had a light breakfast and then accompanied by a friend from choir we drove to the base.   Saturday morning traffic is generally not too bad so our trip was uneventful, but really tense.  You could cut the tension between us by now with a knife.  It was about the time that we were nearing the base Judy said something that I took really wrong and sarcastically snapped back “Well I’ll just get blown up by an IED then.”  That really hit her hard and I knew immediately that I had blown myself up with the comment.  I should have known better, after all I’d deployed a lot and taught pre-deployment classes talking about the emotional cycle of deployments.  But the stress on both of us the preceding weeks had taken its toll and both of us were on edge.  For two months we had ach in our own way imagined the deployment  wondering just what I would face when I got to Iraq, the unanswerable questions of what might happen over there and Judy’s great fear that something might happen to me.

We got to the base pretty quick, though the tension made me feel that the trip was three times as long as it was.  As we pulled up in a parking spot near the baggage drop off area we sat there for a few minutes.  I got out of the car as did Judy.  I asked if she wanted to wait a while with me and with tears in her eyes said that she couldn’t handle the wait.  After I unloaded my gear with the help of Nelson who was already there with his gear stacked.  He looked at Judy and said, “Don’t you worry ma’am we’ll do good and I’ll keep him safe.”  Judy gave a soft “thanks” and gave him a hug.  With my gear now next to Nelson’s I went back to Judy.  We looked at each other, embraced and kissed each other.  We parted and then she went back to the car, handed her friend the keys and they drove off.  As she left I said a prayer under my breath and asked God to keep her safe while I was gone.  Then I turned to Nelson and said, “Okay partner, let’s get this done.”

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