26 May 2010

The Counts Down

Summertime has slipped into Iowa early this year--one need only to look at the sultry morning mists over the duck pond to see evidence of it, or to feel the sweaty breath of humidity in the Midwestern wind.

Thank God for the wind. Without it, one could easily suffocate in the middle of an open field.

The Tactical Operation Center's air-conditioner, the one we had to break in order to save earlier this spring, now does little to fend off the sun oozing into our little brick medical shanty. The building was probably built before World War I, and was no doubt site of some influenza pandemic. As such, it was originally designed to invite in fresh air and breezes, but there's no more of that now. Now, the TOC seems more like a powder keg. Moods are more shortly fuzed.

"So am I deployed already or WHAT?!" The staff sergeant is pretty steamed. He's just added up the nights he has left at home. Here's how the math works: Number of days before Mobilization-Day ("M-day"), minus three weeks of Annual Training (A.T.--in a normal year, we'd only do two), minus "advance-party" scouting trips to various places and bases. If you're lucky, what you're left with is how many more nights you get to sleep in your own bed, with your own wife, to be awakened by your own dog.

More and more, maybe without even realizing it, the guys and I have been counting down the days.

I've caught myself counting in other ways, too: How many more times am I going to tuck my kids into bed? How many more stuffed-animal stories will I tell them? How many more times will I steal warmth by snuggling alongside my wife? How many more times will I mow the lawn, fix the sink, attempt to clean the garage? How many more times am I going to enjoy air-conditioning, or porcelain toilets, or privacy?

Household-6 said months ago: "You're pretty much deployed already." At the time, we'd been re-negotiating the daily routine: Who drops the kids at daycare, who picks them up, who shuttles and shuffles off to dance class--that sort of thing. I'd denied it at the time, but she was right.

In this stifling purgatory of neither citizen-nor-soldier, I have to regularly remind myself that I'm one of the lucky ones. When I came onto "temporary stateside pre-mobilization active-duty" orders--when I started wearing the uniform everyday, rather than once a month--my daily commute shifted all of three miles. I still live at home.

Compare that to my warrior-monk TOC buddies, who schlep in every Monday from the four corners of Iowa--Souix Falls and Council Bluffs, Dubuque and Burlington--returning to their families only on the weekends they're not otherwise on duty. During the week, they camp out in the barracks, or temporary bachelor-apartment digs off-post. They're already burning the midnight oil in the TOC, because there's little else for them to do. Sleep, wake, eat, work, go to gym, work some more, repeat ...

I can't remember how I came upon it, but I recently read a 2007 SpouseBUZZ post that really stuck with me. It discussed how it's not a good idea to compare who's going to have it worse--the soldier who's deployed downrange, or the spouse who's left managing everything else. In my recent conversations with Household-6, I've borrowed both the sentiment and a few words from comments made to that post, including: "Deployment sucks. Necessary, yes, but it sucks on both sides."

In other words, better not to dwell on who's got it worse. Instead, focus on sharing the load.

Or, with apologies to Earnest Hemingway and John Donne (but probably mostly to Donne, because I think Hemingway might've actually appreciated what I'm about to say):

"Do not ask for whom deployment sucks. It sucks for thee."


  1. Sherpa,
    What I still hate about my two deployments, was not the actual deployments, but the time we wasted before going!
    For the Bosnia job, we got calls typically on a Wed or Thur ordering us to come in that next Sat for "mandatory training" for Bosnia. Extra AT's, and all of this training was off the wall shit somebody made up with no idea what we'd actually be doing.
    We wasted over 60 days in a few months doing stupid shit, before were put on Title 10 Orders then started more stupid training.

    I remember how they were training us to search people---keep in mind at that time I had been a civlian cop for well over 20 year--- and the stuff they were traning was going to get a soldier killed if they actually had to search somebody who was out to hurt them.

    Same useless silly shit for Iraq. People who'd never deployed were in charge of making up shit and wasting our time.

  2. Leaving family has to be the hardest part of being a soldier. Thanks for serving and going. And take a little A/C air with you in your pockets. You might need it...though don't you have to have A/C for all the electronic stuff? Or you just sit the blowing on the thing to keep it cool.

  3. Good insight into the realities that you all deal with day-to-day that we can only imagine on the outside. And it has not even started yet... technically. PDV

  4. It's hard for everyone involved getting ready for a deployment. Just know that you and your family will be on the minds and in the prayers of many others.

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  6. @ CI-Roller Dude: The old rule about all the pre-deployment training being ultimately designed to make you want to hurry up and get downrange? Still true. Congress halfway listened to the National Guard and diminished our mobilization-station times, pushed the most-everyone-can-agree-on-them individual-soldier tasks (aka "common tasks" aka "warrior tasks") to PRE-mobilization phase.

    So, yes, we get to stay home longer now, and only spend 30 to 60 days at mobilization station--but they/we forgot to tell our friends and families about all that "extra weeks and weekends" stuff you describe! I guess it's a better system than sitting in the mountains for 4 months waiting to go to the desert (or vice versa), but I'll reserve final judgment until we go through it all over again.

    War story follows, although on another topic: I had a commo buddy way back in the day, who was a 4-foot-tall Anaheim policewoman. In her academy, after getting her nose broken during a jail rotation somehow temporarily altered her voice, she was voted "most likely to go undercover as Minnie Mouse." She always said it was a good thing the Army had made her an RTO instead of an MP, because of the differences she'd seen between MP procedures and her civilian police training. "If we did traffic stops like the Army did," she'd say. "We'd be easy targets."

    @ Coffeypot and company: You guys are the greatest!

  7. Mr. Sherpa -

    I haven't commented on your posts in the past, but I just wanted to let you know that both my husband and I are loyal readers, and want you to keep it up! He says he's quite sure he's never met you in person, but that may change in the upcoming months. In any case, thank you for this blog. It's a great connecting point for us, and a great source of information me for me.

  8. @ RedBullWife: Thanks for the morale boost! In the months to come, be sure to drop me a line if there's any aspect of this "adventure" you'd like to see me take on. Sometimes, I feel like I'm a little too close to the trees to see that forest people keep talking about. Comments (and questions) keep me better rooted to things.

    I know what you mean about "connecting points," too. When I started this, I thought it was going to be equal parts history, military explainers, and how-to-support-the-troops tips. Instead, some of the most-resonant stuff (in my own family, as well as out there in the world) seems to have been in the exploration between house and armory.

    Boy, that sure sounded high-minded and high-falutin', didn't it? I'll be sure to take myself down a notch tomorrow ...

    Thanks again for your note! Give your spouse my regards; I look forward to meeting him sometime!


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