Stop-Loss

April 3, 2008 at 9:53 pm | Posted in In the News, Issues, Military, Movies | 22 Comments
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My head hurts. I have one of those incessant, throbbing headaches. The kind of headache that is brought on by only one thing – uncontrollable crying.

About a week ago I asked Amz to go with me to see a movie. I told her I would need support. Of course she went.

I didn’t want to go with Hubby. It is not a movie he needs to see, but I did. I had to. I couldn’t not see it. Amz sat by me and we both cried. I sobbed so hard that I shook the chair I was sitting in. The scenes in the movie were so real and vivid to me.

It is no secret how I feel about war and my thoughts on a nation full of young veterans. As for the present day situation, I still feel like we have a ways to go.

Unfortunately, I could relate to so many things in this movie. I remembered putting my loved one on a bus to go to a war. I remembered having the dreaded, “this is what happened over there” discussion. I remembered thinking how long can the nightmares last? I remembered being that girl. That girl who just wanted to be with the man that she loved and who didn’t care if that meant moving to Canada or Mexico, or leaving everything behind.

I was disturbed. I was angered. I left questioning. Again.

I would highly recommend that you go and see the movie Stop Loss.

It is the story of a group of young soldiers and friends. They return home from a deployment to Iraq only to learn that the stop-loss policy, which keeps soldiers enlisted once their contracts have been fulfilled, was sending them back to the war in which they just left. It follows many different points of view.

One solider, the squad leader, is angered. He refuses his enlistment and proceeds to fight the government and the policies for which he fought for.

His friend, who is suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and trying to come to grips with another deployment for which he feels a responsibility to complete.

A wounded friend, whose life was saved by his comrades in the heat of battle. I am so glad they did not sugar coat his story. The wounds and results of war are sickening and they portrayed the loneliness and his attempt to continue in his life eloquently.

Another soldier, who suffered so greatly from the effects of battles, was left to deal with his demons with no aid, no help, and no support from the very people who placed him in the war which sickened his mind. His demise is heart breaking and statistically accurate. Do you know how many war veterans come home only to commit suicide when they cannot re-adapt and rejoin civilian life? The numbers are shocking.

From someone who was directly effected by the conditions of the stop-loss policy, I think they gave an accurate portrayal of the men and women who are fighting this war and the toll that the war and the policy took on the enlisted me and women and their families.

The one thing I felt that wasn’t portrayed accurately was the fact that they brought the main characters home for leave and then immediately stop-lossed their contracts. In real life, or at least with our experience with Hubby and with most of his comrades, they made sure that he received news of his stop-loss while he was in Iraq, only one month before his enlistment was up. He went on to serve for twelve more months in the sand due directly to stop-loss. We later learned this was done specifically to keep soldiers from going AWOL and refusing to return to the military.

The scenes of the men suffering with PTS were the hardest for me. We experienced it firsthand. I remember the first time that I realized Hubby was not dealing well with readjustment to civilian life. He had just returned home from Iraq and a friend of ours had given us tickets to the Monday Night Football game. I watched him as he watched the crowds warily. He seemed to be somewhere else. While on patrols he had been forced to be suspicious of crowds, of people, of everything. Then the fireworks and the celebratory cannons almost made him hit the deck. He went into sheer panic mode for about five seconds. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. For a few moments, he was gone. Transported to a time and a situation with mortars, sniper fire, and road-side bombs. They would do construction near our apartment and the rumblings from the explosives would send him into a moment all his own. He always dealt well with the episodes, but there was always the moments of fear and confusion that he just couldn’t snap out of.

Only about a year ago did the nightmares subside, but that is many years of traumatic stress. I am thankful that my husband came home to me. I am thankful for the people who prayed for him. I am convinced there were angels watching over him at many times. He was not treated fairly and he was not alone. There are many others like him.

I am just glad that their story is finally being told.

Five Years Ago

March 19, 2008 at 11:00 am | Posted in Culture, Family, Issues, Life, Military, Thoughts | 33 Comments
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Once upon a time there was a little girl. All she ever wanted was to grow up and get married and be a mommy. She dreamed big, aimed high, and accepted no obstacle which would deter her from her ultimate goals. She always gave the proverbial answers when asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

” A teacher.”

“A doctor.”

“A designer.”

She dreamed of working outside the home, but only as an afterthought, only as a second choice. She realized she was born in the wrong era. She would have loved to wear beautiful dresses and stockings with the hem up the back and be at home all day making her house a home. Her ultimate goal was to be a wife, a mom, a good mom, who puts her children first.

She dreamed of a beautiful wedding in a beautiful church surrounded by all of her family and friends. A place filled with love and joy and happiness. A day to celebrate two lives beginning a journey – together.

“Who do you want to marry?”

” A doctor.”

” A fireman.”

” A youth pastor.”

Never a preacher. Never a cowboy. And never a military man.

Never. Never. Never.

Isn’t it funny how your life can sometimes take a path you never dreamed it would? Is it karma? Is it fate? Is it God reminding you that you are ultimately not in charge?

My Not So Fairytale Life with Hubby began when I was 20 years old.

I was in college and there was this guy. He was so sweet and kind. He started hanging around more. He took such interest in me. We could talk for hours about what was important or what was silly. It didn’t matter. We were just together. Just us.

Shy. Painfully shy.

We had classes together. We started walking to and from them together. Hanging out together. Months later we were dating. It was our junior year of college and we were falling in love. One problem, he was a part-time military man. Once a month he would don his camouflage and head off to somewhere I was not interested in nor wanted to hear about. I could love him in spite of that one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer that he must be away.

He didn’t talk much about his duties. He was a Military Policeman. They are never deployed, unless there is a huge riot in an adjoining state, then they are sent.  They are trained in riot control. That is about the extent of their duties.

September 11. Buildings falling. People dying. The world is changing.

Our lives are changing.

I stood in my dorm with many of my girlfriends and I watched the towers fall.

We prayed. We hoped. We feared.

Everyone stared at me out of the corner of their eye. After all, I was the Army girlfriend.Were we going to war? Would there be retaliation? Would I be forced to say good-bye to the man I loved?

I walked to find him. I remember exactly what he was wearing, where he was standing, what his demeanor was.

Head down. Hands in his pockets. So still. So in shock.

I walk toward him. Our eyes meet. Neither of us said anything.  Neither of us had to.

We both knew.

Our lives were going to change from this moment on. Nothing that we ever knew was to be the same ever again.

Where would we go from here? How do we cope? What does this mean, for us?

All day I heard the inevitable conversation over and over without fail.

“Man, have you heard anything? Have you gotten a call?”

“No, nothing yet.”

“Do you think there will be a war?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think you will be called-up?”

 “I don’t think anyone knows that right now.”

Shut up. SHUT UP. Stop saying that. Who are you to ask him that? Go away. Leave us alone. You don’t know what you are talking about. You don’t know!

Life goes on. We go on. We hear talk of war, talk of deployments.

Full-time military is stretched. They are beginning to call on the National Guard.

Can they do this? Apparently they can.

We wait. Nothing. Talks of war. Talks of deployment. All we know is we want to be together. We decide to go on with our lives. We want to get married and begin our life together. We decide to move forward.

We plan. We arrange. We prepare.

All of the details were finalized. The date was set. May 31, 2003. People were preparing to travel, to come, to celebrate with us.

We were so happy.

I had one more thing to do. My flower girl’s dress. It was the last thing to do. That little girl was growing like a weed and her dress was the absolute last thing that could be done. I return her to her home.

His car. At her house. And I knew.

You know when you have pivotal moment in your life and you know that your life is about to change and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it? I wanted to run away. If you can’t give me news that I can’t hear it isn’t real.

But I couldn’t run. I had another person’s child in my car. That is the only thing that made me walk in that house.

He was there with my friends. Serious. Very serious.  The only sound that broke the ice was the sound of the children laughing, oblivious to the situation. I envied them. I wanted to be them. I wanted to laugh carefree again with no knowledge of things like war and separation and dreams shattered.

He took me in his arms and held me. I knew.

“How long do we have?”

” A month maybe.”

“How long will you be gone?”

“No more than six months.”

Six months? Six months? That was an eternity to two people in love who were ready to begin their lives together.

We would wait. He would come home after six months and we would continue our lives.

We had planned a beautiful wedding. All the arrangements had been made, all of the details finalized, all of the deposits had been made and paid.

We would reschedule for when he would return. That was the decision.

Five years ago today we sat in front of the TV and watched the horror of shock and awe. I was living with my parents, they had moved to town just that year for a job relocation and I moved off campus to live with them. Fiance moved in too when he had to have a place to go in between being withdrawn from school for a military activation and reporting for pre-deployment training.

We watched. In silence. He knew that in a few weeks time that he we be walking where those bombs were falling.

He left for the army base near our home. It was a sad day. I knew it was just the beginning. The beginning of good-byes, of long absences, of separation.

Five years ago today. It doesn’t seem real, in some ways it seems like a dream, surely this is someone else’s life, or a story that I am reading. This is not my life. This is not the way it happened for me. That was not my plan, my dream, my fairytale.

He went for training. He prepared. We grew sick away from each other. Like so many others we decided to marry before he left. Due to the news of inevitably long deployments, good benefits, and a make-up wedding that most likely he would not be here for, we decided to elope.

On April 19 we were married in a very small, very quick, ceremony on an army base in KY. We were one of about fifteen couples who were trying to get married that weekend.

“You have the chapel for fifteen minutes, no more” the chaplain told us.

Nothing like being rushed on your wedding day.

We hurried. Our dads prayed. My dad cried as he performed the ceremony.

He was granted two days leave.

He had to take me home to my parent’s house following our brief weekend together. He had to go back to the base. I had to go finish my senior year of college.

The next two weeks were a blur. I drove an hour and half every day each way to be with him. We had to stay in a hotel off the base site. Being part-time military there was no base housing for couples, we spent thousands on just being together. But, we didn’t care we were together and we knew our days were numbered.

He left in May. The day I graduated from college. He called from New York on a layover. I held my cell phone in my hand during the ceremony. In that way he was there.

The next year and half are such a blur.

Loneliness. Utter loneliness. Grief. Sadness. Pride. Anger. Depression. Extensions. Anniversaries apart. Medical problems. No husband. No partner. No friend.

“How are you doing?”

“I’m fine”

This was my line. I lied to everyone, to myself, to Hubby. I was not fine. It was the darkest time in my life. If I could have gone into a coma and awoken the day he would have returned that would have been my preference. I kept going. I trudged on. But I died inside. I shut down when I was alone. I would go home on the weekends and not go anywhere or do anything, my only solace was Lily, my new little puppy, whom Hubby insited I get to keep me company.

He knew exactly what I needed. She kept me sane in so many ways. She was my friend, my housemate, and my primary source of conversation. She was my sanity in a time when I felt like I was going insane.

But I kept it together, I never cried, never showed my emotions, put on a happy face. That is what we were supposed to do right?

For God, for Country, for our men? Right?

I am not sure.

All I know is that five years ago today my life changed. My hubby changed. Our relationship changed.

Five years ago today we entered a country by force to rid it of it’s dictator. I have already given you a piece of my mind on that and on war in general.

Five years later are we for the better? Have we changed the world? Are we safer?

Five years later I still don’t have the answers to those questions.

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