“Hey, Ma.” I mentally calculate, 7:30 Georgia time.
“Hey. Everything OK?”
“Shit.” Great. Not even out of bed and I’m already cursing.
“Do you know when?”
“Can’t say exactly. Looks like March. Be sure to watch the President's speech tonight."
I think, as if we’d miss it??
“Is it official? Did you get orders?”
“Not yet.” And then he tells me a tentative date.
Damn. Just Damn. Looks like he'll be spending his birthday in Iraq.
“I gotta go, Ma. We’ll call later.”
“Love you son.”
“Love you, too, Ma.”
Dad says he gathers from my end of the conversation that this is not good news. I tell him the substance of the call. “Damn,” he says. Great. Now both of us are cursing.
I lay there awake for the next hour with my mind running circles around itself. I can feel the tears behind my eyes. I tell myself, “Well, if there aren’t orders maybe he won’t go... after all, rumors are the adrenalin of the Army that early in the morning.” My heart is beating faster. I toss. I turn. I toss again -- certain that if I just practice relaxation techniques I can leave this waking nightmare for the safety of sleep.
At 6:30, I give up and creep out of bed; our big Chow moves up off the foot of the bed and plops where I last lay and breathes a deep sigh as he tucks his nose under my pillow and flips his tail twice.
I fill the coffee pot and put cat food in two dishes. The same thought keeps playing across my brain like an old movie marquee: “He’s going back.” It circles and appears again, “He’s going back.” I can feel my chest tighten. I find it a little hard to breathe. I can hear my heart beat in my ears. I recognize the classic slither and squeeze of anxiety.
I was preoccupied with these thoughts all day. I should have been working on our tax records. I should have been working on the meeting notes of the last Board meeting I attended. I couldn’t concentrate. Mostly my brain was doing loopty-loops… just when I thought I’d gotten myself focused on some task, my thoughts would do that loop and there would be the marquee, “He’s going back.” And my heart would add a few beats. I’d take a deeper breath. I say little prayers.
Thirty minutes before the President’s speech I pour a glass of wine. We listened intently. We listen to a brief commentary. Then we listen to the Democratic response. I pour another glass of wine. I say some rather ugly things to the guy from Illinois. Great. Cursing at the end of the day as well. But I meant it. It’s not going to be about our soldiers and Marines. It’s going to be about everything but. It’s not going to be about working together. It's not going to be about succeeding in Iraq. It’s going to be about reprisal and retaliation. I say more little prayers.
Thursday, the following arrives via email:
DoD Announces Force Adjustments
As a result of the President's Iraq strategy review, the Department of Defense announced today an increase of 20,000 U.S. military forces for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Specific decisions made by the Secretary of Defense include:
The 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C. [***]
The 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division, Minnesota Army National Guard, [***].
The 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based at Ft. Riley, Kan., will deploy in February 2007 as previously announced.
Three other Army combat brigades will deploy as follows:
· The 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Ft. Benning, Ga., will deploy in March 2007.
· The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, based at Ft. Lewis, Wash., will deploy in April 2007.
· The 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Ft. Stewart, Ga., will deploy in May 2007.
I think, “Force Adjustments”? Why aren’t we just calling them reinforcements? They’re reinforcements. Force adjustments?
I continue reading. There it is. Half way into the announcement. My heart stops. I feel a gasp about to escape. My stomach rolls. There it is. It's official. It's public. Shit. There’s that word again. F**k. There’s that word, too.
“___________. That’s the date. We leave _____.”
“Shit.” (ok, if cursing is a sin, I’m going straight to Hell.)
“Is it definite?”
“Yeah. We should have orders in a day or two.”
“I know, Ma.”
We talk a minute or two longer. How’s M? How does she like her new job? What’s happening with the car that’s not running? How’s the dog? How’s the weather? We hang up.
I fight back tears. Not ready. Not ready. Not ready. I give up and let the tears fall.
I find his Dad and tell him. This time he doesn’t curse (he’s much better at not cursing than I am.) We sit on the couch for a while talking about it. He has his arm around me. He hugs tight. We talk about the last deployment... of Noah's wounding... of how hard this year and his PTSD has been on him and wonder just how he'll do with a new deployment. We talk about Noah’s new wife; we worry how she’ll handle the separation. We know how hard it is on us and we know it will be hard on these newlyweds. I only half joke about stocking the wine cellar, but he knows I speak the truth when I say deep breathing probably isn't going to cut it this time.
His departure is still weeks away and I’m already feeling the stress. I feel the entire first deployment right behind my eyes being pushed by the second deployment already. I thought last time was hard... I thought I could be "ready" for this next time. Today I understand completely that I can't ever be ready.
Hard as I try, I cannot forget the terrible hardship he and Our Guys endured last deployment, and images of us stuffing rolls of toilet paper, canned foods, toiletries, and laundry detergents in hundreds of flat rate boxes for a year fill my head. As much as I try, the memory of the worry and pacing for days when we didn't hear seems as if it were yesterday and makes my stomach sour. It's even harder to supress the feelings I associate with the call and the days and weeks that followed. I try hard to push the pictures of David Salie, Matt Bohling, Jeff Watkins, Tommy Byrd and the others from my brain. That deployment changed Noah... it changed me. It changed our family and our friends. I try not to dwell on the changes we might endure this time. I remember last time he left I cried a river. This time I know I will cry harder. It will be an ocean.
Somebody let that bitch Boxer know that the sacrifice of military families is not a Democratic talking point… it is not a sound bite or a punch line. Even if she doesn’t think she owes Condi an apology -- she certainly owes one to military families.