Archive Page 2

22
Aug
09

Countdown to Homecoming

Supporting those who fight for our Flag, Motherhood and Apple PieAs of this week, we’re counting down: in less than a month, my son should be on his way out of Afghanistan, on his way home.

I’ve been told the USAF sticks to the schedule pretty rigidly. I’ve been told we can count on this happening plus or minus a few days, depending on transportation, logistics and the weather. We don’t know exactly when or where we’ll meet up.  But we will meet up.  Sometime soon.

This time of year, when you say the word “homecoming” most everyone thinks of football games, kings and queens, parades, chaperones and dances.

But “homecoming” has now taken on the meaning of “After Deployment” for our family.  Having been in the middle of a strange country, our son will have another strange world to navigate. He’ll need to get beyond the experiences of war and  learn how to integrate those experiences into the next phase of  his life, without letting those lessons and experience consume him. I’m just starting to fully appreciate what this homecoming may mean.

Our military leaders are paying attention to the effects participating in these wars has on our soldiers. They are making significant efforts to educate our troops and their families on how to assimilate back into a society that really doesn’t understand, and doesn’t seem to pay attention to anything beyond the borders of our 50 states.

Sadly, military suicide rates are increasing, in spite of the attention paid to address the silent, but significant impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorders. We’re just starting to understand all the different types of pain our soldiers endure; physical, emotional and mental pain, each wrecking havoc on the strongest of our men and women.

My dad’s generation rarely spoke of what they went through. On the 50th anniversary of D-Day, one of my dad’s best friends shared how he stumbled into one of Hitler’s concentration camps as he was running telephone lines through Germany, ahead of Patton’s 3rd army. He had been silent those 50 years, never mentioning this horror to anyone, never telling a soul, not even his wife or his own children of this experience. It was an unspeakable event in his life, so secret that, even now, it feels as though I’m betraying a confidence writing about it. It must have been painful holding it inside all those years.

During the late 60s and 70s when my brothers served during the unpopular Vietnam era, no one paid attention to anyone’s homecoming.  Our servicemen were in the jungles in Southeast Asia one day, and plunked down in jungles of our urban centers the next.  There were no formal out processes, no assessments, no counseling.  Almost 60,000 American men and women died in that war. Tens of thousands more struggle to this day, and no wonder.

As a society, we’re getting better.  We’re learning to at least acknowledge their service when our troops return. We’ve set up chat rooms and webinars, online support groups and transitional assistance advisors in each state. Help is there, if we need it. If.

In the meantime, today I cut some fresh sweet corn off the cob and froze it, knowing the season will be past by the time he’s home. It’s the first thing I’ve allowed myself to do, in preparation for his homecoming.

The homecoming we joyfully await, with no expectations of anything other than the blessed relief of being physically present with him.

In about a month.

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29
Jul
09

It’s back to school, for the first time

Supporting those who fight for our Flag, Motherhood and Apple PieI’ve had the distinct privilege of getting to know one of our United States Forces – Afghanistan Communications Specialists.

This young woman grew up in the south, the youngest in a large family.  She’s now in Afghanistan, keeping the rest of us updated on major news stories – nation building, counter-insurgency efforts, drug busts, and IED explosions, the stuff you don’t hear much about unless you really try to keep track of what’s actually going on there.  It’s a big job and she’s up to every second of it. Her work is terrific.

You’d never know her dad passed away a little over two months ago.

Her mother is now a widow, with her youngest daughter half a world away in Kabul/Bagram.  Can you imagine how tough that is?

But here’s the important part.  This same Sr. Airman is writing to all her friends and family back home, asking them to send school supplies for all the new schools that are being built in Afghanistan.  She’s working on her “off” hours, sourcing things, connecting with folks and friends to scour up the stuff we all have cluttering up our junk drawers, in our filing cabinets, and  in our closets:

note pads

pens

pencils

color crayons

paper

markers

glue

sequins

glitter

construction paper

3-ring binders

scissors

scotch tape

The back to school stuff that many girls and boys in Afghanistan will get to use for the first time, as students, in their new schools, thanks to the efforts of the United States Armed Forces.

It’s stuff most of us don’t use much anymore;  stuff we really don’t need. We’ve moved on to a digital world.  But it’s stuff badly needed in Afghanistan.

If you feel so inclined to pack up your stuff and ship it off, let me know. I’ll send you her address.blue-star-mom-service-flag

21
Jul
09

Tom Friedman let me down

Supporting those who fight for our Flag, Motherhood and Apple PieThis past week-end, fellow Twin Citian, Minnesotan and famous author Thomas Friedman sent out this Twitter “tweet” about his most recent NY Times editorial:

“Why are we here? Who cares about the Taliban?  Al Qaeda is gone.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/opinion/19friedman.html .”

The article focuses on Mr. Friedman’s recent trip to Pushghar, Afghanistan, to witness the opening of a public school for girls. The school was built thanks to the United States Forces – Afghanistan’s effort, the International Coalition forces and the Afghan National Army.  For the most part, our Military built this school with US Taxpayers’ money.

The NY Times article that went along with this tweet was entitled: “Teacher, can we leave now?  No.”  and went on to applaud the productive and important nation building effort that is going on, as part of the long war on terror.

I enjoy reading Tom Friedman’s books and his editorials. I’ve learned a lot from his perspectives. While I don’t always agree with his specific conclusions and recommendations, there’s something to be gained in exploring his suggestions. In and of itself, this most recent article was fine, even helpful. Clearly, the major media outlets, what’s left of them, aren’t highlighting the good our servicemen and women are doing.  Getting the likes of celebrity author, acclaimed geopolitical authority Tom Friedman to acknowledge our Military’s contribution, is, in the least, a first step.

But the “tweet,” this sensational, misleading tweet has me all riled up.

For too many people on “Twitter,” the “tweet” IS the substance – it’s all they read.  They never click on the linked content.  They don’t bother with the “meat” of the issue. I know. I’m one of them.

When did it become acceptable in journalism for titillation to trump substance? Why couldn’t Mr. Friedman have just used his article’s title to get his Twitter followers to read his article?  It’s a great title – and provides a snippet of truthful insight to the content to follow.

I understand Twitter’s need for 140-character brevity.  But shouldn’t the brevity also be accurate? The tweet implied that the Taliban is no longer a threat, that they’re not worth caring about. Yet the article clearly shows this is not the case at all. Quite the contrary, Mr. Friedman’s editorial acknowledges the Taliban goes to extreme measures to ensure girls DON’T  get educated. His article sited the statistics:

  • 640 schools in Afghanistan.
  • 350 schools in Pakistan
  • 80% of them schools for girls.

Burned. Bombed. Shut down.

His words, not mine.

How did it happen that we allow ourselves to be deceived by journalist and the media? When did we stop paying attention to details? Why do we put up with misinformation?

Many of Mr Friedman’s followers re-tweeted Mr. Friedman’s tweets – a few indicated they read the substance, and agreed that we’ll build new thinking in the next generation of Afghani people, village by village, through nation building efforts such as those going on by the thousands across Afghanistan.

Others responded to his “tweet” with calls for pulling out of Afghanistan – completely and profoundly missing the point of his article; certainly, they never read it.

Why does the drive to be a “trending topic” outweigh authenticity and integrity as a writer, as a journalist, and as an expert?

Last week, Walter Cronkite passed away.  During the days surrounding his passing, many, many reporters and journalists in the “mainstream” media, pointed to Mr. Cronkite’s character, his gravitas, his journalistic integrity.

Perhaps Mr. Friedman was having too much “fun”, (his word, not mine) being faried in his Chinook helicopter, to notice the men and women on the ground coming under attack, in this, the deadliest month of the war since our US fighting troops have been in Afghanistan.

Perhaps Mr. Friedman, escorted through Afghanistan under the watchful protection of our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives, our friends, our loved ones, our fellow Americans, forgot for a few minutes that the very real Taliban wants the world to be under the rule of Sharia law, where authors and journalists such as he, have no right to free speech, or the freedom of the press.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this blog may remind him to take his tweets more seriously.

I hope so.

blue-star-mom-service-flag

16
Jul
09

Such a little thing: Such a big deal

Supporting those who fight for our Flag, Motherhood and Apple PieA few weeks back, I got an e-mail from my son.

An engineer and a pilot, he’s typically a pretty buttoned up young man. But that note, that day, you could tell he was really happy. Something had happened that most of us wouldn’t ever realize could be a day “maker”, or breaker.

That day, he got to pet a dog.

He doesn’t have his own dog. Flying C-17s, his schedule is eratic.  Having a dog isn’t practical when he’s circumnavigating the globe.  His  very good friend lets him borrow his dog while he hunts and hikes through the mountains in Alaska.  He loves this dog.  One of his few Facebook “posts” while he’s been gone, talked about how much he misses Skoda – a big, black lab, well deserving of the title “man’s best friend.”

That’s not how dogs are viewed in Afghanistan. Afghani people don’t treat dogs as pets: dogs are for fighting, for protection. In an Islamic society, dogs are unclean. Touching them requires immediate hand washing – a complex problem in a country with little access to water and no infrastructure that supplies  water.   Compounding the issue, the dogs that roam around Afghanistan have the highest rabies rating in the world.  Our service men and women are instructed to steer clear of these dogs.

The military has our own working dogs: highly trained, drug sniffing animals, they are also, generally “off limits” from the rest of the military population.  They’re called Military Working Dogs (MWD) and they actually hold a rank – one strip higher than their handlers to ensure the handlers are always treating the dogs with respect.

One day, one of these MWD was in the Forward Operating Base my son calls home, walking around with his handler but not in “working” mode. My son stopped and talked with the handler, and after chatting for a while the handler gave him the “ok” to pet the dog.

Such a small thing, petting a dog – – but it made me realize it was a rare opportunity for him to make physical contact with a living being.  To feel and touch life.

Our servicemen and women go without so much while they’re deployed.  So many things are different.  We here at home have no understanding of, no appreciation for the strangeness.

The deployed don’t get to go get a massage at the end of a stressful day.

They don’t get that welcoming hug when they come back to their hut.

No one says “good night” or “sweet dreams” to them, before they drift off to sleep, brushing the hair off their face.

They’re alone. Lonely. A million miles from home.

So today, do what you can to reach out to one of them. No your reach won’t result in physically touching them, but it can result in something they can touch:  mail a funny card, write a letter, box up some cookies or coffee, order a birthday cake. Chances are someone you know knows someone who’s deployed. If you’re lucky enough for this not to be a true statement about you, check out “modern day operation Dear Abby“, and they can hook you up with a soldier to adopt.

It’s a little thing most of us can do, that will be a big deal when it arrives. You’ll feel blessed in the giving.  Thank you.blue-star-mom-service-flag

25
Jun
09

Halfway Home

Supporting those who fight for our Flag, Motherhood and Apple PieThis week marks the mid-point of my son’s deployment in Afghanistan.

Next week, we’re on the downhill side.

From the significant to the sublime, there have been a lot of changes while he’s been gone.

Pirates have held Americans hostage; Navy Seals put an end to that nonsense.

Roxana Saberi has been tried and released from an Iranian prison.

Pro-Democracy Prime Minister-elect Aung San Suu Kyi remains a prisoner in her own Burmese home.

The Iranian people have revolted against the nefarious election of Ahmadinejad.

Pork sales dwindled as swine flu crept beyond Mexico.  Pork sales have not returned after the rebranding of swine flu to  H1N1.

General Motors became a government agency.

Super quarterback Brett Favre  became a Minnesota Viking.

Politicians cheat on their wives and on their taxes.

American citizens shake their heads and get back to work.

His mom Twitters – predominantly to follow news from Afghanistan, (twitter.com/USFORA; youtube.com/usfora, too)

His Grandma, 85 years old, is now on Facebook.

His sister is officially engaged with a wedding in the works for January, 2010.

He is now both a Captain and an Uncle – his first nephew was born in May.

There have been a lot of changes, but the changes feel normal; they feel as routine as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

And in this routine,  the interruptions by a counter-insurgency half-way around the world are barely noticeable, drowned out by a celebrity culture and the tryanny of a 24/7 news industry that can’t focus on anything substantial for more than 48 seconds.

The military community and some extended family and friends pay attention.

A number of people Twitter, comment on Facebook, write yet another blog.

But the numbers are comparitively small. Simple to disregard. Easy to ignore.

The complexities of  life in our small, flat, crowded world overwhelm people. We freeze. Unsure of what to do, we do nothing.

And in this frozen nothingness state,  Edmund Burke’s  foretelling words haunt us:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.

So tomorrow, don’t do nothing. Do something simple, something small.

red-fri-dayWear REDFriday.

Thank a Soldier. Send one a birthday cake, or sign up to adopt one.

Pray.

Teach your children what the Declaration of Independence means.

Read them at least some of the Bill of Rights.

Get ready to celebrate July 4th, with renewed appreciation for our liberties, our freedoms and our responsibilities to the world.

15
Jun
09

A Family Perspective; Military or Otherwise.

Supporting those who fight for our Flag, Motherhood and Apple Pie My grandfather was in the Army during WW1.

My father and four Uncles were in WW2. A fifth Uncle, Rolf, was too young for WW2 or Korea. He was in the Army during the Cold War era.

Both my brothers were in the Air Force.

My husband was in the Army.

And now my son is in the Air Force, embedded with the Army.

That’s a pretty complete legacy of family members serving, yet none of them  were “career” military. We joined in service for a while, but then left to pursue other paths. Because of this, I’ve never really thought of our family as a military family.

The significance of our leaving was further iterated to me a few months ago when I sent a note to the guys heading up the “Milblogging” site. They very graciously reviewed my blog and gently told me I didn’t really fit into their military blogging community.

I didn’t argue with them.  It was kind of ironic, I never really considered myself  one of “them”, either. There’s so much I don’t know about the military: so many acronyms that escape me.  So many procedures that are mystifying to me.  So much war history – names, weaponry, battles fought and lost, fought again and won – most of it gets muddled in my brain. I thought having this military knowledge was necessary to qualify as a military family. I thought knowing this, or rather, the not knowing it, mattered.

Until today.

Today was the day I got an e-mail from my son, grieving the fatality of another near him, feeling that more could have been done.

Today was the day that the thousands of decisions and actions of others,

actions and decisions made by people known and unknown to him,

actions and decisions made in the past few hours and over the many, many years,

impacted him in profound ways, and ways for which no one can ever be prepared.

Today is the day some other mother’s son died.

Today was the day that I wrote the e-mail back; loving the son I have, grieving with him for the other son’s mother, and for all mothers whose sons or daughters are gone.

Today is the day I was reminded it’s not DNA, or predominantly intellectual knowledge that makes one a family.

Today is the day my family grew by one woman I’ve never met; whose name I still don’t know.

Today I know we’re a military family.

09
Jun
09

So far, no surprises

Supporting those who fight for our Flag, Motherhood and Apple PieI guess I’ve entered a different phase.  I have no idea how many phases there may be to this deployment thing, so I’ll call this Phase Two of Two, or P2/2 for short. It’s starting to feel almost normal to have a son in Afghanistan.  It’s not shocking to hear myself say the words out loud. I don’t get a hitch in my throat anymore when I tell someone he’s there.  I don’t “freeze” when the tv news announces upcoming footage from Afghanistan. So far, there have been no surprises. So far, we’re all doing really well.  This feels like real progress.  It feels good. 

Even though it’s just a perception, I feel more in control because I’ve established a routine. Maybe this type of routine would help other moms, too:

First thing in the morning, I open gmail to see if there’s any direct communication from my son. 

Next I check Facebook – to see both the nation building and combat incidents the US Forces Afghanistan (USFORA) and the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) have officially posted. Most of the time, the USFORA covers what’s going on from a NATO/ISAF perspective, but just to be sure, I check at  http://www.nato.int/isaf/pressreleases/2009/.  Then on to Twitter – to see if I’ve missed any “hot issue”  that the military community is tweeting about.  (http://twitter.com  #USAF, #Army @Milblogging, and many others).

In the middle of the day, I check my gmail to see if there’s an email from him. He typically sends updates at the end of his day – which is about mid-morning here. If I wait until close to lunch, Central Standard Time, I’ll see anything he’ll send. If he sent something.

At the end of the day,  I repeat the morning process, in reverse order. 

It dawned on me this week-end that once my son comes home, his service isn’t over.  And that means it’s entirely possible he may volunteer to go back. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he does. Knowing that – and not being surprised, that’s a good thing, too.

About a month ago, my husband and I saw a huge double  rainbow, full from end to end, over the Mississippi River and our neighborhood.  It caught us by surprise. It was breathtakingly beautiful – each band of color was wide, distinct, vibrant. I hadn’t seen such an amazing double rainbow since 1988  – the day of my brother’s wedding.

God's Promises are Real

God's Promises are Real

While the rainbows themselves were a surprise, the message of the rainbow hasn’t changed in millenuium, since Noah: it was a strong visual reminder  to trust God’s promises, to have strength and hope in his unending love, and to rest in His merciful reassurances.




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