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Friday, June 1, 2007

On The Difficulty Of Writing, Or, The War Hits Home

I do not want to write this story, and I have been stuck for about ten days because I do not want to face the reality of this particular situation.

But here it is.

Last Friday was the day The Girlfriend and I had to travel to Fort Lewis, Washington, to attend the military departure ceremony for one of our two godsons.

He enlisted in the Army National Guard, and now it’s time to go to the Middle East.

There was no mystery or great surprise that he would be going, and the news is not all bad.

He is not in a Stryker Brigade; thank whichever deity you support, nor a military policeman. It is theoretically possible that the support role he will be filling will actually be moderately safe, which is about the best spin I can offer considering the circumstances.

He and his brother are our two godsons, and we have literally been looking out for them since the days of their birth. To illustrate the point more clearly, I was his birth photographer.

The Girlfriend and I attended Lamaze-twice-to allow us access to both deliveries, but circumstances caused us to miss his older brother’s birth by eight hours.

We have been the “bad” godparents ever since-the ones who introduced them to Beavis and Butt-Head, and Ren and Stimpy, and Skittles and Jolt Cola and Archie McPhee.

It isn’t as though I didn’t try to nip this in the bud.
I suggested the Air Force (a subject I can speak about from personal experience), but I was clearly not as persuasive as I could have been.

Which is how we found ourselves at Fort Lewis.

The families assembled in a hangar on base, a small band offered up patriotic music, important officers offered up inspiring words, and an award was presented to the officer who managed the required paperwork that made the deployment possible. Finally, with a clanging of warning bells, the hangar doors were opened to reveal the soldiers we were there to honor, standing in formation.

Nobody reacts to the officer who says: “This is the last time I will have the chance to address all of you...”

Everyone wants to look brave, soldier and family alike; but there is no way to sit in a room with small child noises filling the space, and not know the future will likely be so, so tough for some of those little children.

There’s an innocence in their sounds that is particularly disheartening.

The babies are too young to realize what’s going on, and the crying, or laughing, or play noises echoing throughout the hangar are based entirely on the moment of their own existence

This creates a sound track that makes a weird counterpoint to the military ceremony to which I should be paying attention, and the babies, wisely, don’t.

Our godson is not currently a parent, which means most everybody there on his behalf was one of his various types of parents (biological, grand, and god), but the foster stepbrother we have all become attached to (hi Dustin!) was there as well. He is neither a baby nor a teenager, and we will see how this affects him as time goes on. So far, he’s doing well.

In stressful situations I look for whatever humor might be found, and I cannot help but notice the police officials gathered. Why police officials? Police officers are represented in the unit, and their commanders are attending the ceremony.

Curiously, the two small cities sent a three-star and two two-star “generals” as their representatives, but the Army only sent two brigadier (one-star) generals on their behalf. I did not make an effort to determine if the Army felt outranked, although I had the opportunity. More about that later.

With the speeches over, the audience is invited to step onto the “flight line” area outside the hangar and view the “static display” aircraft, while mingling with the soldiers-a family photo-op, if you will. Dustin’s excitement about sitting in the helicopter’s gunner seat is natural for a kid, but scares me to death as I picture him as an adult in the same seat for real. I keep my fears to myself.

As it turns out, our godson’s mother is a personal acquaintance with one of the two actual generals present. This means our godson must now have a “casual” conversation with his mom, the other relatives, and the brigadier general that every other enlisted trooper in the area is trying to avoid at all costs.

Have you ever seen the unflappable Buckingham Palace Guards? The absolutely deadpan face, no matter what the distraction? I had never seen that face on my godson before, and I hope to never have to see it again.

Considering the circumstances, I did not ask the general if he felt outranked by the police. It would have been fun, but I am required to be an advocate for my godchildren, not their torturer.

He will be leaving us in a few days for three months of training, then overseas, and then we will see what happens. We hope he returns safely, but I have long known that no soldier returns uninjured; and I will happily settle for him just returning with all the parts he left with. If he comes home not too emotionally damaged, I’ll consider that a bonus.

I do not believe that these deployed soldiers will, in the end, make any difference.
I do not believe their sacrifices will make “terrorism” somehow stop.
I do not think we will “re-examine our situation in September” and decide that we have fixed anything.

My own father served tours as a sailor in Vietnam, so I am well familiar with the waiting that lies ahead-and the fear.

It is my hope that we will gather again only once more-to welcome them home.

Time will tell, but from now till then I’ll be hoping against hope they can again have their commanders “address all of you.”

Author’s comment: This was a very difficult writing project for me, and I appreciate the reader’s patience as I worked through an uncharacteristically personal story.


RevCindi said...

My thoughts and prayers are with your godson as he serves. I remember well that flightline good-bye as my partner left for Iraq. Unfortunate that we truly couldn't say our good-byes. But she went, served with bravery and honor, and thank Goddess returned home. And as you say, no one comes home unscathed. We continue to face the aftermath of that deployment in the forms of PTSD, agorophobia and panic attacks. I hope and pray that your godson comes home well, physically intact, and emotionally well. We will continue to fight the VA to get the help all of our soldiers need when they return to us.

fake consultant said...

couple responses, if i may...

...first, thanks for your very kind words. it's much appreciated.

i'm also glad to hear your own family is back together.

your comments about ensuring the va does it's job touch on the bigger issue that never gets the attention it deserves-what happens when our families come home.

those who plan wars seem to forget that war never really ends for the soldiers who did the fighting, and it's important that we remember if our leaders won't.