One week ago Sunday, we learned our youngest son, Jordan, was headed off to war. To southern Afghanistan, roughly 7,000 miles and 12 time zones away. Basically, halfway around the world.
In the seven days since that I've had to process this news, I've gone from shock to dread to pride and joy to acceptance.
Shock. All of us, Jordan included, had been led to believe he wouldn't deploy until late January. However, the call to ship out came earlier than expected, leaving him little time to pack up and say a round of quick goodbyes, while the rest of us reeled from emotional whiplash. We had a wonderful visit with him and his wife Jamie at Thanksgiving and we were looking forward to seeing them again at Christmas. Now, our plans for a full Rede reunion are dashed. Brother Nathan will be here on Xmas Day and so will sister Simone, along with both their partners, plus Lori and me. But we won't see our youngest child nor will we celebrate his 24th birthday with him in the weeks ahead. Instead, we'll hope to see Jamie during the holidays, as she now faces the prospect of an empty house (save for their dog and two cats) for the next 12 months. Not at all what we had in mind as the year comes to an end.
Dread. No father or mother wants to see his soldier head off to one of the world's poorest and most volatile countries, where military success and political and economic progress seemingly come at a snail's pace and with an unrelenting human cost. At times like this, geopolitics don't matter Your primary concern is the safety of your child. The mind doesn't want to imagine certain situations. Yet the news brings reminders of the dangers, even here at home, that come with military service.
On Monday night, four Army aviators were killed in an accident involving two Army helicopters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), about 30 miles south of Tacoma. The very military base where Jordan and his fellow soldiers boarded planes about 24 hours earlier to begin their international trek.
One month earlier, a soldier assigned to JBLM was killed and four others were injured when the Stryker vehicle the soldiers were traveling in rolled over during a training exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin. The very training center in the southern California desert where Jordan and his unit spent a few weeks this summer preparing for their mission in Afghanistan.
I cite these specifics not to be ghoulish or fatalistic but to remind myself that deployment doesn't necessarily foreshadow negative outcomes, just as serving stateside doesn't protect a soldier from harm. Jordan himself has told Lori and me that no activity is without danger, be it driving a car or riding a bicycle, and urged us to keep in mind that he and his fellow troops are well trained and mentally and physically prepared to do their jobs.
Pride. As word leaked out of Jordan's deployment, I found comfort in the many expressions of support for our soldier. Family members praised his courage and personal sacrifice. Friends sent their love and promised to keep him in their thoughts and prayers. Lori wrote a blog post of her own ("Be grateful - always") that one friend called "achingly beautiful." And when I called my dad, a retired WWII Navy veteran now living in New Mexico to tell him the news, he responded in Spanish: "God will take care of him. He took care of me and my six brothers when we served." Made me choke up. By mid-week, I was still trying to process everything. And then...
Jamie & Jordan at Thanksgiving
Joy. I was on Facebook Thursday evening, waiting for Lori to return from a night out with her girlfriends when out of nowhere I got a message on Chat: "Hey dad."
It was Jordan, writing in real time from a U.S. military base in one of the former Soviet republics north of Afghanistan. He and his unit had flown from Lewis-McChord to the East Coast, stopped over in Ireland and then continued to their present location. He had some down time and, coincidentally, had logged on at the same time as me. He said it was "snowing like crazy" already but he wouldn't have seen much anyway because the troops were confined to base, as one would expect. We chatted for a few minutes, then I let him go so he could chat with Jamie, who also happened to log on at the same time. He signed off simply: "Later, dad."
Acceptance. That personal connection with my boy -- the one I'd mock wrestled, cheered for at soccer games and played catch with -- made all the difference in the world. I could imagine him in his short haircut, camouflage uniform and boots, preparing to join a few of the guys who were heading out to lunch, as it was already late Friday morning there. By now, I imagine they've arrived at their destination.
Don't worry, he said Sunday, in our last phone conversation. We'll be arriving in winter and the Taliban don't want to fight in those conditions anymore than we do, he said. They're not stupid. So, I'm taking the view that a few months of relative inactivity will be good and will keep him out of harm's way. Any fatherly concerns can wait until springtime, when the snow begins to melt.
In the meantime, here's some detail on the deployment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division as reported by The (Tacoma) News Tribune back in August:
The countdown’s on for more than 3,200 soldiers in Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
The Pentagon announced Friday [Aug. 26] that the Stryker brigade will deploy to Afghanistan for a one-year mission in December. It’s the 3rd Brigade’s fourth combat deployment in 10 years and its first to Afghanistan.
Leaders of the brigade earlier this year had been preparing their troops for so-called “full spectrum” operations, meaning they were training for traditional warfare against another nation’s developed military. At the time, the brigade did not have clear plans for a deployment.
That appeared to change this summer when the Army announced the brigade would train for the kind of tactics the military uses in Afghanistan, namely protecting civilians while tracking down insurgents. Families read those signals and prepared themselves for a deployment sooner than they had anticipated. The brigade returned from a yearlong mission in Iraq in July and August 2010.
Proud of my son.
Tweet me @georgerede
More from parenting