“Sorry Dad, I’ve got to go. The alarms are going off again.”
All of our few chat sessions had ended the same way. Since we were instant messaging, she couldn’t see my tears. Have to stay strong.
“Love you, Kiddo.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
Time was passing slowly since that day back in January. When hopes and dreams seemed to fade into darkness. Way too slowly.
My daughter was seventeen when she joined the army. I gave my consent. That seemed to be the best decision at the time. She was headstrong like me and had made up her mind. I could sign the papers now or she could just wait a few more months and my approval wouldn’t have been necessary.
This would represent the fourth generation of the family to have served.*
At the time, it seemed there were few worries. She sailed through boot camp at Fort Jackson and was off for advanced infantry training at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
My little girl was becoming a diesel mechanic. Working on the big stuff. Heavy wheeled vehicles – HMMWVs, MRAPs, RTCHs, HETs, HEMTTs, LMTVs, fork lifts and cranes too – basically anything that would be transporting troops or supplies or be used in construction.* Drive shafts and transmissions were her specialty.
Her duty assignment came later than some of her fellow soldiers and she was wondering what was up. But when it turned out to be Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, we thought WOW! Hawaii! I remember telling her that maybe they rewarded the best with the best places. The azure blue waters of the Pacific. Endless sand beaches. Palm trees and tropical fruit. Sunsets over the water.
25th Infantry Division, “Tropic Lightning”; 84th Engineer Battalion, “Never Daunted”; 45th Corps Support; Alpha Company.
It didn’t sink in that Hawaii was where the major Asian-Pacific theater operations were staged. And it should have. My Dad was stationed at Hickam Field and was set for deployment to fight in Japan in WWII, but the A-Bomb interceded and bought that war to an earlier end.
So when her orders came for her to deploy to Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was stunned silent. All I could see was my little girl. Playing. Flying kites with her. Taking her to the water park. She used to hook her hands together behind my neck and I would stand up and let her hang there – called her my little necklace.
And now she was going to a war zone.
The date was set and I flew in for a two-week stay so I could spend some time with her. But the day I arrived, they advanced her ship-out date and we were only going to have two days. And time would be limited as she had duties to perform.
That time evaporated and for being in such a sunny place, it sure felt dark and heavy. Before I knew it, I found myself at her deployment ceremony.
The ceremony wasn’t held on an elaborate parade ground. There were no podiums for speakers. No gaggle of offices. No dress uniforms. This was much less formal and only for her company. I image similar ceremonies were happening all over the base.
The sun set early, around 6:30 pm, after the various family members had gathered on a basketball court.
I remember seeing children. A lot of children. Running, playing, and laughing, for the moment, and being picked up and held by their parents. Parents who were mere children themselves. Children dressed in desert camo. Gear assembled. M-16s and SAW Rifles issued. Serial numbers recorded. Three MREs passed out to each soldier.
My daughter, all 100 pounds of her, had a 110-pound rucksack on her back, a second pack around her shoulders, backwards, so it rested on her chest balancing out the weight. A separate carry-on, and the MREs stuffed in the pockets of her camo pants. I couldn’t have carried so much weight. Not even close. Plus, a rifle that looked bigger than she was.
The Captain gave a brief speech and buses began arriving to take her company to the airfield. I held my daughter tight. Other children clung on to their fathers or mothers crying don’t go, don’t go . . .
At the last moment possible all of us visitors released our grips and watched them board the buses. Once they were out of sight, and as we turned to walk away, it began to rain. The heavens opened and the sky was crying with us.
Rain drops mixing with our tears. Disappearing into porous volcanic soil . . .
My daughter completed her year’s tour over there on an airbase located near the center of the country. A base that received some 20 rocket attacks daily. One was even launched from inside the base. The locals had planned for their insurgency and had buried weapons before the invasion.
Their food was poisoned by Iraqi civilian workers in the mess hall. Bombs were set inside living quarters for the many foreign workers that were imported. An outdoor movie theater was rarely attended. It was too easy a target. The Base Exchange hit, as soldiers were exiting – having bought packaged food to avoid the mess hall.
While my daughter was on-base most of the time, they all had to “volunteer” for at least two convoys. Two of her platoon members died on one of those.
News was sketchy, but I found the BBC to have more honest and timely coverage. The generals didn’t want the public to know that they couldn’t secure their own base perimeters.
She sent me pictures of the graveyard for vehicles destroyed by IEDs. The remains of which they stripped to place armor on the vehicles that were lacking it.
Probably the most disturbing image came from her staging area in Kuwait. There she was in her desert camos with a bright swath of olive-green around her chest. They had run out of desert camo flak jackets and given them woodland green. And if that wasn’t making them stand out as a target enough, they had also run out of the protective plates that slide into and reinforce those jackets, so she had limited body armor covering her back.
Yes, I’m grateful she made it back without any physical injuries. But I don’t know what she still has to experience in her mind from those days.
I hold her tight whenever I see her.
*Sorry for all of the abbreviations, but that was better than slowing the readers down with this list 🙂
Mine Resistance Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicle series; High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) series; Rough Terrain Container Handler (RTCH); 6K Variable Reach Fork Lift; Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET) series with semi-trailers; Heavy Expandable Mobile Tactical Truck (HEMTT) series; Truck Cargo 5Ton series; Light Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV); and 10 Ton Cranes.
Thanks: I wish to extend my sincere thanks to all of those who serve, and have served, and to their parents, spouses and other family members for having known what they endure with their loved ones are deployed.
*And I must add a footnote: For clarity, in my generation, it was not I who served in the military. One of my brothers was in the Marines – Vietnam era vet. I tried to join but was unable due to having asthma. We do have an interesting family history. My Great, Great, Great Paternal Grandfather, and his two brothers, fled Germany in 1852 to escape being drafted into the German military. They were farmers. They immigrated to America, and the generations that followed began the tradition of serving in the US military. Ironically, we may have had family members shooting at each other in both World Wars.
Photo: My daughter, with her fellow company members, listen to the send-off speech from their Captain.