21 April, 2009

The Journey Begins

Last night was my last night of "freedom" for the next year or so. Having already said goodbye to my family, I spent the night alone. I made sure my stuff was packed and that I wasn't forgetting anything. I watched some TV. I did a lot of thinking about the next year and how I'm going to take care of my soldiers. Finally I watched a bit of TV, the last TV I'll watch for about a year, while I chatted with some friends on Facebook. Eventually I drifted off into a restless sleep knowing that the next day was going to be long.

In the morning I woke up and arrived at the Armory early so I could make sure all my soldiers had everything they needed and talk to their families. I talked briefly with a few families but they obviously wanted to spend more time with their loved one in the last few minutes they had. I watched husbands kiss their wives. I saw sons say goodbye to their mothers while trying desperately to hold back the tears and be strong for her. I watched children cling to the legs of parents, begging them not to go. Mom or Dad had to be the strong one and look their child in the eye as they kissed them one more time and handed the crying child to another relative. This was the most emotional setting I've ever seen in my life and it allowed me to see more clearly the sacrifices we all make to serve this Greatest of Nations. It made me think of my mom, and think about the day I left for basic training and how much she cried then. It made me think of Nate and how badly I feel that I won't be there for Lacrosse, or Football , or anything else in this next year. It made me think of my beautiful nieces and how much they're going to change when I'm gone. It made me think of all the Cabin Sundays I'm going to miss this summer and how I won't be there to play volleyball with my siblings and cousins or watch the kids play in the water. It was the first time that the whole deployment seemed real.

We had formation, said one last quick goodbye, and boarded the buses for our journey to our MOB site. As we walked out of the Armory we were greeted by the Patriot Guard Riders lining the stairs and sidewalks going to the buses. As we pulled out, the families lined the parking lot waiving hundreds of American Flags, crying as the buses pulled onto the road and disappeared out of view. As we were escorted though town, hundreds of citizens lined the route to see us off, getting a glimpse of us as our police and fire escort zipped us through town all the way to the state line.

As we drove along I looked out the window with sadness at the rolling Minnesota countryside, knowing it will be a long time before I would step foot on this soil again. The wide open spaces of the farmland were far different from the hilly forest I am accustomed to up north, but it was still Minnesota soil so it really didn't matter. As I sat alone on the bus I began to think about my life back home and how much I am going to miss. I knew it was far to early to get homesick but I soon found myself listening to songs from American Idol I downloaded from iTunes. I imagined I was sitting in the Plex watching Idol with Troy, Joe, Tony, and Al. I replayed in my mind the thousands of times I'd listened to Tony and Joe make fun of whoever was singing and then arguing whether they were safe this week or not. I pictured Troy imitating the blind guy's face making Chelsea laugh uncontrollably. I laughed when I thought about the hundreds of times one of us asked Al about one of the girl's tits and imitated him in my head one of his canned responses.

As we drove further along I started to find things that would remind me more and more of home along the road. As the land got flatter, the memories started to fade. Desperately, I grasped each memory I could before the faded. I remembered all the times I'd driven up to Grand Rapids to pickup Nate and remembered all the good times we've had together. It made me sad that I wouldn't be able to see him for the next year, so in my memory I drove him home and went to the VFW to see my friends there. I constantly hit the next button on my iPod thinking of each one of them as I did so. Eventually my mind closed the VFW down and I thought about the long conversations in the car before I had to go home; but eventually did go home. As my mind drove me back home I pictured that intersection where a left and 7 miles brings me to another friend's house. Somehow my mind drove me there as well until I slowly drifted asleep. I awoke later to only see endless miles of farm land that in no way could remind me of home, but did bring back memories of driving to Iowa to see my sister at college and I wondered how her leg is feeling now. Slowly, all these things I was thinking about faded and I came back to reality.

Eventually we arrived at the airport and I was able to put my memories behind me and focus on the tasks that lie ahead of me. We boarded our plane to Texas and I ensured that all my soldiers were onboard and took my seat in first class next to a friend. As the plane took off we discussed various things about the deployment and what we should expect until he started to fall asleep. I was restless so I pulled out a school book and began to read it, starting on page 1. I had no idea how long we were flying for, but I can tell you it took 239 pages of my book to get to Texas. I can tell you it was different to land on the tarmac and be greeted by other soldiers ready to get us started on our training. The next several days will be nothing but briefings and shots and visits to the doctor and even picking up new equipment. It is kind of frustrating because I was looking forward to the training we're about to receive but I will have to wait a little longer to get my soldiers prepared for combat.

As I sit in my bunk at the MOB site I can tell you that I am even more excited for this deployment than I was before. I am looking forward to the new responsibility my new rank has given me. I can't wait to get to know my troops and see what they are capable of. I know without a doubt that each and every one of them will amaze me in one way or another. They are bright and ready to tackle any challenge that lies ahead of them. Those challenges.... well, I can't wait to tackle them either.



IttyBitty said...

T.J. It's hard to imagine that I'm going to be going through that exact same thing soon. 3 weeks from now. It's amazing just thinking of some of the things we're going to miss while we're gone. Even all the sacrafices and I'm not just talking about the soldiers either, even the families that are left behind. It's amazing. Hope you don't run into too much trouble. :)