As our family of four sat in Applebee’s enjoying Mike’s free meal for Veteran’s Day, we found ourselves reflecting on various memories from his brief time in the Army. Yesterday was the first time Mike had off from a job of some sort to celebrate the holiday. It was an odd experience to have him with us to tell you the truth. Last year, the kids and I took goodies to him at the car dealership where he worked as a service advisor. The year before that he was at the station where he worked as a fire fighter. If you know anything about veterans, multiple jobs can be a reality during their reintegration into society. For my husband, it is also a sad part of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yes, my veteran deals endlessly with the realities of having been “down range.”
But I digress.
Our reflection during our meal yesterday afternoon included the one from Veteran’s Day 2011. That day will stay with me for as long as I live. You see, that holiday, Mike was in a convoy crossing from Iraq into Kuwait. I hadn’t heard from him in three days, something I became accustomed to during his time in the Army, but this time, I felt as though I was holding my breath. Waiting for the phone call or the email from your spouse or loved one can be sheer torture even when your loved one is somewhere safe. This seemingly brief halt in our communication was in fact, good news. The bigger picture of the danger and silence of those few days the convoy was on the move was that it was actually the first step in Mike’s brigade returning to the states. Their deployment was to be cut short from the original twelve months down to six months. It was a blessing in disguise so to speak, but the convoy would pass through treacherous areas during their trek to a safe zone.
That trip forever changed the way Mike sees bridges and piles of trash on the side of the road.
“Babe, we made it,” were the first words I heard on the other end of the phone. I sunk to the ground in my room and softly let out all the tears of worry and stress that I had bottled up for the past few days.
“Are you okay?” Mike asked.
I’m sure he was wondering if I was losing my mind at that moment.
“Yes, Babe, I’m just relieved.”
I could barely get the words out to reassure him that I was, in fact, okay.
Those precious moments still make me tear up when I recall them. I am grateful for those moments in time because so many loved ones of military members did not get that phone call. Their service members were not coming home. The gift of that phone call was not lost on me that day. When I reflect on that time, I will always quietly pray for those who are living without someone that they loved. That moment, that phone call, forever changed me. I think it forever changed Mike as well.
He was coming home.