You weren't the typical fresh-faced enlistee when you joined the Army smack-dab in the middle of the Iraq War. We knew if you joined the military it wouldn't be a question of "if" you were sent to fight, but rather "when". We had only been married for barely a year, but you were still older than many of your fellow recruits. You started fighting before you were even in the military, trying to secure a spot, working hard to meet the requirements that seemed always just out of reach-not quite the right weight, not quite fast enough. But you were persistent, and finally, you were in.
We pored over the brochure that listed all of the Military Occupational Specialties in the days before you went to make your choice in St. Louis. We narrowed our choices down to twelve, each specified by it's own unique number and letter code. You would talk to the recruiter there, and decide which one would be the best fit.
I remember standing in my teller cage at the bank when the call came in: you told me you had decided on 19D. I knew that wasn't one of the twelve. You told me it was "Cavalry Scout". I was dumbfounded-neither one of us knew what that really meant, but you did know that you were to report to BASIC training at the end of September. That was not as far away as I wanted it to be.
We packed. I moved. You left. BASIC tried you like I had never seen anything try you before. You have only ever cried twice in all the time that I have known you, and home for Christmas that year you admitted with tears your fears that you would be "recycled" forced to endure training over again for not succeeding, or worse yet, you would be kicked out entirely.
But you made it. You graduated in February-top in your class for marksmanship. I was so proud. We had breathlessly awaited your assignment and when we were told it was Ft. Hood, TX, we weren't really sure how to feel about that. But precious little in the military is about feelings, so we hauled everything down from Illinois and you started working and I started waiting.
If there is anything that describes a military wife it is "waiting". Waiting for her husband to come home for dinner, waiting for the house on post, waiting for the next assignment, waiting for those precious phone calls during deployment, waiting for homecoming. I saw precious little of you, and when you were told soon after you reported that you would be deploying in the fall. Right after we also found that would be when Josie would be coming too-the question was which would arrive first?
If I thought I had endured hard, I wasn't prepared to be the wife of a Cav Scout at the height of the war. Being pregnant with a husband who was rarely home (you often left for work at 4:15 am and would not arrive home until 9 pm or later and that was if you weren't gone overnight training) is the hardest thing I have ever done. It was harder on you.
But not as hard as leaving your weepy wife and three day-old baby. I had no idea when I would talk to you next. The reality that I might not ever talk to you again clung to me like lead blanket. It was a very, very real possibility. You finally called after three weeks-and the five minutes we spoke was a gift straight from heaven.
That year. I look back now and see all the places the Lord carried us. The times you hung up in the middle of 2 am phone calls and I could *hear* things going off in the background. The weeks and weeks we couldn't speak because one of your fellow soldiers had paid the ultimate sacrifice and communications were cut off until the family was notified. The precious letters that you painstakingly wrote. The carefully planned care packages, packed with all the skill of a professional Tetris player. That time you told me about driving your Humvee, and feeling sloshing around your boots, and yelling for everyone to get out, and the fire-the sloshing was fuel, and you had been driving a death trap unknowingly. And realizing that I had been awakened from a sound sleep-praying for you at the exact moment, and despite that the movie-worthy explosion and your poor gas-soaked feet, you all made it out okay, because God is gracious.
And all the things you didn't tell me. Not about that deployment-the Lord returned you to me in one piece almost exactly a year later. Or your next deployment not quite three years later (we were blessed, many weren't home for that long) this time leaving behind a two year-old and a six month-old, and of course, me. Many things you didn't tell me for many years.
And now, after seven years of service, like the Biblical Jacob, and years of being "out" I realize that you will never be a civilian again. You will always be a "vet". You have your favorite war stories, the ones that make everyone laugh, or keep them on the edge of their seats. We tell tales of post living, and long nights, miserable higher-ups and the ones who made your job a tiny bit more bearable. But I will never be able to really know what it was like for you. I will never know the parts of your heart that are forever stained by the awful realities of war, the ache you carry for those you served with who came home permanently wounded (both inside and out) or in a flag-draped box.
You are now that crusty old vet. And I could not be prouder. God did not call you to life-long military service, but the time that you served was definitely part of His plan for us. I had spent my childhood growing up with a fierce pride for America's military and it was the pinnacle to be married to someone in service. The Army took much from us-memories, peace, security, your health, but it gave us much, too. You will never be who you were before you served, but I know you don't regret that. You were proud to meet your country's call in a time of need. You were proud to wear the uniform that proclaimed that commitment. And now you are proud of the memories you have of your bravery and sacrifice.
You are a veteran. In the truest sense of the word, and I now know what Veteran's Day means. It means that for one day, we honor you for being willing to sacrifice limb, love and life to keep those you hold dearest and those you have never met, free. We can never truly repay you for that sacrifice, but I hope you know, my dear sweet husband, that I, at least, am thankful for it every single day.
P.S. The beautiful photo above was taken by a observer at a Veteran's Day parade in Colorado Springs. The photographer tracked me down afterwards and offered to send the photo to me, as she thought I would enjoy it. She did, but I never did really thank her appropriately. It is my favorite photo ever of Joel and Josie, and if I ever found that person again, I would say thank you for the precious gift she gave me.