Desert Storm (excerpt from my book, “Warm Hugs for Dark Nights“)
I sipped on my coffee as the TV news announced yet another unit of local National Guardsmen have been called up for service in Iraq. The sour acid of past emotions hits me in the gut. I put down my cup and try to not allow the memories back into my mind. I watch the families on TV as they give their tearful farewells and the memories force themselves to dance once again like flickering flames within my head…
The call came of all times, late on November 11th, Veteran’s Day, 1990. Rickie had been activated. Originally he was a Marine. Very patriotic still and wanting to serve his country, he’d switched over to the local National Guard shortly after our son was born in 1979. Now my greatest fears were quickly becoming reality. My husband was going to the other side of the world to fight in a war in the desert. I felt my wind pipe close. I couldn’t breathe. How much more was I expected to handle?! My dad had just gone through open heart surgery on Friday and now, it’s Sunday night and Rickie has gotten “the call”. The two men I depend on the most are showing me how easily each of them could slip from my world and it’s more than I can comprehend. I feel as if I’ve fallen into the lake, I’m shaking my head side to side and forcing my body upwards in search for air. Water is all around me. I’m trying to break loose from the confines that keep my lungs from filling with the air that I need.
Rickie’s unit drives hugh eighteen wheeler trucks pulling fuel tankers. They have been activated to supply fuel for the tankers as they go into battle. The men report in to Fort Campbell, KY and they ship the trucks by ship. It will take over a month for the trucks to arrive. Rickie gets to return home often while he’s at Fort Campbell but each time he goes back to base we never know if this was his last visit home before he is sent over seas. Each good bye is harder than the last. The holidays make it even harder. Emotions are totally raw. Our two children, 9 & 10 are clinging to their little world by a thread.
The departure date to fly to the other side of the world came in early January. The families were allowed to accompany their soldier to the base to say their final good byes. We watched as they loaded up on a big blue bus to be transported to the plane. The plane and runway were out of our sight and so our final sight of him was waving from the bus window. I don’t know what it felt like to be sitting on that bus, leaving loved ones behind to face war. I only knew what it felt like to stand there, an arm around each of my children and watch my husband go off to war. My heart ached with that dull, hollow ache in the pit of my stomach but I had to be strong for the kids, so I scurried them back to the car and we left for home.
The local news had been really good about keeping the public posted as to the updates on the activations and so by the time the ten o’clock news came on the kids were in bed and I had the VCR ready and pushed play at the first moment of the broadcast. There before my eyes was the plane, barreling down the runway and lifting off the ground, pulling up the landing gear. That’s when I fell apart.
In mild shock I’d hit rewind, play. Rewind, play. Rewind, play. Rewind, play. Rewind, play. Each time I watched the plane lift off I’d die. He was in that plane. He was gone. Out of my reach. Out of our world. To face war and destruction. Reality had settled in on my little world. I met him when I was fifteen, married him when I was sixteen. We’d created a family together. And he was gone.
I had plenty of support from our families and the phone calls from him were like precious jewels. Receiving packages from home was very precious to soldiers so I set in to send him packages every day. My mom sent one every week. Just little tidbits from home and items that were not available over there.
The phone calls would usually come in the middle of the night since the time zone was so different on the other side of the world. And it was common not to hear from him for weeks. It had been nearly a month since we’d heard from him and I was getting a bit anxious. Then one Sunday when the kids and I returned from church Mom had the exciting news that He had called. I was glad to hear from him but the disappointment of missing his call and the chance to hear from him personally was way too strong. I’d held up fine for weeks now but this was the final blow. I crawled into my closet, my clothes hanging above my head, shut the door and cried. It was the only hole I could find and that is where I sobbed uncontrollably until no more tears would come.
He never spoke much about the events he experienced or witnessed while over there and when he did it was more of an unemotional list of events or actions. Like he had put all of that behind a curtain where no emotion was allowed to accompany that time period. The night the war began the fuel tankers were to follow the Army Tanks into battle making fuel available when necessary. It is my understanding that when they went over the burrow everything was happening so fast, bullets flying from the enemy, Tanks proceeding slowly, the fuel Tankers were driving with and not behind the Tanks.
My husband returned home safely when his unit had finished its tour of duty, but things were never really the same. Five years later our marriage ended in divorce. The devastation of war is not truly realized by the common public. We who were closest to those who fight for our country know. We have lived one of the sad casualties of war that most of the time is not realized or associated with war, the destruction of the home. I’m not saying the War caused our divorce, but I truly believe it was a major contributor.
Each time I watch the newscasts with families tearfully sending their loved ones off to war, I get that acidity gut ache and wonder if they know that their lives will never be the same. I salute the Families of our Soldiers, for they too give a most precious part of their world for the freedom of this Nation.
A close friend of mine just recently shared with me how her son will be leaving for Iraq in a few months. Her daughter is in Baghdad and not to return for many months. How this mom can keep from going quite crazy is nearly beyond comprehension. The sacrifice she, her husband and two children have, and are making brings me to an utmost pride in our country. They are just common, ordinary people yet have hearts of gold (or should I say, Red, White & Blue).
There comes a time in each of our lives when we realize that the things we hold the dearest to our hearts is totally out of our control to retain. That is why we must trust God to keep our loved ones safe when they are on the other side of the world fighting a war. That trust is what keeps my friend sane as both of her children goes into harms way. That trust is what we must rely on when they come back and have changed from being the person we once knew them to be. Sometimes we drop the ball, that’s just human. But it’s our responsibility to pick it back up again and try once again.
I salute all of the people that give of themselves to keep this Nation free. That’s not only the soldier, but the families that stand behind them.