May 24, 2008

Military Life: Looking Back, and Looking Forward

It's been nearly 2 years since we came to our first duty station here, and became a military family.  Hawaii aside, I wouldn't trade this experience for most anything.  I remember the first week we were here, living in the hotel on post, and the whole 25th Infantry Division had a "Division Run" for PT.  I remember hearing them begin to parade by, calling out their cadences, running with their unit flags, wearing their unit PT t-shirts.  I couldn't help but be proud to be a part of the military community.

After getting to know so many people in the last several months, and seeing the Army from the inside, there are a lot of things that aren't ideal, and some things that are just downright aggravating.  However, overall, the institution of the Army can really be a great place for a young person to learn discipline, learn skills for life and for work, and to give them some direction for the future.  Iraq is always a likely deployment destination, as is Afghanistan.  Some soldiers struggle more than others with that.  Families struggle immensely.  I have seen the effects of deployment from the first group that left after we arrived and has now returned, and now we're into the 2nd group that has gone.  The third big group will be going out shortly, many of them the same people that just got back from the 1st group. 

Sometimes it just doesn't seem fair.  I see children and parents who have barely reconnected, with the next deployment looming, knowing what the first one was like, and dreading the long wait to see each other again.  I see marriages struggling with the re-connection after deployment.  Many don't last.  Some families have been without their soldier for 4 deployments or more in the last 7 years.  There are re-enlistment bonuses, and financial benefits to being deployed, but money doesn't replace the time spent with your family member.

For those who are experiencing deployment now, it's very difficult.  They've only been gone 5 1/2 months, but it seems more like a year.  There are still many months to go.  Communication is hard sometimes.  Even with frequent e-mails, phone calls, shared pictures, care packages, cards and gifts, there is so much life lived in separate places that the other misses out on.  You can't video tape every neat moment, or share every cool thought or idea. 

However, there are blessings.  Separated families learn to plow through hard things.  Wives at home with children learn to manage things they've never had to manage before.  As an acting single parent, it is extremely tiring to give each child what she needs from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep.  But it challenges the parent to rely on God, to ask for help from friends, and to get a break by scheduling child care or a babysitter.  Limited communication with the soldier makes every word count, and challenges both to say what's really important, and leave nothing unsaid.  Plowing through the difficult times in deployment requires that we stay focused on the big picture.  What is our mission?  Why are we a part of it?  How is God using each of us during this time?  Families in the midst of deployment can put their trust in God that He will preserve the marriage relationship as well as the parent-children relationships.  It's easier said than done -- the trusting part -- however, it's the way I think they can have peace and forge ahead with life as it is.

So military life is both extremely challenging, but also very rewarding.  The friends I've made here not only bless me with their generosity and their companionship, but also challenge and inspire me to grow.  The chapel community I'm a part of has a dynamic ministry to this ever-changing community, very-well run, that rivals many civilian churches that have been developing their ministries for decades with the same core of people.  The neighbors, friends, and acquaintances I have are from all over the country and some from around the world.  They are interesting, talented, smart, strong people.  I'm better for having spent time with them.

Another hard thing is going on right now, and that is many of our good friends are moving to new duty stations.  There are bunches of families that move every summer and winter.  So I've seen it enough to know that there will be new people who move here that will fill our lives with their friendships.  However, these particular friends that are leaving are the ones we've gotten to know for 2 years, so we know them really well!  Hopefully our paths will cross in future assignments.

I'm looking forward to the next and final year of living in Hawaii, and then to the next military assignments beyond.  There is always adventure here.  That's what we were looking for.  It's what God prepared us for, and gave us the personality traits to pursue.

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