Saturday, November 06, 2004

YOU'VE GOT MAIL

As we approach the halfway mark of the scheduled yearlong deployment, some of the guys will soon have to decide their next career move. With no foreseeable end to U.S. forces in Iraq, guys who are scheduled to get out of the army when they return from their deployment are wondering if the military will decide their future for them. Regardless of what they want, they could be forced to stay in under the military’s stop loss policy, which is implemented during wartime to ensure unit cohesion. Some of the guys assume they will face stop loss, so they are considering voluntarily reenlisting, which makes them eligible for bonuses and other benefits. The only problem is if they stay in the army, they may get deployed again to Iraq or Afghanistan. And that could be a dealbreaker for them and for their spouses.

Several months ago, we said our last goodbyes to our guys in front of the company barracks. After the last hugs and kisses were exchanged, the wives stood together in the parking lot while our husbands gathered the last of their gear to head over to the airfield. Everyone was crying. One of the wives hugged another and said, “I can’t do this anymore, I can’t,” as tears streamed down her face. Her son wailed behind her, screaming, “I don’t want my daddy to go.” It was an unbearable scene. And as some husbands contemplate their future, some of the wives wonder if they can endure another scene like that. Marriages are already strained and children are growing up without a father.

I don't know how couples held it together during the World Wars, the Korean War and Vietnam. In those conflicts, months and even years went by without any communication with your spouse. Letters were the means of communication and they took months to get to their destination. One woman I know told me she didn’t know if her husband was alive or dead in Vietnam until he showed up at her front door after the war ended. During this deployment, not many letters have been written because now we can talk to our husbands on the phone and some of the guys have cell phones. We can chat online, or send messages or pictures through email. We can see them on our webcams and through video teleconferencing sessions. And with 24 hour news, we know instantaneously what is happening in Iraq, sometimes before our husbands do.

At times, though, I’m not sure that the availability of this technology is a good thing. When you see live footage of the latest car bomb and you know your husband was in that area, your imagination begins spinning tales of “what ifs.” Or you are constantly searching the Internet for the latest news on your husband’s unit. Of course, I’m glad that if I choose to, I can easily find out what is going on in Iraq at any time of the day. But sometimes, perhaps ignorance is bliss.