As I sat in the airport terminal waiting to board my flight, my eyes met those of a soldier dressed in his ACUs. We shared a smile and I returned to my bottled water and newly purchased book. Upon boarding, I settled into my window seat, and much to my surprise, that very soldier was seated next to me. We shared a polite “Hello,” and I continued reading. I could tell that he wanted to talk, but I was en route to a funeral and just needed some time to myself.
“Are you from Atlanta?” he asked after a few minutes. “No, I’m actually flying to my hometown of Tallahassee, Florida,” I replied. He shared that he was returning to Washington State after a year-long deployment to Qatar. I immediately put down my book and realized this was a conversation worth having.
We never exchanged names, but I told him that I was an Army wife, and welcomed him back to the States. I learned that we were the same age, that he was a father, and that this was his third deployment.
As an Army wife who lives on base, I often hear the viewpoint of women on the homefront. I wanted to learn firsthand what deployment and homecoming were like from a soldier, and he provided this unique perspective.
- “I’m tired of sand,” he said. “It was in my shoes and in my pockets when I reached for my keys…I really just want to see some green grass.”
- “You quickly learn which days to eat at the DFAC. I found myself missing foods like specific gummy bears and my favorite chips. You can’t buy them over there, so I had my wife send me some.”
- When I asked what he’s looking forward to most besides seeing his family he replied, “This will sound funny, but showering without having to wear shoes. Also, I won’t miss the heat. Some days it got up to 130 degrees F. The water tanks were just below the sand so all the showers were hot. After getting cleaned up, you’d have to walk back through the heat and it just undid everything.”
About His Wife
- He told me that they were highschool sweethearts and that although she was raised in the same hometown her whole life, she has adapted to military life very well and has learned to love it.
- He was touched when she included fun surprises in his care packages. “Once, she sent a bunch of water guns for me and my buddies. She did things like that.”
- “My wife is stronger and tougher than she knows,” he shared. “Spouses are not trained for this like soldiers are. You have to just figure it out as you go along. It’s during the deployments that things go wrong like issues with kids, illness, and car troubles. You military spouses are a special breed.”
- “I’ve been on a plane for days now. It’s hard being back on American soil and not being home yet. I know that there will probably be delays, so I told my wife I will see her next week, so that I don’t get my family’s hopes up.”
- When I asked what it was like coming home after time away he confessed, “It’s a really strange feeling. At one point, my wife had lost 40 lbs, my kids had grown, and my bathrooms were redone. People looked the same, but they weren’t.”
- We talked about the dynamic when he gets home. He shared, “She runs the show while I am gone and is so good at it, I don’t want to step on her toes. I just step back and wait for her to ask for help, but I always need to relearn some things when I come home. It’s like they don’t need me and I have to find my place again.”
- I asked how things were in regard to his children. He answered, “I have to learn how to deal with them being different ages than they were when I left. Also, it’s not fair to my wife, but I am the favorite for a while. The kids just want to spend time with me, and my wife still has to do her regular duties and be the bad guy for a while.”
- When I asked if they had any special plans to celebrate his homecoming, he answered, “I am taking 30 days off to relax and readjust to life over here. I am also sending my wife home for a week so that she can be with friends and family and get a break from our kids. She has worked very hard and deserves it.” I told him he was a wise man and that it was a true pleasure speaking with him.
Walking a Mile in His Boots
This soldier’s perspective was eye-opening, and I hope his thoughts increase the understanding and compassion between military couples who are struggling with the challenges of deployment, TDYs, and homecoming. I needed to hear his words and feel fortunate that we briefly connected.
A self-described “Jackie of All Trades,” Army wife Jackie Toops is a mother of two and enjoys writing, travel, art, languages, slow cooking and peaceful parenting. She studied Interdisciplinary Humanities, Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management, and has overseen public relations for museums, galleries and universities. She is a contributing author for Wall Street International Magazine and has discussed her articles on-air with AFN Wiesbaden. She’s usually seen adventuring with her Canon, a coffee and two small children. Follow her on Twitter.
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