Monday, January 15, 2018

The Missile That Never Was

The morning of Saturday, January 13 was one not to be forgotten for anyone on any of the Hawaiian islands. Over the past few months on Oahu, the state has tested its emergency siren in order to be prepared for a possible attack, but it always seemed hypothetical. We carried on with our daily lives and ignored the siren like we were instructed to (if we could even hear it from wherever we were at the time). During these drills, I always happened to be at work with a classroom full of inquisitive 2nd graders. How do you explain to 20 7-year-olds that the siren alerts us in case of a missile attack? The answer: very carefully. We were always told that if a missile was launched in our direction from North Korea, we would have roughly 15 minutes from the time of the alert to the time of impact. What do you even do in that amount of time?

On January 13, however, I was not at work. I was at home on a lazy Saturday morning. I was sleeping in, as was most of my family. It was just past 8am, and as I lay in bed, trying to convince myself that I needed to get up, I heard my phone buzzing uncontrollably. As I reached for it, I noticed, surprisingly, that my husband, Johnathan, was not in bed like I thought he was. I assumed he must be out getting our weekly box of donuts at the local bakery. When I looked at my phone, which was still buzzing frantically, I saw the words: EMERGENCY ALERT: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

My heart sank. I did a double take and literally shook my head in an attempt to change the words that were in front of me. Unfortunately, I had read them correctly. Before I could even budge, Johnathan came barging into the room yelling my name. Thankfully, he had not yet left for the bakery (although he had keys in hand to do so). He has an uncanny ability to think clearly in a time of crisis. I do not. "We have to go!" he said. "Get the kids!" I jumped out of bed, suddenly very awake but thoroughly confused. This can't be real, I kept thinking. Suddenly, someone banged on our front door. I heard loud panicked voices. It was our neighbor, Danielle, and her two daughters. One of the daughters was crying and saying, "What is happening? Where is Daddy?" Her daddy was out on the north shore of the island, surfing, unreachable, and probably clueless to the danger that was lurking.
As I rounded up my three children, Danielle closed the windows in our living room, and my husband put our dogs in the back yard with bowls of food. (The children have still not forgiven him for leaving the dogs behind.) Johnathan, Danielle, 4 kids, and I piled into our van, ready to go somewhere, anywhere other than our historical, wooden homes that would never survive a missile attack. It was then that I realized one of my 3 children was missing. The 12 year old... Where was she?!  She had run to the neighbor's house two doors down where she was dog sitting for the weekend. Of course, in this time of panic, she was following her heart and making sure those two dogs were ok. Johnathan ran over there to get her out. Finally, we left, not sure where we were going. As we drove away from our house, I texted family back in North Carolina, telling them just the facts: "We received an alert that a missile is headed to Hawaii, and we are seeking shelter." I quickly received emotional replies of "I love you" and "Keep us updated." I choked back the flood of emotions that entered my mind and refused to respond with anything resembling a goodbye. I didn't let my mind go there.

We saw multiple neighbors running towards a big building of soldiers' barracks nearby. We quickly parked, jumped out of the van, and joined them as a soldier waved us into the concrete room on the first floor. The first thing the kids noticed was that the multiple families in the room all had their dogs with them. We did not. All 3 of our children begged us to go back and get our dogs. Of course, we could not. There was no time. Our 15 minutes until impact was quickly expiring. Any second now we would hear and feel the blast. Upon entering the room, I became teary eyed as the seriousness of the situation hit me, and I realized this might be real afterall. The mood was somber, but all I could say was, "This can't be real. This can't be real."

I saw a soldier filling a huge jug full of water. Prepared families had backpacks full of emergency supplies. We did not. My kids kept reminding me that we left our dogs behind. My conscience was filling with guilt and worry. As the minutes crept by, people were quiet. The women and children were in their pajamas. People held their dogs tight so that the dogs did not get out of control with each other. The younger children played innocently with the few toys they brought, clueless to what was happening. Older children wore the worry on their faces. The men, all active duty soldiers, answered their phones that were ringing off the hook from their commanders and fellow soldiers. The women were very quiet, waiting for what was to come. Every minute was an eternity, not knowing how long we would be in there and what the world would look like whenever, if ever, we were able to leave...

Then suddenly, to everyone's relief, one of the men announced, "False alarm, Guys! False alarm. There is no missile!" The tension in the room suddenly dissipated as if someone had popped our balloon of stress. We filed out of the concrete makeshift "safe room" and all went home. We went on with our normally scheduled day as if nothing had ever happened, but something did. The reality of it all never left our minds. Everyone who experienced the "missile that never was" carried the worry for the rest of the day or longer. We can't get it off our minds. It's still there. It was stressful. It was surreal. It left us feeling helpless. But it left us with something else as well... the desire to be more prepared. I hope we never have to experience anything close to that again. But if we do, you better believe we will have flashlights, food, water, first aid kits, and a good idea of where to go at the ready. "The missile that never was" was actually a huge wakeup call, and I am listening.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My Baba

Heaven has an angel whose name is Frances Jane.
Although I really miss her, I know she's free from pain.
I'd love to have one day with her and feel her warm embrace.
But this time when I see her, she'll remember my face.
I want my kids to see her and sit right by her side.
They were far too young to remember her before the day she died. 
I tell my kids about her, and she protects them from above.
I know she's up there watching and sending down her love.
Oh how I miss my Baba! I wish that she was here.
It made my heart so happy just knowing she was near.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sleep is Overrated

For as long as I can remember I have been a sleepwalker. I recall unbelievable stories from my childhood that were told to me by my mother. I vaguely remember walking across the hallway from my room to hers, slamming into her bedroom door, and crumpling to the floor in a heap. I barely remember (again) walking from my bedroom to hers, pulling my pants down, and squatting over her trashcan to use it as a toilet, only to have her desperate screams wake me just in time as she guided me towards the bathroom. I must have been 8 years old. I remember seeing my mother blocking the top of the stairs with furniture to prevent me from sleepwalking down them. It didn't work. She found me walking in circles at the bottom of the stairs claiming (when asked) that I was watching TV.

I wasn't always mobile. Once my mother peeked into my bedroom to find me sitting up in bed with my arms stretched out in front of me. She asked what I was doing, and I angrily explained, "I'm going to a wedding!" She inquired whose wedding it was, and I replied, "Santa Clause's!!" Why so angry? I've always wondered why my sleepwalking antics are usually accompanied by desperation and frustration. My tone of voice is apparently always grumpy or panicky, even today.

I read an article that stated that most people outgrow sleepwalking during childhood or adolescence. So why am I an exception? If anything, my sleepwalking has escalated, and the frequency has most definitely increased during my adulthood. Early in my marriage, I would often leap out of bed to turn on the bedroom light (in the middle of the night, of course) because I was certain there was a humongous spider descending upon my face. As soon as the room was illuminated I would wake up to find myself standing by the light switch in fear, and my sleepy husband would be staring back at me from the bed wondering what in the world was happening. This episode happened repeatedly.

One night, about 6 years ago, I  began slapping my husband on the shoulder as he slept, trying desperately to wake him. I was certain there was a helium balloon floating near the ceiling of our bedroom, and it was dangerously close to the ceiling fan. I was desperate, and he could hear the panic in my voice as I interrupted his sleep. I have never seen him move so fast. He jumped to his feet and stood on his pillow and began swatting at the "balloon" near the ceiling. His abrupt movement and throwing back of the sheets woke me from my episode, and I then began to laugh hysterically as I watched him swat at the imaginary balloon that, just moments before, I could see clear as day. He soon realized what had happened and was not amused. He covered himself back up and attempted to resume his REM sleep. Unfortunately, I had a horrible case of the giggles. That was the one and only time that I had pulled him into my sleeping imagination. I still laugh myself to tears just thinking of that night.

When I was 8 months pregnant with our youngest child in 2010, I moved faster than any enormously pregnant woman has ever moved. I jumped out of bed and began crawling in panic-stricken circles on the floor. Once again, my movement woke up my husband. It was the funniest yet confusing thing he had ever seen, he later said. He asked me what I was doing, and I began explaining, "The machine! The machine is gonna get me!" He asked me what machine, and I did not know its name. I described it as a round, robot-vacuum that was relentlessly chasing me. He became amused when he realized I was describing a Rumba. I have been weary of these machines ever since.

Most recently... just last night actually... I awoke at 2am to find myself banging on the closet door, desperately yelling for help. This time my husband was away, so he was unable to witness what must have been quite the scene. Once I snapped out of my episode I realized that I had stripped the bed of all the sheets, and they were all on the floor. I quickly became annoyed because before I could go back to sleep I had to make the bed. Today I am very tired.

I do not know why people sleepwalk. I wish I did because I am certain I would feel much more rested on a daily basis if I could actually sleep the whole night through consistently. I wonder what a video camera would capture during the night. I usually only remember the moment right before I wake up and find myself in a strange place... the floor, in front of the closet, by the light switch, or even in bed watching my husband swatting at imaginary balloons... I wish there was a cure. Although, if there was, there would be significantly less stories to tell later!



Sunday, July 14, 2013

A different day, a different way

The first time my husband deployed, I was 25. I had a new born baby, and I can still remember how I felt as I drove home from dropping him off in the middle of the night with that tiny baby girl in the back seat. When I say tiny, I mean all of 6 lbs 9 oz of tiny. She was a peanut. (It's hard to remember just how tiny that really was until 4 1/2 years later when I had a 8 lb 4 oz baby girl and thought SHE was tiny! But I digress.) I can still see the buses lined up at the drop-off zone. I can still vividly see the hundreds of soldiers with their full A-bags and perfectly packed ruck-sacks standing around, waiting for the word to load the buses. I did not want to see them actually load them. It was a kiss-and-go farewell. I held myself together relatively well - well, as well as a young wife and new mother can when saying goodbye to her husband of 2 years at the brink of a 1 year deployment while living in a foreign country. I refused to look him straight in the eyes. I knew if I did, I would lose all composure. Then I lost it anyway. I watched him open the back door of the car. I watched him lean over the infant car seat and kiss our baby girl goodbye. That was all it took. I was done. We hugged one last time, and he was off. He grabbed his heavy Army bags and slowly wandered off towards the others. I quickly jumped behind the wheel of our VW Passat and fumbled with my keys until I finally found the ignition and drove off to our quiet German home, less than 10 minutes away. I sobbed the entire trip. I'm not strong enough for this, I thought.

Four and a half years later, I strangely found myself in the same boat... except this time I was 30, I was actually in the U.S., and the newborn baby girl was the youngest of 3 kids instead of the one and only. We were a family of 5, and we all loaded in the minivan and drove my husband of now 7 years to his drop-off point for another kiss-and-go farewell. This time it was in broad daylight, and I lost my composure again as I watched him hug and kiss all 3 kids goodbye. I refused to let them see me cry, but I sobbed all the way home. I can do this, I kept telling myself.

Fast forward 2 1/2 years, and I was in a different boat entirely... sort of. There was no newborn baby. The kids were 7, 5, and 2. My heart hurt for them as they said goodbye to their dad for what was the seven-year-old's third time and second time for the other two. It was broad daylight again, and this time it was not kiss-and-go. We stayed. We mingled with other Army families who were dreading the final moment of farewell. Everyone attempted to put on a happy face as they nibbled their cookies and sipped their juice, but the elephant in the room was the fact that all the soldiers were leaving for 9 months, and some of them may not return. Nine months. Piece of cake. The other deployments were a whole year, so 9 months should be nothing, right? Right... I had to get out of there. I gave my husband "the look" and we headed outside. Apparently kiss-and-go is the way to do it. We all gathered around the van, gave our hugs and kisses, and said goodbye. Then he headed back inside, and we drove away. I didn't even cry. I've got this, I said.

For a while I wondered what on earth was wrong with me. How could I possibly say goodbye to my husband of almost 10 years and not even shed a tear? Didn't I love him anymore?! Was I so heartless?! What was wrong with me?? Sure, I got a little choked up the first night when I walked up the stairs alone and stared at the empty bed. I missed him terribly when we hit our 10-year wedding anniversary 2 months later and he was not there. I missed him something fierce when the kids and I embarked on our extended summer vacation, and he was not there to look at the star-filled sky over the ocean, or when he missed my birthday, or when I was feeling completely exhausted by day 5. But I never really cried. Finally, it hit me. I guess there really is nothing wrong with me afterall. I'm just... seasoned.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Strange Story on Range 17

Exactly six years ago today my husband returned from a year-long deployment to Iraq. I remember it like it was yesterday. To celebrate the anniversary of his return, I want to share one of my favorite stories he has ever written from that 2005-2006 deployment. This is a true account of something he experienced as he and the other soldiers waited for the word to enter Iraq...


"A Strange Story on Range 17"
The desert in Kuwait is a barren and desolate place. If you take the time to stand in the middle of it, you could look around in all directions and see nothing surrounding you but sand and sky. The feeling is comparable to being on a deep sea fishing trip; the girth of absolute solitude wears on the mind and the winds shift the sand like waves. It's nearly impossible to track where you are, where you've been, or even where you're going. This foreboding place is where the 2nd Platoon Roughnecks call home. 

This platoon of 33 infantry soldiers fall under the leadership of myself, 1LT Martin, and SFC Rainer, their platoon sergeant. The boys, as I like to call them, all come from vastly different backgrounds, and to the casual observer appear to be the perfect manifestation of the great American melting pot. Upon more thorough inspection, it becomes apparent what all of these young men have in common. Joining the Army was, more often than not, their best and last option. 30%  of this platoon is Hispanic and hails from such infamous locals as Watts, Compton, South Central, and Long Beach. To this 30% or so, life in the Army couldn't possibly be more dangerous than life back home. They have mixed emotions reading emails about their friends back home being locked up, dying in gang violence, or even worse, dying inside as a result of drug addiction. There are others too - a couple from the industrial complexes of New Jersey who joined the Army as jobs were outsourced to India and other places. They joke about the outsourcing potential of Iraq when we're done there. There's one African American soldier, a transplant from the Navy, no doubt a product of the Navy downsizing its enlisted force. Overall, they're just normal people in other than ordinary circumstances. Irregardless of the circumstances surrounding them being here, the "Roughnecks" of 2nd Platoon perform their jobs admirably and excel at whatever task they are given. As a leader of men, I could not as for a better group of guys. 

It is not a surprise given 2nd Platoon's record for mission accomplishment that we were tasked with planning and conducting a battalion-wide M16/M4 marksmanship competition. This is no doubt an odd tasking for an infantry rifle platoon. However, the battalion commander considered this range a high priority, and in my humble opinion, selected the right guys for the job.

SFC Rainer came up with a plan, and once it was approved, we were prepared to execute. We left out of the gate our compound to head to the range and to start setting it up. I was in the lead of a small convoy of 3 vehicles: a HMMWV (HummVee to civlians), which I was in, a bus, and a LMTV, a large ungainly truck, the cab of which is covered in thick steel armor. With my map and radio in hand, the convoy stabbed out into the dry heart of the desert. We moved along seemingly lost trails and deeply rutted improvised roads for about 26 or so miles before finally arriving at our destination. By nightfall the range was set up and ready for business. We all ate our MRE's and went to bed, knowing we would have an early morning ahead of us. The morning came, the sun announcing its arrival through the comfy confines of my black sleeping bag with the visual audacity of a cannon blast. 

As I shed my sleeping bag and asserted myself into the cold desert air, I observed the soldiers preparing themselves for the long day ahead. Four bus loads of soldiers arrived shortly after and after a range orientation and a safety briefing, we were ready to begin. Before shooting it is policy to conduct a "downrange sweep" of the area you plan to be firing in to ensure no animals or people are located in that area. While conducting our sweep. we noticed a large herd of camels. It is an idiosyncrasy of this region that camels roam everywhere. These camels are not wild. They have a shepherd who tends to them similar to how cows were herded in America's wild west. Unfortunately for the shepherds and the camels, the best grazing areas here are locations set aside for US forces to test and train with their various weapons. Hundreds of thousands of bullets and bombs are dropped or fired into this grazing area. Interestingly, none of the herders themselves are Kuwaitis. They are all poor immigrants who herd the camels and/or sheep for wealthy Kuwaiti owners. The herders makes less than 10 US dollars a day. Upon learning this, I immediately formed parallels in my mind to the immigrant experience in the US. I guess every country has its Mexicans, and your success in life is widely determined by where and to whom you are born. I digress.


Camels on our range, regardless of why they were there, was a problem, so we began herding them with the HMMWV. One large camel we pulled up to was sitting on its haunches. SFC Rainer leaned out of the window and yelled to the camel, "Get up, Private!" through his megaphone. We all laughed to each other as SFC Rainer flashed back to his days as a drill sergeant. Our laughter soon ceased as the beast complied and stood up. 


SSG Tucker was first to speak about what we all saw. "He's taking a dump!" he said. I was second to speak as I reached across the cab and touched his arm. "She's having a baby!" I said. We all fell silent, our jubilation replaced by the shame that comes with blatant insensitivity. I immediately went to get the herder and inform him of the good news. Once we told him, I told SSG Tucker to slowly take us near the female camel who by then had resettled herself. We slowly crept up and found her lying on her side. We all exited the truck and waited for her caretaker to arrive. When the shepherd arrived, he misunderstood our intent and began to strike the soon-to-be mother with his staff. She reluctantly stood with her little one's legs and head sticking out. We shouted and waved for him to stop, and soon the camel was lying down again. All 5 of us who were present had kids, and I can't speak for the others, but the torment of that poor camel while she was giving birth made me feel a deep sense of sympathy for her pain, and it took me back in my mind's eye to the birth of my daughter. 

The herder removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. He grasped the calf by his legs and neck, and with a tug and a push from mama, the baby was out. He was small, skinny, and helpless. While the mother looked on trepidly, the shepherd rubbed the calf down with sand to help dry off his fur. We offered the shepherd a bottle of water to wash his hands, and he thankfully obliged. He then took the empty water bottle and filled it with fresh milk from the mother camel. The herder then fed the milk to the young calf. We all stood there in silence for a moment, five warriors lost in the universal power of birth and life. It had been there all along as we trained others how to kill and how to use instruments of death. Life found a way and continued on as it has done forever. We named the little guy Jared Brown after a soldier in our platoon, snapped some photos, waved at the herder, and then, as quickly as we had come, we were gone, off to continue our mission.

Training went well that say and that night. With soldiers firing around me and tracer rounds streaking across the sky from a distant range, I found myself looking upward. A huge full moon burned brightly in the otherwise black sky. The moon had rings of color around it - blue, yellow, orange, and red. It was covered with a delicate lace of thin, patchy clouds. SSG Tucker joined me, smoking, as we stared at the same glowing orb, and he remarked, "It would be perfect if I was looking at it with my wife." Lost in thought, all I could say was, "Yeah." In my head I tucked my daughter in and gave her a kiss goodnight. Then I turned and yelled for the next firing order.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Nine Years In

In two weeks my husband and I will reach our 9 year wedding anniversary. It's ironic that our anniversary falls on Flag Day, the Army's birthday. Our 9 years of marriage have been completely entwined with everything the Army life contains ... worrisome deployments, long separations, too much time apart even when he's home, Army first, family second, moving every few years, etc. And if I could pat myself on the back for a second, I think I have handled it well.  I have learned how to be the primary parent in his absence. Like I heard in a movie recently, he's the back-up parent. We have made it through, and although it hasn't been easy, we're still looking forward. It will get better. As a mother of 3 kids, ages 6 and under, my whole life revolves around them. They are what have gotten me through the deployments. Without them, I would be lost and alone when he's gone all the time. When I learn of yet another upcoming separation, I immediately think of the kids and how it will affect them, not me. I think of all the birthdays he's missed, the ballet recitals, the T-ball practices and games, the kindergarten graduations, the first day of school, the first time our child rides the school bus, the holidays, and not to mention everything Maddy went through as an infant. He's missed a lot in our life together, and he will miss a whole lot more. Although it makes me sad (for the kids, not me), it has undeniably made me stronger. I am strong for my kids, and I am strong for myself because if I wasn't, I could very easily be miserable. It has been 10 months since he returned from Afghanistan. We are less than a year away from the next deployment. He will spend quite a bit of time between now and then preparing and training for that deployment, and he will be gone on multiple occasions for weeks at a time. Meanwhile, our family keeps moving right along, footloose and fancy free. We'll continue with the ballet and T-ball, and eventually school will start back again. We will celebrate what events he is present for and overlook the ones he's not. I am teaching myself to delete the rolladex of events he's missed because that can only create bitterness. It's our life. It's the way of the beast. And as we celebrate yet another anniversary apart in two weeks (and Father's Day and my birthday and a ballet recital), I will not complain because at least he is here today.  And tonight I can stare at him as he sleeps in my bed and soak up his presence to make up for the days he will miss. And we will be ok.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Beaming

As I write this blog today, I am literally beaming with pride. I think back on everything my little Maddy has overcome, and I could not be happier for her. From the moment she was born, and I heard the word clubfoot, I knew we had some challenges coming. My Google searches on that word later proved that I was right. The doctors also confirmed my suspicions by telling me that she would be behind with most developmental milestones.
At 3 weeks of age and casts reaching from the tips of her toes to the tops of her thighs, my heart ached for her legs that she was not allowed to use. How frustrating it must be to not be able to move your legs, I thought. How irritating it must be to not be able to stretch or bend your legs! But she proved to be a fighter, and she was the happiest baby I'd ever seen. It was as if she was telling me to have no pity on her, for how can you pity someone who's smiling? So we carried on, and the casts became just a part of her. They became such a normal part of our lives that her older sister even asked me one day why I had no baby pictures of her with her casts. She assumed that all babies had to wear them.
At 4 months of age, while still wearing casts on both legs, Maddy rolled over from her belly to back right on time just like the average baby. By 7 months of age, with the casts replaced by an uncomfortable brace that held her feet apart at an angle, she was sitting unassisted. By 9 1/2 months, she was crawling with her brace. By 10 months, she only had to wear the brace while sleeping and was in physical therapy. At 11 months, she was pulling up to standing. Soon after, she was cruising around the furniture. In the midst of all her incredible milestones that proved not to be as delayed as predicted, the doctors continued to express concern for her development. I was baffled and annoyed. How could they possibly see red flags when she's doing all these wonderful things?! My pride for her continued to grow despite being surrounded by naysayers, and she continued to be the happiest baby in the world. My first two children were not walking by a year old, so I showed no concern that Maddy was not walking either. She would get it when she's ready. And then one day she did. Four days shy of 14 months old, Maddy was sitting in the middle of the living room. She looked at the floor, she looked at me, and then she put her hands on the floor in front of her. She leaned forward, sticking her little bottom up in the air, and she pushed off. She slowly and carefully came to a standing position, and she stared at me with the biggest brown eyes I've ever seen. Her face showed pure concentration. Her arms balanced her wide stance, and she began to smile. Her left foot moved forward a few inches, and then her right. She plopped down to the floor and gave me a huge grin. I couldn't help but grab her and squeeze her with excitement. A mother is always proud when her baby starts walking, but my pride in that very moment exceeded anything I had ever witnessed. Two steps are hardly called "walking," but for Madison Grey, it's a huge accomplishment. And now it's only a matter of time.