Category - Life In the Army

1
End of an Era
2
Hooah
3
Thoughts
4
Did I Mention We’re Moving?
5
Farewells
6
The Hard Part
7
Time to Say Goodbye
8
Good Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
9
We Remember…
10
Soldiering On

End of an Era

It would surely be some type of crime if I did not tell you that today, right now as I type (Sept 30), is Philip’s very last day in the Army.

I was there with him from the beginning, on the day he was commissioned.  I kept the homefires burning and the post office busy during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  We moved 10 times, to 8 different states (we hit some of them twice) and one foreign country.

He was a tank platoon leader, basic training company commander, intelligence officer, mentor and friend.

He jumped out of airplanes, presided over a court martial, worked on the Crisis Action Team at the Pentagon after 9-11, and brought to life a global satellite communications network.

He earned his spurs, the Order of St. George, a Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit.

It’s been quite a ride.

Hooah

No doubt you’ve heard the Army word, “hooah.”  It’s such a useful and diverse word, appropriate in any situation.  It can indicate agreement, as in “Wow, what a hot and sticky day!” “Hooah!”  It’s often used as a superlative, like “That’s one hooah car” or “That’s pretty hooah.” Or it can be used to emphasize the importance of the matter:  “If you don’t hurry up, we’re leaving without you hooah.”  Notice there is no punctuation before “hooah” in that last sentence.  You say it without pausing.

So when my friend Tami suggested that we use “hooah” on Philip’s retirement cake, we knew that was exactly what we wanted.

Philip’s retirement ceremony was in a word – hooah.  Lots of people came, including a friend from our Civil Air Patrol cadet days, our dear friends from our time in Korea and 3 of the 4 families that I desperately hope move to Colorado Springs when they retire.  (The 4th family has already moved out of the area and could not make the ceremony.)

The official retirement orders were read, which really choked me up hooah.  It read in part, “…You are retired from active duty, released from assignment and duty, and on the date following, place on the retired list.”  Wow.  It’s really all over.  Hooah!

Philip was honored by letters appreciation from President Obama and former Presidents George W. Bush and Clinton.  We’re still waiting to hear from President Bush the senior, who is busy jumping out of airplanes, because he’s such a hooah guy.

Philip’s boss and the guys in his office put together a hooah retirement gift- a shadow box containing all of his insignia and his medals.  The flag was recently flown over the Pentagon.

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I was honored with a certificate from the Department of the Army for being such a hooah Army spouse.

Philip gave a hooah speech, as expected.

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Then we had some great chow (that would be “food” to you civilians) and celebrated Philip’s 20 hooah years of service.

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Hooah!

Thoughts

We’re busy getting ready to move.  Not just move, but retire and buy a house, too.  We’ve gotten rid of a lot of things and yet we still have a ton of stuff.  I took down all the children’s drawings, awards and what-not they had taped to their walls, along with the Mickey Mouse Wall Stickers in the playroom.   I keep crossing things off the list, but it doesn’t seem to get any shorter.

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We’ve been going to family grief counseling for a few weeks.  It’s been helpful for all us, even though poking at the hurty spot is never easy.  The counselor is working with me for PTSD.  It’s weird to think that I have that, I thought I was the healthy one in the family!  But it does explain the strange anxieties that have been creeping into my head lately.  In a way, it feels better to know that they are caused by the trauma of Becca’s death, rather than me starting to go crazy.

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We’re flying to Colorado next week to buy a house.  The children are not as excited as I thought they would be.  They told me that they don’t want to move.  We’ve lived here for 4 years and while they do remember living other places, we’ve all put down some roots here.  Maybe after we have a house, it’ll be easier.

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When I told Pumpkin Girl’s piano teacher that we are moving, he said, “Oh no, not my piano prodigy!” I’m not sure what to make of that.  I had suspected that she is gifted in piano, but I wondered if I was just seeing what I wanted to see.  But then again…she’s got me as her mother.  (toot toot)  (that was me, blowing my own horn).  I told her teacher that when she plays Carnegie Hall, we’ll be sure to invite him.

—–

Philip’s retirement ceremony is June 10th.  I’m quietly freaking out about it.  We need to choose a design for a cake.   (Remember the cake at his last promotion?)We’re thinking about a big fish, with the words, “So long and thanks for all the fish”.  But we’re not sure if enough people will get it.  Another option is a thumbs up with the words “Well done”.  Or a car driving away with “Outta here”.  What do you think?

Did I Mention We’re Moving?

We’re having a Heat Wave.  It’s really hot here, as you may have seen on the news.  I haven’t mentioned it before, because then I’d have to think about it and I’d like to remain in my air conditioned denial.  Yesterday when I checked the weather in Colorado Springs, it was 43 degrees cooler there.  Forty-three degrees.  That’s so wrong, there ought to be a law.  But we’ll be there soon enough.  I’m certain my arrival will set off the hottest summer on record.

So yes, we’re moving and our time in the Army is coming to an end.  My husband found out that once he had his retirement physical, he was not allowed to take anymore PT tests.  He thought he had one last one coming up, but no, the Army is afraid he’ll hurt himself during that last test and would owe him more disability.  So no more PT tests.  He can now let himself get fat and flabby like the rest of us.

It dawned on me last week that even though we will not leave DC until the first week in July, that our packers will come the 3rd week of June.  That’s a whole two weeks earlier than I was mentally prepared for.  I’d like to say that I’m ready, but I’m not.  I will probably stay in denial again, until the weekend before packing out.  At which point I will run around like a crazy woman, trying to get things done.  Should be fun.

Farewells

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My friend and neighbor packed out this week and they’ll be leaving on Saturday morning.   We’ve been living on the same block for 3 years now, and we’ve seen each other almost every day.  Our children play together, our daughters dance together, we go to Catholic Women of the Chapel together, our husbands were on the parish council together, we went to our Catholic homeschool group together.  Our lives have been intertwined for the last few years and now it is time to say goodbye.

I won’t even pretend that we aren’t very sad about this.  This has got to be the worst thing about military life, the saying farewell.

It’s not too bad when you are the one leaving.  For weeks and months before your packers arrive, you are busy with the details of moving.  Things happen in a blur, the stress levels increase and it’s all such a hassle, then the packers show up and do their thing, your stuff is loaded in a van, you clean your house one last time and you’re gone.  Off to the next big adventure.  You’re sad to be leaving, but there are new things ahead of you.

When you are the one left behind, it’s really quite lonely.  You see the movers pack up your friends and then you go over to their newly empty house to pick over their perishable foods, flammables and liquids that the movers won’t pack.  The truck pulls away and at some point it’s the final goodbye.  And then your friends just leave. And you go back into your house, wondering if you’ll ever see them again.  You promise to keep in touch (this time!) but inside you wonder if you’ll just end up on the Christmas card list.

It’s going to be particularly hard this time around, since Boo, Pumpkin Girl and Bip’s friends are leaving, too.  Usually it’s just one of us losing a friend when someone moves away.  This time it’s all of us.

It’s going to be tough at first, but we’ve got a Major Event every month for the next 3 months and that’ll keep us distracted and busy until it is our turn to move on.

The Hard Part

Our next door neighbors didn’t leave on Friday as I thought they were. Their children and ours were outside playing Friday night as long as they could. Saturday morning the parents were still working on cleaning up and the children played until lunchtime. They told us they’d be away from the house on Sunday, but would be back on Monday to clear housing and then they’d be gone.

Tonight it hit Pumpkin Girl. She looked over at me with her big eyes and her serious look. “Do you think Gabrielle’s gone by now?” she asked. I told her that yes, they were gone. And then tears came. All I could do was hold her as she grieved the loss of her friend.

It’s one thing to be the one hurting, it’s quite another when it’s your child. Some days, life in the Army is no fun at all.

Time to Say Goodbye

No, not to my blog! Good heavens, what would the world be coming to? No, it’s time to say goodbye to a couple of friends and neighbors. This picture, taken from my front door, is a scene all too common around here lately. It’s the PCS season again. Moving Season, for you civilian types.

Today is the last day that I will answer the door to find our next door neighbors hoping for Boo and Pumpkin Girl to play. They are a nice Catholic family with children neatly spaced right in between ours. My children knew what time their bus dropped them off from school and would often meet them at the bus stop to walk them home. On cold days, they would huddle together under the bleachers at the baseball adjacent to our house or sit in the bus shelter just across the street from the Potomac River, just waiting for the bus to bring their friends home.

The four of them had many adventures together and for the most part, they got along very well. The occasional rough spots were quickly mended.

This morning after swimming lessons I found myself with 6 children playing upstairs, taking refuge from the already hot and humid day. Next door, they finished the final cleaning of their house and the emptying of their refrigerator (into mine!) in preparation of their “clearing quarters” this afternoon. At some point, I’m not sure when, they’ll walk away from their house one last time and we won’t ever see them again.

PCS season is a bummer.

Another good Catholic family is leaving this weekend and clearing housing today, too. They live across the big green field from us. I can see their house from my yard. Their children and mine were friends, too. Their children have been good friends with ours and I enjoyed the mom’s friendship in our Catholic Women of the Chapel and Catholic homeschoolers group. We will probably see them tomorrow evening at church and again, we will most likely never cross paths again.

Sigh. With friends moving away, storms in the forecast all weekend, and Boo off the Cub Scout camp, of course I am feeling disquieted today. I need to focus on something else.

It’s hard, you know? PCS season really is a bummer – friends are moving away, it’s hot, it’s sticky and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can stick out my tongue and stamp my foot and nothing’s going to change.

But I can change my attitude. I’m not so much as a “glass half empty” person as I am a “Hey, how come everyone else got a glass?” type. Looking on the bright side doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m really going to have to now, though, or I think I’ll go crazy.

Let me give it a try. Here’s a thought: Each newly emptied house is an opportunity for another great family to move in. Oo, here’s another positive thought: In about one month I’ll be enjoying the coolness of the California coast and when we return, summer will be nearly over and Fall will be just 6 weeks away.

See? It’s not so bad, really. I just hate saying goodbye.

Good Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

I’m not one to toot my horn.  Aw, who am I kidding?  I’ve got a blog and I’m not afraid to use it!

Way back in oh, February, Pumpkin Girl and I got our first Girl Scout Cookie sales experience.  Pumpkin saw the pictures of the incentive prizes and set her sights on yet another plush toy.  It required her to sell an obscene amount of over priced boxes of cookies.  So we hit up all the usual friends and relatives and offered them the chance to buy cookies that would be donated to the injured troops at Walter Reed.  Our
Brownie troop also collected donations for the soldiers during booth sales.  All told, we ended up with 12 cases of Girl Scout cookies.

Which sat in my living room for a month.  Then I moved them to the guest room just for a little while. They really were only supposed to be there for a couple of weeks at the most.  Well, one thing led to another and oops, now we’re having guests. Hmm, better move those cookies.  But here it is, hitting 98° already and we can’t just move the cookies out to the shed or the car.  Hey, how about actually taking them up to Walter Reed for the troops!  What a concept.

So off we went today, 12 cases of cookies, a Little Tykes wagon and a folding luggage cart all loaded up into the minivan.

We were quite the sight at the hospital.  Philip, in uniform of course, pulled the wagon with half the cookies, Boo carried one box, Bip sat in his stroller holding another box while Pumpkin pushed him, and I brought up the rear, pulling the luggage cart loaded with the rest of the cookies.

It was pretty obvious what we were doing and we got a lot of smiles from people along the way.  We found the soldier and family readiness center and delivered our cookies.  They were very grateful for the donation.  There were several family members waiting there and the staff was pretty busy, so we took just a couple of pictures and got out of the way.

About halfway home Boo and Pumpkin mentioned the soldier they saw sitting in a wheel chair.  He had been coming out of the physical therapy wing while we waited for the elevator and he had said hi to Philip.  One of his legs had been amputated.  Philip explained that the soldier had probably lost his leg during the war.  Boo said something to the effect of “Wow, war is a lot harder than I thought.”  He was quiet for a moment.  We told them that the soldier they saw and others like him were the injured troops that we’d delivered the cookies to.

Now honestly, I don’t want to pat ourselves on the back too much.  Buying cookies for wounded soldiers is really a small thing to do.   Those injured soldiers and their families have such a long road ahead of them that it is easy to do a good deed.  As an Army family ourselves, we have a soft spot in our hearts for our young troops and I wish there was more that we could do. But wasn’t it Mother Teresa that said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”  She was right.

We Remember…

On this Memorial Day, I am re-posting this piece I wrote about Colonel Brian Allgood, who was killed in Iraq. It was originally posted January 25, 2007.

riderless-horse.jpgWe have been blessedly untouched by the fatalities from the war in Iraq. Yesterday, we found out that someone we knew had been killed in the Blackhawk crash on January 20th. He wasn’t really a friend, not even an acquaintance. Not a co-worker or a neighbor. He was the commander of the hospital in Yongsan, South Korea when our Rebecca died.

While the rest of the hospital gave us the run around, passed the buck and otherwise treated us quite poorly, COL Brian Allgood did the opposite. He invited us to sit down and talk with him personally about all that had happened. He made sure we were kept informed throughout the investigation. He told us to call him if we needed anything. In many ways, he was just doing his job, but in those darkest weeks of our lives, he showed us a compassion that was lacking in the lower levels of the hospital administration. A few months later, when a good friend’s daughter needed emergency surgery and blood transfusions to save her life, COL Allgood was again the voice of calm and comfort. He went out of his way to make sure that things were handled correctly.

Our remaining time in Korea without Becca was a series of struggles with the hospital. We did have to call COL Allgood for help and he immediately fixed the situation. I cannot begin to tell you what that meant to us.  This is not the time to drag up painful memories of broken system.  It is a time to remember the good that one man did and to honor his memory.  Sadly, I don’t know much about him, other that he leaves a wife and a young son. If we had ever seen him again, I knew I wanted to thank him for all that he had done for us in Korea.  I’m sorry I will never have that chance.

Soldiering On

A soldier’s absence always seems to trigger all sorts of minor disasters. While Philip was gone:

An old friend (both in terms of age and years we’ve known him) died.
One former next door neighbor was in a horrible car accident in Israel and was not expected to live. (She is still alive, thank God!)
Another former next door neighbor’s house was damaged in a tornado. They lost all their outdoor toys, both cars and their sofas. Everyone survived.
(ok, so those three things were major disasters)

The toilet plugged up and the plunger broke.
The humidifier broke.
The master bathroom lost it’s electricity.

I got the flu.
I discovered that one of Bip’s repaired teeth had fallen apart.

As I type this on February 21, we still have over a week left on our own. I’m hoping we’ll make it. No, I know we will. We will keep the home fires burning.  We will soldier on because it is what we must do. We try not to complain.

We’re not always successful.

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