[Images courtesy of Angela Ross Photography]
I was in the United States Air Force Reserves for 10 years. Honestly, it was a path I never thought I’d take, but there I was a junior in high school with no idea what I wanted to do. I called my aunt, who happened to be a recruiter at the time, and the ball started rolling. I was 17 years old when I signed the dotted line, had a two week summer vacation before heading to San Antonio after high school graduation, and turned 18 years old right after completing basic training.
A little background, I spent my sophomore year of high school with my aunt (who ended up being my recruiter) and uncle who were both in the military and watched them go off on weekends after working all week or on two week stints to different states or countries to perform their duty. I watched from afar as my uncle left on 6 month deployments leaving his wife and three kids behind, but never did they waiver in their commitment to it all. I also had another aunt who spent a career in the USAFR, and my grandfather spent time in a few different branches of the service. I heard stories about the service my entire life. Now, my husband, little brother, and three of my cousins still serve. It has sort of become a tradition in our family, usually ending in a retirement.
I chose my reserve base in Denver, Colorado, it was an amazing start to my career. My first annual tour, a 2 week trip to an active duty base to train, was to Hawaii! It was amazing, I enjoyed spending time with my fellow airmen and meeting new people. It was a great morale boosting trip. Fast forward a year, and I was off to Tokyo, Japan for 2 weeks… just a few days after my husband and I tied the knot. The next year, I spent time in Marietta, Georgia, at the end of July (during our first wedding anniversary) putting up tents, sleeping in tents, checking boots for scorpions, playing war games, and sweating through my uniform for 2 weeks.
I met my husband in the service. It was a bit of a whirlwind and as our marriage continues we have experienced a lot of sacrifice. Some people are shocked when we share that we have spent only 2 out of 9 wedding anniversaries together due to military commitments. Oh, and I can’t forget that time we had booked a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (for one of our wedding anniversaries), and had to cancel our trip because, dun dun dun… military travel restrictions. Instead, we spent our anniversary in Estes Park, Colorado, horseback riding in the mountains and exploring the town. We have learned that birthdays and holidays can be celebrated on any day due to unique schedules. If anything, military life has taught us to be adaptable.
You may be baffled that I got out after 10 years of service, as at that point you usually continue on to finish your career; but I was up for a 6 month deployment with a breastfeeding child and a husband deploying at the same time. I decided to end my career for my family, something I hadn’t ever been able to choose over my commitment to the service.
During my husband’s 2019-2020 deployment, our son was almost 2 1/2 years old when he left for 7 months. 2 1/2 year olds don’t really comprehend what’s happening during a deployment drop off, in fact, our son, just shy of 4, is just now starting to understand the concept that his dad works at night. He expressed he missed his dad on occasion, but as the days went on I would say it became easier for him, even if he still didn’t understand. He would usually enjoy FaceTime with his dad, but sometimes he wasn’t interested. Could you imagine how that tugs at your heart strings as a parent?
My husband missed a lot of firsts, and not all of them were caught on video. The schedules didn’t always add up, so being able to chat wasn’t always a possibility. His return to our family was not easy, if you can imagine. I had to create a list of things that we do or don’t do, discipline, and routines to help my husband transition back. The truth? It was still a REALLY BIG transition. A returning parent, and even a non-parent, feels like they are watching their families from the outside, trying to figure out how they fit in because the reality is time didn’t stand still when they were gone. As a family, you need to continue to move forward and do the activities, adjust the schedules, and figure out how to survive as a one-parent household. Could you imagine if both of us had left our 2 1/2 year old behind for 6+ months? That is the reality for some military families.
Through our time associated with the service we have woken up to stories of our friends dying by suicide, returning from the war zone with PTSD, or hearing of difficult divorces. I think it’s easy to forget about the sacrifices that don’t seem as in your face, the missed time with family, the goals put on hold, the missed choir concerts or sports events, not being able to help your partner out during a sleep regression or hard time except for on FaceTime or via text. I mean, have you ever tried to work through an issue via FaceTime with spotty WiFi or text? It never goes as intended.
On this Veterans Day, I urge you to think of our veterans in a different, deeper light. As you thank a vet for their service, take a moment to allow yourself to realize all that you are thanking them for service and sacrifice far beyond serving our country.