My daughter became a Navy wife at the age of eighteen. College was interrupted and she ended up living in Groton, Connecticut military housing. We visted a few times, pretty bleak place which she tried to make home by stencilling decorative borders, and a sofa with colorful pillows. Our family went on a tour of the submarine. My husband was too tall; I was claustrophobic yet interested; and our sons thought all of it was exciting, especially the area with the bombs. Twenty one years ago, out of the military blue, her new husband was sent on a six month Med run. She had a job, had made friends with another Navy wife next door, who wasn't the best influence. I received a lot of phone calls the first month.
When my daughter came down that Thanksgiving, she had lost too much weight and had dyed her beautiful hair jet-black with the help of the bad influence. She was trying to cope by writing every day and sending care packages, but it wasn't working. She talked with my husband and me, and she spent the rest of the 6 months with us. The mail delivery in those days to submarines was sporadic. When she learned he was embarrassed to get so much mail and care packages, all at once, when others got one or none, she stopped sending so many letters, but continued writing for her own sake. She also began baking larger quantities of brownies and chocolate chip cookies that he could share, which he did.
Once, her fragrant package got put onto a ship going somewhere else. She received a note and an apology from an unknown soldier, thanking her for the cookies, brownies, and cans of Copenhagen. It was Christmas and they were much obliged. In every place they have lived, there is one photograph she hangs up that she took as the submarine left the port, and all the memories come flooding back.
When he left the Navy, it was mainly for reasons regarding his father's health, bringing them and my oldest grandson back to New Jersey. He had kept in touch with some of his Navy buddies, and at some point, my daughter told me the two of them wanted to talk with us about an important decision. (My first thought was divorce, although I had no real reason to think this, just the serious sound in her voice.) Turned out her husband had been approached by a recruiter to re-enlist and attend the Warrior Transition Course, from Navy to Army for the New Jersey National Guard. By this time, they had three young sons.
His brother is a Marine, so her husband was aware of the friendly friction between different branches of the U.S. military. The five-month training would take place at Fort Bliss, Texas. He signed on with the provision he keep his E6 rank and be allowed to wear his dolphins. He decided to learn something new and much needed, water purification. He was told they doubted his unit would ever go overseas. The five months were hard on their boys, even though he could call or skype. I can't remember how long it was from his return from Texas, but Jon Corzine was governor and to "balance the state budget", Corzine offered the New Jersey National Guard to the Federal government.
And the Federal government decided his "water purification" expertise was needed in Iraq, which is how a submariner at heart, ended up for one nerve-wracking year in the dust, tents, no green. My daughter is a strong young woman but that was one hard year, for her, for their sons, for us, and for her in-laws, whose other son was in Afghanistan. Did he return the same? Does it still bother him to hear of the ones who came home to divorce, or the ones who have had "accidental" motorcycle deaths? Does he keep all of his gear at the side of the bed? Does he willingly go once a month for Drill? As an extended family, we pitch in when we can, even if it's just listening to old submarine stories over a beer, while watching hockey.
prompted by What war is like in six words and dedicated to all military families