Wednesday, March 31, 2010


March 31, 2005. I remember I was laughing at something my husband said as I picked up the phone around 9:30 that night, so the laughter rang through in my greeting. My revelry quickly faded when I heard the voice of our commander. Always gruff (The guys often imitated him —respectfully —in the voice of Billy Bob Thornton from the movie Sling Blade— “mmm hmmm”), it wasn’t unusual for him to sound the way he did, but it was unusual for him to call directly, and there was something else I heard in the brief request to speak to my husband. Rick spent under a minute with mostly, “Yes sir,” responses before he hung up the phone and said he had to go. It was around 9:30pm, but this again wasn’t unusual.

We were well accustomed to the “leave at the drop of a hat,” reality in which we lived, as part of the 7th SOS. So Rick grabbed his “go bag” — a bag he always kept near and at the ready with three days worth of underwear and toiletries, and with a brief kiss, he left. I didn’t know whether he’d be back tomorrow, next month, or next year. This was the 3rd year as part of the 7th SOS family, and we were mentally ready for anything (or so we thought), because we had been through so much. We once received one of these calls during my son’s 4th birthday breakfast. On that day Dad left quickly, and he didn’t return for weeks, and then months. The mission of the 7th, briefly and in my unofficial terming, is to fly for the USAF into unfriendly or denied territories; at times to extract people, at times to deposit aide or materials; at times to drop people who had to go there for whatever reason, wherever “there” might be for the mission. They open airfields, fly into places where other planes cannot, and land where others cannot land. They fly off the radar, out of the public spotlight and silently, without notice or explanation to their spouses of where they’re headed. More often than not, I heard through the spouses’ unofficial network or from other people who spent more time trying to figure out where their husbands were than I did. I played the game by the rules. I’d know, when they were ready to tell me, or when they were able to phone. This, again, could be weeks.

So I took a deep breath, made some coffee, and sat. The kids had long been put to bed. I didn’t call anyone, there was nothing to say. And then Rick came home again hours later, around 3am. “There’s been an incident,” he said, “that’s all I can tell you.” His face was drawn, and he was fighting to maintain control. So then I guessed. The people in this small flying squadron had made it through countless missions, including one or two in Iraq which made the history books, and had come home safely. Most of the flying crews in the squadron were deployed on a mission in Albania. The only reason my husband was home was because he’d just returned from a different assignment stateside. So I guessed. I’m not sure what happened next. I only remember Col D coming to the door with a chaplain. He, too, looked drawn. I offered coffee, because I didn’t know what else to do. I remember Rick told me to wait, because they might need my help later. Then they promptly left and walked down the street to my friends’ house to knock on her door. The knock all of us knew was a possibility, but pushed far out of our accessible realm of chance and replaced with faith and hope. But tonight, our resources failed us.

The days that followed are etched in all of our memories. The squadron came together both in grief and strength to aide those who needed it most. Everyone has a story to tell of loss. Several wives’, fathers’, mothers’, brothers’ and sisters’ stories continue to evolve in perpetuity.

Our squadron lost many brothers on March 31, 2005. They are:

Captain Todd R. Bracy, 34, of Murphysboro, Illinois;

Captain James S. Cronin, 32, of Oak Grove Village, Illinois; Captain Gil C. Williamson, 31, of Dike, Texas;

Captain Surender D. Kothakota, 30, of Fayetteville, North Carolina;

First Lieutenant Ray C. Owens Jr., 32, of Birmingham, Alabama;

Chief Master Sergeant Lawrence B. Gray, 40, of Chester, South Carolina;

Technical Sergeant James R. Henry, 30, of Valparaiso, Florida;

Technical Sergeant Glenn P. Lastes, 39, of Southington, Connecticut (of the 25th Intelligence Operations Squadron);

Staff Sgt. Patrick R. Pentico, 22, of Hanksville, Utah;

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Part of our mobile military existence involves the ever-debatable topic of the family pet. In our case, it’s “dogs r us — dogs or bust.” It's tough to maintain a consistent relationship moving around as we do; often having to place our dogs in the care of others until we're settled. We have a dog. She’s a chocolate lab named Chili. And she lives in Florida with my mom. She’s now Grandma MJ’s trusty companion, but we still talk about and refer to her as our own. In fact, we’re loading up the car this week and trucking 20 hours to visit MJ and Chili. My youngest daughter Gabby, when confronted recently with the fact we might not make the trip, exclaimed, “But I HAVE to see Chili!” Well okay, then. Off we go. Grandma understands.

We waited four long years to bring Chili into our family, and she is the only dog Gabby remembers. But Chili received the short end of the genetic stick, and before she was two, was riddled with arthritis, lost most of her sight, and her hearing was on the fritz. These are not good symptoms to carry while coping with the genuine but often suffocating affections of three young children. This was our second family dog I embraced upon sight and wouldn’t let go until she was safely at home with us. I’m told my jig is up. No more “let’s just visit” freedoms when it involves a puppy.

Our son and maybe our oldest daughter, who has the memory of an elephant, are old enough to remember our first beloved — Hoops, who was our “pre kid” canine, and she went everywhere with us. I have vivid memories of her riding gunshot 24 hours to Texas; I think taking in and enjoying the sights as much as I did. When the kids came along, she accepted her new side-car role graciously. Then we moved to England in 2002, and we opted to leave her with my sister vs putting her in mandatory six-month quarantine many miles away from our home, which was the law at the time. She didn’t make it through the four years we were away. So we lived in England and returned stateside without a family pet. This was soon remedied when I came across an ad for chocolate labs in the paper — my son named her "Chili." I grew up with Labradors. I have so many memories — good and bad — of life with and without them. One of the first recollections is playing in the barn with my yellow lab puppy when I was five or six-years-old, when a huge field fence came crashing down on top of her. This was my first cognizant experience of death, and I’m pretty sure it was my fault. But this is proof to me my kids are missing out by not sharing their early years with a pet. Dogs hold so much life for so many of us. A friend recently lost his “best buddy,” as he referred to him, and properly mourned his loss. I can totally relate. That’s just it — for many of us, dogs are heaven on earth, and there really isn’t an alternative that comes close to that relationship. I want my children to experience that. This is a critical time I think, for kids to bond to something other than to us — the human element. A trusty four-legged friend serves so many emotional needs, which are as individual as we are.

But two years into our latest move, we have no dog. I thought about becoming a “foster family” for dogs, but, again, we all know once a dog comes into my realm, I won’t let go easily. There is a certain lonliness in the house whenever I’m here alone, as I am now. But we also have freedom to pick up and leave for wherever at the drop of a hat. No worries of how to care for Fido during our (frequent) absences. Instead, we fill the empty space with discussions about dogs. What dogs we like, what dogs we don’t, and which dogs would fit best into our particular family. We cruise breed sites, watch The Dog Whisperer on The Discovery Channel, and my kids are quick to approach and befriend every dog they see. We all anticipate the time when we can bring a new family dog into the mix. Maybe our dog will find us. It’s happened before. I once adopted a Siberian Husky I named Luna, because she hung around my front porch for days staring at me with her soulful blue eyes, and no one ever came to claim her, despite my attempts to find her owner. And I don’t know if it’s true that dogs take on the look of their owners, or vice versa, but I sure do fancy a floppy eared hound dog who lopes around with those droopy sad eyes. Hopefully, this time, one who will PCS with us to wherever we go and be here to keep me company long after the kids PCS their way outta here, leaving me and the dog with our memories.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I have a favorite poem by Marge Piercy called “Wrong Monday.” She paints such a prolific picture of the perfectly wrong day, I think of it every time I have one. It makes me feel better to know I’m not alone. The poem is a collection (Available Light) I bought in my college days when a friend introduced me to what I thought of as a racy bookstore in Columbus, Ohio called “Fan the Flames.” The book is beyond a little ratty, but flipping through to that poem periodically has a medicinal effect on my mood.

Now that I’m into my 40s, my moods have rather drastic ups and downs, sweeping cyclically with my internal rhythms. I never really bought into this in all my years, until recently. I listened with a distinct degree of detachment to friends who spoke of their monthly pendulum swings, as I never suffered from emotional ups and downs when I was younger. I was pretty certain I oscillated in the middle. So now that I’m in the twilight stages of my fertility, it’s a 28-day wake-up call when I’m feeling absolutely down and out — I mean rock bottom, baby — and then my period starts. “Oh.” Each and every time —“Oh.” Like it hasn't happened every month since I was 13. Let me see — that’s about 350 “Aha!” moments.

These are the times I feel particularly sorry for my family. Normal everyday life gets too much for my fragile emotional state. The usual morning bickering between siblings sounds like the world’s ending to me. Spilled milk takes on the proportions of Niagara Falls in my mind, and I cannot fathom there’s anything out of the ordinary causing this poor perspective. I blame them. Until I realize it’s ME! “Oh! Poor them!” Everything I do is for not, and everything I say goes unheard. I only wish some of the things I do and say on this particular rotation would go by way of nevermore.

I finally made it to the doctor for my annual check-up recently. And I use the term “annual” loosely. A bane of my — and every person who finds themselves moving house every two to four years on average — existence is that every time we move I have to find a new, respected, likable doctor for every one, fill out forms, make appointments, find directions, etc. I usually put myself last in the line-up. So I was pretty excited to get in with a local OB/GYN at one of the best hospitals in DC with a great rep on short notice. I’d had enough, suddenly, and wanted to see someone about these crazy symptoms. I wanted insights. I wanted answers. I wanted relief.

I anticipated the appointment with the eagerness of someone who knows they carry the winning ticket; they just need to cash it in. I was finally going to get some answers. But, alas, the doctor had a different agenda. She was pretty brief and to the point with me. After I unloaded my list of ailments and requested a blood test, she replied in her own quick, bulleted manner, “Welcome to the fabulous 40s club, and I’m not an intern-est. You need an intern who can read those blood tests. That’s not me.” I was flattened on two fronts. One — my circumstances seemed ordinary; she was not impressed in the least, and two, I had to go and find ANOTHER doctor to assure me I was fine. Oh — and if I wanted to try something to remedy the mood swings, she suggested, I might want to consider Prozac — and lay off the red wine and dark chocolate. Hmmmm. I never told her about the red wine and dark chocolate. You can forget that, lady. I believe in the red wine and dark chocolate; but not the Prozac.

I have a friend who is an OB/GYN who I frequent with my sincere yet often misguided inquiries. In contrast to my in-office experience, he’s pretty patient. Sometimes I get answers. Sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I embarrass myself in the process. But it feels good to be able to ask the questions. I think it takes a certain amount of giftedness to be able to listen patiently to the ramblings (rantings?) of women, or anyone, and evaluate whether, or not, there are real symptoms to be examined medically. It also feels pretty great to find that when on those rare occasions you’re out with the gals, you find your thoughts are not so random. 

They’re echoed by so many of us who, too, have joined the fabulous 40s club.
What a ride, this particular decade. This is the time when so many of us, at last, are at peace with ourselves — theoretically. We’re through battling for thick hair or big boobs that were never intended for us. Or by now we’ve had the surgery(ies) and finally have realized our God-given right to feel fabulous. Most of us have had our children, we’re turning the corner of diapers and infant care into a little more independence and self actualization. And we feel it. The tantalizing taste of individuality. We are SEXY. No need for affirmations (but that’s nice, too), we KNOW it!

And then — without warning, the weather changes. Our body is literally swept through by a hormonal hurricane of catastrophic proportions. Ah — fleeting, this feeling of hard-won self-perception — this acceptance that strength and beauty comes in all kinds of packages, including ours. I found this quote by fellow Ohioan James Thurber. I think he sums it up nicely: Women deserve to have more than twelve years between the ages of twenty-eight and forty. ~James Thurber, Time, 15 August 1960

Amen to that.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I remember one song I requested at our wedding. Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough.” I felt it defined me then (and maybe now) — it was an ode to my craziness and a nod to my husband’s courage to put up with it (me), and I wanted it to play as a tribute to him. Although he never found the tune particularly appealing, either for the lyrics or the music — in fact, I’m pretty sure he was mildly offended by both. I tried to explain what they meant to me, and why it was my way of sort of apologizing in advance in perpetuity (I even stood up at a karaoke bar once and SANG this song!), but I’m not sure he bought it.

When the time came at our reception, and the song played, my newly minted husband was nowhere to be found (was this coincidence?). A well-meaning friend saw the look of desperation in my eyes and took the dance floor in his stead. I don’t know if my friend knew the significance to me at the time, or if I ever thanked him. But it’s ironic how that song has flipped back on itself. I still play it on the guitar. It still means something to me, although the meaning has transcended a bit. Being strong enough for my husband and for our children has been quite a journey for me. Facing our ever-changing circumstances, along with Rick’s ever-evolving schedule of home again not again, has found me at times down in the deepest depths of myself.

Along the way, though, I’ve met some of the most solid, funny, wickedly smart, interesting women, who, too, have chosen to share this crazy journey with their husbands who’ve chosen the United States Air Force, and in in many of our cases, special operations, as the place they want to be. They are my Air Force family — my sisters. They hold me together when pieces are broken, because it is a unique existence and difficult to comprehend unless you've walked a similar path. There must be an unspoken litmus test for potential spouses. Seriously, how much sh*& can we throw your way before you cry, “Uncle!” You know the active-duty factor in this marital equation has been tested to the extreme … surviving on bugs somewhere in the wild for days while on the run from real or perceived bad guys. We, on the other, hand, do not get the benefits of training. We are thrown into it in full up — sink or swim fashion, bugs optional.

In addition to the daily rigors, the longer you stay in service, and the more successful your counterpart, the more involved you may become in the day-to-day life of the entire squadron. It is the job for which you never applied and rarely get thanked —the job of spouse. For some of us, stakes are even higher in the role of director of operations or commander’s spouse, in which case you take on the status of caring for the welfare of the entire squadron. There is no training here, or little. An orientation is required. I’ve heard this referred to as a one to two-week charm school, where you are given briefs on what your new life entails as commander’s spouse. Paycheck? Nope? No application required. You are there, sister, by virtue of your husband’s new role. This is your service. And many (most?) see it as such. We watch our husbands stick their necks out time and again to rescue, save, ensure and protect — many of us our willing and able to do the same — if only on a more domestic level.

In my professional days, I learned much from the doings of others as I climbed the ladder — daily lessons made by living examples of what to do and what NOT to do. In comparison (or contrast?) I’ve been in awe of the women who’ve led the charge in their assumed duties as spouse. In the strenuous and most tragic of times, these people have held together not only themselves, but the entire gaggle of families around them, for better or worse. It was at a spouses’ coffee (very important social/informational gatherings led mostly monthly where one comes to see and be seen; literally in some cases. It serves as a Checkpoint Charlie when the “actives” have been gone for weeks. This is a time to touch base and see how everyone is coping …) where I stood in the crowd while children scrambled and babies slept in the chaos, listening to the commander’s spouse explain that we needed to be patient (probably at the time in knowing where our husbands had gone and when they were due to return)… and by the way, she didn’t ask for this role, it came with the house. That was a wake-up call to me. Because we all looked to her for so much: leadership; organization; encouragement; strength.

I already had great respect for the responsibilities this woman carried prior to my epiphany at the coffee. As a stranger in a strange land, I had my third child shortly after the plane touched down. Okay — it was about three weeks, later, but I was feeling pretty alone in a big world at the time. I was in the bathroom of my little hospital room, when I heard voices and realized I had company. I wondered who it could possibly be, as I barely had time to meet anyone between landing, finding a house, a car; let alone a car seat. It was the commander and director of operations’ spouses. They’d come to welcome the baby, gifts in hand. I was overwhelmed. They didn’t know me, let alone my baby, or my family. But this is what they do. They reach out and embrace the task before them. I still have the hand-made quilt from this visit. It’s become an heirloom piece I hope gets passed down to my grandchildren.

This was just the first example of the strength, courage and charity shown by people who are not only amazing in their own right, but carry the weight of their assumed spousal role with grace. There are many stories here. I learned so much from these women over the years for whom I hold the greatest respect. I did what I could to help out, quietly watching those who led us, wondering if I would ever be in their shoes, and if so — will I be strong enough?

Friday, March 5, 2010


I have vivid memories of spending countless hours making up gymnastics/dance/performance art-ala-me routines to the music on the Free to Be You and Me album, by our favorite “it” girl, Marlo Thomas (and friends). I read the stories. I memorized the words. I mimicked the voices. I believed. I still do. The messages contained within that compilation of songs/stories are as relevant to me today as they were, circa 1970-something. So much so, that as soon as the re-printed book/CD hit the stores a few years ago, I swiped it up and began playing it for my children. The tunes are as catchy as they ever were. I especially like the one with Carol Channing about cleaning.

We often have conversations with the kids about speaking freely and what that means to us, both personally and as a country. We’re pretty adamant and redundant about using words only when we’re certain of their definition, in a context befitting our age. So when we explain what Daddy does for a living in the simplest of forms, we say Dad is a patriot. He goes to work every day to defend the right for our children to speak freely and to make choices in their lives based on the fundamental fact of the freedom of that choice. (And when the kids don’t understand our word choices, we tell them we paid dearly in college for the employment and enjoyment of fancy phonetics, so go grab the dictionary and look them up!)

My house isn’t decorated in Americana to display my patriotism. I wear it on my sleeve, right next to my heart. I get goose bumps at opening ceremonies — from the Olympics to little league. When our flag is raised, and we collectively pause in silence waiting to sing the national anthem, my eyes well up and threaten to spill over. I drove past my neighbors’ house yesterday and there was a big, bright home-made banner that read, “Welcome Home Dad!” in huge painted letters. My eyes stung instantly, and I got that choked up feeling in my throat. I know that anticipation after all the days are counted down. Dad is due home, and he’s made it safely. I've also been with my friends when the inverse was true.

I often wonder at people who feel they cannot converse with me freely “because my husband is in the Air Force.” Or who cannot fathom the choice we’ve made to live our lives in the service of our country. Because it’s hard. The opportunity for the accumulation of wealth is fairly limited, it’s unsettled, and it’s often given a very dim outlook by popular media. But again — we made this choice. Freely. For my husband, I believe it’s how he stays true to himself and his convictions.

I was once in a conversation with an old friend who explained he couldn’t continue speaking with me because I couldn’t possibly understand his point of view (insert: because my husband was in the military). I was gobsmacked. What? How does that make me incapable of carrying on a thoughtful discussion? I live for conversation. I over explain almost everything, and often think about exchanges long afterwards — sometimes, as in this case, for years. I’m a sponge. I absorb most everything … it takes a while to wring out thoughts and feelings, and retain those that are truly my own. Our life is spent in a particular service to our country. Although it’s certainly my husband’s career, it was a joint decision, as my own career path has narrowed as a result, and although tangential, I believe our family works to ensure our childrens’ freedom; and their children; and so on. We go by way of where we’re called.

In a landmark decision in 1919 casting a vote of dissention to defend freedom of speech (Abrams vs US/250 U.S. 616), Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “ that the best of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.”

Am I indoctrinated to view life in a certain way as a result of my husband’s career choice? I’d have to argue, “no.” In fact, my perspective has expanded by the experiences garnered. But please — let’s talk about it. We don’t have to agree. We’re free not to. After all, we, as a country, continue to fight and pay dearly for that right.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


If you could be a cowgirl(boy), would you live in Clovis, New Mexico? Maybe. I keep thinking if we have the opportunity (always an opportunity in the line of duty) to move west of Albuquerque by 500 miles, then I will explore my secret desire to be a cowgirl and open a dude ranch … for wayward spouses.

In order to understand this line of thought, though, you must first understand the psyche of the frequently moving military spouse. We spend hours/days/months pondering our next move and all its possibilities. We cruise real estate sites and now our latest craze — Military By Owner (MBO) — imagining what it would be like to live there, wherever THERE might be. We quickly dispose of all the ills of our current residence by replacing it virtually with the domicile to come. There is always an opportunity to seek out a kitchen with a gas stove, or at least a cooker from this century; a house with four bedrooms instead of three; a mud room AND a garage … really the possibilities (again) are endless. WE are not yet bound by the reality of what our future residence offers. We are flying on the wings of our fancy. In our minds we see only good or better than now. We imagine space and hardwood floors. Walk-in closets and green green grass. (oh dear, I only see brown in Clovis. No matter! It’s the desert skies I seek!) We cruise the help wanted ads online, wondering about our next possible career. Let me see …. I’ve always wanted to be a ….. “COWGIRL!” Optimism at this stage of the game is our oracle. There is really no need at this time to corral our imaginations. That will surely come soon enough. No — for now, we are drunk on the possibility of things to come.

As I understand it, Cannon AFB/Clovis is exactly three hours from Lubbock in one direction (Southeast) and Amarillo (Northeast) in the other. These are the largest metro areas within proximity; proximity is a relevant term when you live in the wild wild west. Plot them on the map and you get a triangle with Clovis at the crux. If you GOOGLE EARTH Cannon, you can get a clear line of sight on the Wal-Mart. And the brown. I understand from my friends who live there, who’ve sent me pictures as evidence, the tumbleweeds roll onward until they are heralding through your lawn higher than one’s house. But to me, this is all matter-of-fact. To me — I feel the fit of fine cowboy boots and smell the scent of well-oiled leather. I can hear the clippity-clop of horses on the battened down earth and the whinnie of my horse calling for my attentions. I envision trail rides with the kids, saddlebags bulging with our lunch, which we’ll eat next to a cool stream and a cactus.

Understand, this post is not meant to pick on Clovis. It’s not. It’s just an example (a very real one in my case) of the next path we may take along our Air Force adventure. And this particular path really does merge with my secret (or not-so-secret) cowgirl cravings . I’ve always wanted to swagger through a set of swing doors…


“Ya’ll take the tube down to see us!”

I find wherever we live, I collect words (along with various and assundry treasures) I want to pluck from the locale and pack away for later and repeated use. So that after a while, our household goods, as well as our vocabulary, spill out with a virtual cornucopia of odds and ends, which make up our home, as well as our “homespeak.”

To this day, we use the term “bin,” instead of trashcan. My children ask for the toilet, not the bathroom, and I take the tube no matter what city in which I travel. Why? I just like those words better. They seem to fit, or they are simply more fun to say than the alternative. Language travels light and words envelope memories that last forever. I’m sure my children are asked why they use certain words. Hopefully they have a story to tell about where they’ve been, and the many places they’ve seen. They might not remember every detail, but they are cognizant of time spent elsewhere.

A friend of mine who recently moved to Turkey with her husband sent an email the other day with a picture of her son being dressed by a woman I didn't recognize. She said the woman in the photo approached her on the playground to fix her son's clothing, as the Turkish are very particular about bundling up their babies. She said it was sunny and warm that day, and her child already had several layers of clothing too many by our American standards, but this apparently did not suffice. This is just one of the many amazing photos my friend has shared with us since arriving a month or so, ago. Most of the photos have her son in the foreground of an amazing sight. Those photos will help him remember when he's older, and the stories behind the pictures will prevail.

My children travel well. They step up to the challenge of spending two days in a car or 12 hours on an airplane with pep in their step. They listen. They get along. They behave. Travel is almost a magical elixir for our family. When we yearn for quality togetherness, sometimes we simply go for a drive, or out to dinner. The adventure doesn’t have to be a long one — just the sense of something out of the ordinary trips that wire.

I hope that when our children are grown, they will view their odd collection of words as evidence of a life spent with open hearts and open minds. While Daddy is off trying to help make the world a better/safer place, we are here making our place in the world better, and recognizing there all kinds of ways to speak, and dress, and do. The possibilities are endless.