I am faring reasonably well with my three duffle bags of equipment issued to me in Ft. Benning. I use the uniforms, t-shirts, and boots daily. A dark green camouflage poncho liner serves as my bedspread. We were told to bring our own PT (Physical Training) clothing, underwear, and toiletries. And that’s it. The saying goes, “If the army didn’t issue it to you, you don’t need it.”
Although I pass many emergency messages requesting that the service member return home, I know that few leaves are approved because of the need for personnel here. It isn’t like a unit can just call a temp agency for a replacement. I overheard a soldier say that he thought the Army was frustrated with dealing with families and all of their problems. Since many members of the National Guard and Reserves have been called to duty, the services consist of older, married personnel with more dependents in comparison to years past when military service was mandatory and most recruits were young and single. Laughing about the dilemma, the soldier said the saying can be extended to “If the army wanted you to have a spouse, they would have issued you one.”
Person does sacrifice a lot by coming here. Even though I admit to bringing several books and DVDs, and I know the servicemembers bring IPods and computer games, we leave behind daily contact with family and friends, our favorite chair, alcohol (Someone forgot to tell me this during the Red Cross recruitment process! So no wine with dinner, no Friday night martini!) No wearing favorite clothes – only uniforms, PTs, and occasionally one set of civilian clothes. We can’t drive our favorite cars. A lot of things are left behind.
Henry David Thoreau’s years living at Waldon Pond come to mind when I think of our simple life on COB Speicher, a life stripped of amenities. I am also reminded of life in a religious order, especially in the past when people established a community outside of their families and gave up material luxuries, wore uniforms, and adhered to strict routine schedules. I am intrigued by the similarities between religious and military life. I better understand the benefits of a living with fewer, far fewer, material belongings, wearing the same uniform everyday, and having the same schedule every day. This life frees me of many concerns. I don’t have to think about what I am going to wear each day, if it will be appropriate for the occasion, if it matches, etc . . . . This routine and simple life allows a person to remain tightly focused and fully dedicated to the mission, incidentally a word used by both military and religious organizations.
Holiday decorations started appearing at the DFAC and in offices shortly after Thanksgiving, but now – a week before Christmas – tension seems to be rising and I’ve overheard some tempers lost. This is the second Christmas away from home for the soldiers who have been deployed for over twelve months. A friend from home sent an email saying she hoped we wouldn’t experience any suicides. Too late. By the time I received her note, we had received a message about a serviceman’s seventeen year-old son, who had been critically injured by a gunshot wound to the head, allegedly self-inflicted. Later in the week, we became aware of two servicemen who committed suicide. Overall the volume of messages remains relentless in all categories of emergencies.
Last night I relayed a message about a servicewoman’s father who had been hospitalized and diagnosed with an acute, terminal form of leukemia. This happened to my husband and that dark November night was the beginning of the last eight months of his life. I could visualize the hospital room and found myself reliving a chapter of my own history when I read that message over the phone.
But it is not entirely grim here. Coworker Debby has working miraculously to raise spirits. She began by wearing antlers and a red nose to cheer those around her. I have a picture to prove it! She also put her skills as a photographer to use six evenings in the various DFACs taking portraits of servicemen and women in front of a Christmas tree that they could then email home. Around a thousand such pictures were sent back home to families. Today she donned a Mrs. Santa outfit that she sewed out of a red fleece blanket and hosted the carolers who sang for us this evening.
From email and a few phone calls, I hear about my family getting ready for Christmas, ready to share gifts, a meal, and a day together. I am thankful that they are all safe and well. I hope for you and all families a simple Merry Christmas that allows you to keep focused on your mission.