Getting It Together
The farewell ceremony was well-attended by the affected military personnel and their families. At least the spouses and children of the married soldiers. There were very few parents in evidence. Not because they didn't want or intend to be there, I believe, but because the word of the ceremony was so poorly communicated to the soldiers. If I had not logged on to the Division's website over the holidays, I would not have known about the ceremony at all. And had I not the instinct to look for the press release on the ceremony, the date and time would have eluded me completely. Some soldiers I spoke with remarked that they had only been made aware of the ceremony that day. While I recall reading somewhere that 60% or more of soldiers are unmarried, parents are an after-thought. Even the unit's FRG (Family Readiness Group)website says "FRGs are designed to provide information to the spouses of Soldiers. Soldier's family members, such as Mom's and Dad's [sic], and friends may find this site useful as well." An afterthought. Sigh.
While my visit was originally intended to last 5 days (through the final weekend prior to deployment), it turned to a 12 day stay when the deployment was delayed. I will forever cherish the time I was priviledged to spend with my son and his fellow soldiers. It could well be a new MasterCard commercial: hotel bill $$$, car rental $$$, meals and other sundry items, $$$. Opportunity to be there when your son deployed: PRICELESS. It was especially heartening to me to have the opportunity to be a little help to these soldiers before they deployed. Since most soldiers had already moved their POVs (personally-owned vehicles) home or to off-base storage, transportation from their barracks to other places they needed to be -- especially off base -- was exceedingly limited and prohibitively expensive.
On their non-working days and on some work day evenings, we drove to uniform stores to acquire last minute necessities: extra PT (physical training) clothing, having names, rank and other insignia added to DCUs (desert camouflage uniform) and backpacks, extra brown t-shirts, extra canteens, second set of boots... and to other local stores to buy batteries, movies, music, toiletries, socks... All of which these soldiers pay for (including all the insignia and sewing) out of their meager earnings. Evenings were spent at local restaurants and movie theatres. It was as if these young men were trying to soak up every last ounce of Americana they could before they left. That and fending off extreme boredom as almost every television and personal piece of electronic equipment had also been dispatched to homes and storage.
Some time was spent packing up the last of personal and civilian belongings and shipping it home, together with issued but non-deployment Army equipment. My basement is now littered with green duffle bags, suitcases, backpacks and boxes filled to the seams with such things. An almost equal quantity of not used, not worth keeping things were stuffed in garbage bags and hauled to the industrial-sized dumpsters outside the barracks. (Trust me when I say that if the things I saw in that dumpster area could talk -- oh my, the stories they might tell!!)