I am proud to have son who is part of the 82nd Airborne. While I will never understand the want to jump out a perfectly good plane, I am grateful for son’s commitment to his country.That being said, and now that it is years later, I am able to speak of one of the most stressful times in my life: my child deploying.
My son always corrects me when I say, “you’re my baby”. He doesn’t understand that I know he is a grown man. I know he can make his own decisions. Yet, he is my first born. While I love all my children equally, I think your first born has a greater impact on your life because everything is so new. He or she will do all the “firsts”.
When A.I.T. (Advanced Individualized Training) finished, I knew if he received one of two bases, he was going to deploy and soon. Those bases were Alaska or Hawaii. My son was assigned to Hawaii and it was only a matter of months before notification of deployment came. Afghanistan would be his home for the next twelve months.
While I never had a child leave for college, I would cringe when mothers told me they knew how I felt because their kid went off to college. I resisted the urge to ask them, “Oh yea? Who shot at your son today? What flying football did he dodge today?” I quickly learned you don’t catch the “flying football” (enemy mortars) shot into camp.
I remember finding out the date he was leaving. I was the last phone call he made. In fact, he called me on his way to board the plane that would take my son 36-hours around the world, far away from me. It was then I avoided news completely. I avoided shows like Army Wives. I stopped sleeping except a few hours a night. I developed a phone phobia. I started having panic attacks if my phone wasn’t in my sight at all times. I had to do something. I had a small child to take care of and a full-time job to work.
Yet, I lived in fear of an unknown sedan pulling up to my house, a knock on the door and hearing, “we regret to inform you…”
First, I got involved with Soldiers’ Angels. It was a way for me to help support the troops but also to receive support from other military moms. Their understanding was invaluable. I lived and breathed volunteer work. I literally was writing 40 people at once. I had to keep my mind off the deployment. I was once asked to coordinate a Marine homecoming. I was giddy. I made Calvin (the Marine) a basket with his name on it and stuffed it with welcome home cards and homemade baked goods. I was able to offer support to his mother, who pretty much was unsupported through the deployment. She never knew we existed. I was unprepared for her praise and gifts for getting her through the final two months before her son returned. I put Calvin’s mom in touch with the Patriot Guard Riders who started out doing funeral escorts for our military heroes. They expanded their work to include being there to welcome home the troops. I had the honor of standing a flag line for a WW II vet. It was an amazing experience.
I sought out a local Blue Star Mothers group too. As it turned out, I was nominated for the position of Vice-President, which I won. It was a good experience, but did not seek to run again after I completed my service.
Since I still had insomnia, my adoptees would reach out to me through Instant Messenger. I figured I was up and if one of my “boys” wanted to talk, I would be there for them. I had adopted several guys, unofficially, when I found out they weren’t receiving anything from home. That wasn’t acceptable. I become “mom” to quite a few privates. It became my calling.
My son and I would chat online often. I was lucky enough to receive a few satellite calls. He even took his two weeks R&R with us. He flew 36 hours to meet his youngest sister for the first time (she was 5 then). It’s a long story about why they were just meeting; another time perhaps.
The day before he had to return, I sat in my office and just cried. He was going back to a place that wanted him dead. I felt a hand on my shoulder; my son’s hand. He said, “it’s ok, Ma”. When did my son get so strong? When did I allow myself to get so weak?
I took him to the airport by myself the next day. I watched him walk through the gate and board the plane. I watched the plane take off. No one noticed the tears falling on from my eyes. It’s true airports see more tears than any other place. I walked silently out of the airport, to my car, where I had a complete meltdown.
I stopped myself. I told myself “back to taking it minute by minute, then hour by hour until I am at day by day”. I had told so many other moms that. It was time to take my own advice. I still adoptees who needed me. I still had families who needed support.
I did get stronger. I learned to handle deployment. I had started a Facebook group for families dealing with deployment. I “met” a young man, a sniper, who helped get me through. He had left the Army, but his knowledge was invaluable. I truly value his friendship. I have since left the group I started. My integrity was questioned and that wasn’t ok with me.
My son returned safely. He has changed a bit since deployment, but I expected that. He started out as a Private First-Class. He has since ranked up to Sergeant. His men are lucky to have him looking out for them.
Deployment isn’t easy, it’s doable. Find what works for you. It’s ok to avoid people for awhile until you get your bearings. It’s not the end of the world. It’s an honor to be the mother or father of someone who will fight in service to their country.