In 2006 my boys and I were standing in a terminal at Dallas Fort Worth Airport waiting on an airplane. The passengers were strangers to us, but they were also heroes. We made the trek to the airport to participate in the program Welcome Home A Hero. For those who don’t recognize this program, it allows people to stand in a row at a commercial airport as military personnel exit from their flight. If I asked my boys what they remember from that trip to the airport, they would probably shake their heads. But that day is a memory I have revisited more times than I can possibly count. But let’s start at the beginning.
The boys dressed in their Cub Scout uniforms and dutifully carried their posterboards to the car and we headed to the airport. None of us were certain what to expect but I described the sacrifice these heroes had made to be away from their families and serve our country. I am sure the boys at eight and five could not imagine leaving their family.
We arrived at the designated airport gate and stood beside the small crowd already gathered. I was excited and nervous so to calm my emotions I struck up a conversation with the woman standing beside me. I introduced myself and the boys, explained they were Cub Scouts and were participating in Welcome Home A Hero for their Scout pack. The woman’s face lit up and she thanked us. She said her son was on the plane, and she was also welcoming home a hero-her hero.
The woman explained her son had been stationed in Afghanistan for the last 2 years. The news at that time was full of stories detailing supply trucks being destroyed by IED’s (Improvised Explosive Device) hidden in the roads frequented by the military. I could see the concern in her voice as she described his MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) as driving a supply truck for his unit. I started to empathize with this woman as I heard her story and imagined sending one of my own boys off to serve his country. I looked at my now seemingly small and fragile children and just could not fathom letting them leave our great country to be possibly killed or maimed in the name of democracy. I thought to myself “Nope-not gonna happen!” My kids were going to work at desk jobs in front of computers. They were going to be engineers or accountants-something safe that wouldn’t keep their mama up all night running scenarios through her head.
I asked this brave woman, my new hero, what was she going to do when she saw her son turn the corner and walk down the hallway? She thought a moment and honestly answered “I really don’t know.” We chatted a bit more and then we saw figures coming into sight.
I didn’t watch the soldiers exiting the plane. I kept my eyes on my new hero. I scrutinized her face as she searched for son. There was no doubt when she spotted her soldier; the look of pure joy gave it all away. She gasped, then started to shake and cry. I couldn’t take my eyes off this woman; I was mirroring her feelings in my soul. I also started to cry as the jumble of emotions rushed through me. I felt bonded with my fellow mother as we shared the same emotions. I felt the relief and joy that he was home, and the pride for that soldier in uniform who was really just a little boy back in his mother’s embrace. I felt gratitude for my hero who had also sacrificed while her soldier was serving our country.
I stepped back to allow mother and child their time together, but my memory of that day has been profound. I wonder how their story progressed; how many times had she visited that airport to welcome home her hero?
Recently it was my turn to welcome home my hero. Remember those 2 little boys that were going to be engineers or accountants? It seems one of them had other plans, as adult children routinely do. In my heart I knew my thoughts of desk jobs and staying close to home were not in the cards for my oldest. This kid had 8 Army birthday parties by the time he was 12 years old and firmly believed camo was a fashion choice. He joined the Texas National Guard after his junior year in high school and never looked back. I remember talking to the recruiter who was a friend of ours. “He’s not going overseas, right Miguel? National Guard is domestic-it has to be. The location is in the name-TEXAS National Guard.” Miguel was honest as he told us my child could be called overseas to serve. As long as he was in college he would be down on the list, but it was a real possibility. I reasoned that I would just deal with all that when he graduated college. But my soldier had other plans, as adult children routinely do. My soldier had seventeen hours of college to complete when he volunteered to go overseas.
I admit I was not prepared for this strange turn of events. Why would anyone tell their commanding officer, “Oh hey yeah, about that volunteer trip to go overseas for a year and be away from my family and friends? Yeah I want to do that-sign me up.” I have always questioned whether that kid is in his right mind.
I won’t lie about the last day. I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe. I considered locking him in the house and telling his unit that he had been eaten by a wild animal. I had all sorts of crazy ideas running across my brain, but the one thought that would not leave was that I may never see my child again. Even now as I type these words I get teary eyed. I don’t think this country appreciates the sacrifices our soldiers endure, but I am absolutely convinced our country doesn’t appreciate the sacrifices our military families endure. Over the years people have thanked me for my soldier’s service. I smile politely and say I appreciate that, and I do. But with this new twist of events my brain is not cooperating. My brain is screaming at the top of its lungs: I just want my baby home.
My soldier’s year of service is over and I recently got him back home. I have been thinking even more about my fellow mom at the airport fifteen years ago. I wonder how she is doing, and I have been thinking about her soldier too. I will never see her again, but I feel such a kinship with her. I have always focused on the moment she saw her soldier at the airport and the emotions she felt as he entered her line of vision. But I now realize her emotions didn’t magically appear as soon as she saw her soldier. Those feelings were gathered on the surface the entire time her hero was overseas. The dam she had built to keep her feelings at bay for two years started to give way the moment she got up that day, and burst at the sight of her child. I know this because my dam held fairly securely for a year, but I the day I brought my son home I began seeing cracks in it. Just like my hero fifteen years ago I wasn’t sure what I would do when I saw my soldier, but I can tell you it did involve tears.
I find a lesson to be learned in all my past deeds. The next deployment (and my son has assured me there will be more) I plan to be less dramatic and more supportive. I am going to do a better job of trusting God and my son. At least that’s the plan.
Please comment and let me know your thoughts on this post. Let me know of any suggestions, resources, or experiences you’ve had sending your child off to serve our country.