Monday, August 17, 2009

New Boots

They look like really nice hiking boots. Brown suede with thick black rubber soles that reach up the sides approximately two inches and there is a thick leather collar right next to the ankle bone on these shoes. When these boots are issued the soldier is instructed to wear them now to avoid the problems that might come with impressively engineered boots.

She told me they were more comfortable than the old heavy desert boots and they are actually built in proportion to woman's feet. She told me that this new boot even with the shorter ankle support, was more comfortable and stronger than the heavy desert boot. Her old ankle injury felt even better in these new boots.

How interesting that the uniform the soldiers are now wearing are actually based on ergonomically appropriate construction. That is, the boots are now built for the unique structure of each gender's foot. With all the stress of being down range there's something reassuring about knowing that the boots they are now receiving provide the real support for those hard working feet.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

They're Leaving

She's saying goodbye for only a while to her fiancee. He's patting his son on the back but he dare not open his mouth to speak. She watches as her brother puts his enormous pack with all the gear on his back. The young woman over there, the one with the amazing blue eyes holds the hands of her fiancee. They are both assigned to Afghanistan but at different ends of the country.

This group is going down range tonight. They've been waiting in the hanger as the final clearance is performed for the aircraft that will fly them to Germany. The Sgt. has passed out the medication they will be taking daily throughout the deployment. The predictable joking is heard as the bottles are passed to the individuals to whom they are assigned. She popped the top and a handful of pills spilled. No one will admit to the anxiety that is thick enough in the hanger it could be cut like cheese.

The Dfac (dining facility) provides a last hot meal - roast beef, baked potatoes and rice, green beans, salad with choice of dressings. There is fruit - apples, oranges and for the first time since I've been eating at the Dfac there are peaches and plums. Packaged cookies, snack bars and a variety of chips are also offered. The food might not be haute cuisine it is basic, familiar and the troops are encouraged to take multiple servings to get them through the 18 hours (or more) of travel time.

My instructions to myself for this deployment: Focus on this moment here. Don't think about when the plan may be ready. Don't focus on where the troops are going. Just stay present. Breathe.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Homecoming vs. Reunion

There is a difference. Homecoming is the joy of seeing your loved one for the first time in fifteen months. It is those ecstatic moments and hours when you connect for the first time and realize he or she is really back with you. Then the hard part begins.

Reunion is a process. It begins before the loved one - parent, spouse, partner, child or sibling - actually arrives. There is the combination of relief that she or he has survived and is returning; there is the expectation that it will be so good to have this loved one back and there is the worry. This worry is also a real part of the return.

The reunion involves adjusting to the changes that have inevitably occurred during the soldier's deployment. One partner has assumed new responsibilities while the other has filled his or her responsibilities down range. Each partner has made adjustments and changes. Sometimes these changes are happening for the third or fourth time because the soldier has been deployed multiple times.

The greatest pressure on families and loved ones comes from the expectations everyone has about how "it will be" now that he or she has returned. Expectations are based on events that have happened in the past and MAY happen again in the future. But these events are NOT happening at this moment. One instruction for managing the process of reunion is: "stay in this present moment."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Welcoming them Home

This night which begin with arriving at the empty hanger at 3AM ran from anxious expectation to overwhelming love. The last soldiers from the brigade with which I have been working returned from Iraq at 4:30 AM Thursday.

There was a Southern summer rain storm raging until approximately ten minutes before the doors opened to let the soldiers off the plane. As they walked down the stairs into formation the rain stopped. The soldiers then marched into the hanger where we were all waiting and the commander officially thanked them and welcomed them home.

They were given approximately 15 minutes to hug and kiss their families, their children, their parents and siblings and then they piled onto the bus to go back to the brigade headquarters to pick up their gear. Some of the soldiers didn't have family greeting them and my beautiful assignment was to provide some of the warmth a family might provide. What an amazing experience!

This night was so beautiful. I am so blessed to have been part of their homecoming.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Army as Fashion Trend Setter

First the fabric is lovely. Wrinkle proof, color that blends in and goes with every environment and the cut of the pants and tops is excellent. It used to be that there was a terrible olive green for the basic uniform - think MASH - then there was the pattern designed for jungle wear - Viet Nam or Grenada but now, now our computers have created a sleek pixilated print that serves in all terrains.

But the cut of these 2009 uniforms is really outstanding. Fitted through the hips and waist, stylish cargo style pockets on the legs and the pockets the army has so intelligently added on the sleeves of these tailored tunics. . . well, finally the soldiers can keep their pens on the sleeves right where the writing utensil should be for immediate use.

The biggest innovation is not the fine pattern of the fabric or the addition of those smartly placed useful pockets but the very nicely tailored uniforms for the pregnant soldiers. The first time I saw the maternity outfit I didn't realize the reason for the wider tunic was pregnancy. How impressive this change in styling is for all soldiers as well as for those female soldiers who continue to serve throughout their pregnancies.

Yes, this job is not easy nor is it ever stress-free but at least now the outfits add a little pizazz to the work environment.