You know, at first – it just didn’t seem real. I’d always known that being deployed was possible – it’s just that after being in the Air National Guard for 17 years, and being deployed the sum total of once, and that for the Mississippi flood back in 93 – that going to the Middle East was just not going to happen. When the Colonel walked past my office and told me – “You better make sure you are ready to deploy in the next couple of months” – it was just like, oh, ok. Whatever.
But then it started getting more real. I was getting gear issued to me – this was new – uniforms ordered, my DCU’s (desert combat uniform), my weapons – the 9mm M-9, and the M-16 replacement, the M-4. I was finishing up all my classes online and at drill. I was being given a list of things to remember to pack. We were talking about line numbers, and flights to Afghanistan, and Rotators (the plane that takes us to the Theater of Operations). It was just getting real.
I discussed with my boss at State Farm – and she was very helpful. Asking what she could do to help, scheduling meetings with my team mates to ensure my job functions would be covered while I was gone, and just generally being helpful & supportive. Karen is a great boss. My team mates were also very supportive – even though they would be doing my work for me for 6 months. No complaints at all. Good stuff.
Early December, I stopped work at State Farm – with a ‘parade’ – cake, flyers – the whole shebang set up by my boss and the MAG – Military Affinity Group – at State Farm. Talk about a humbling experience. I had been in those parades for guys leaving before, seen the flags & well wishers, been a hand shaker – but for whatever reason, just didn’t really feel like it was something that I deserved to have done for me. I mean, I’m just going on a trip to do my job. Be the Communications Officer. I’ve been training for it for years…..it’s just my job. No big deal. I was treated like a real VIP. The parade was simply awesome – about 300 yards of folks lining the hallway and cheering as I walked by. Shaking my hands – thanking me – it was surreal. It was humbling. It was difficult to not cry the entire time I walked the line. Then – since this was on my floor – the 3rd – at the end we walked downstairs to the 2nd floor and did it all again! It was, simply incredible.
I started at the base early December, just mostly pulling my drills that I would miss during my deployment (drill is the ‘weekend’ of duty that we do once a month. They are also called UTA – Unit Training Assemblies). As I was doing this, wearing the uniform day in day out, and getting ready to go, it was getting more ‘real’ – but still a long way off.
The last weekend with the kids was amazing. We had just a normal weekend – doing dinner – a movie and that kind of thing – but at church, as people were saying “see ya later” to me, and after the pastor and some elders laid hands on me to pray for me & my family – the kids started to understand that it was happening – as did I. On the way home from church, Gena started asking questions – how long would I be gone, if I would buy her a doll, or a teddy bear, and if I was going to die in Afghanistan. Wow. Isaiah then asked if I would be ‘out of harms way’? I did my best to assure them I would be completely safe, out of the way of danger – on a base, no less, and that I would return to them safe & sound. I’m not sure if I was convincing them or me.