I’d say most of us in the military truly enjoy serving our country. The biggest challenge is trying to make sure that the sacrifices we make, whether in our lives, our family and our civilian careers, are meaningful and that the mission we undertake makes a difference to the safety and security of our nation.
DEPLOYED. Being away from loved ones is the hardest part in my opinion. In an earlier blog, MUST-HAVE MONTHLY MEMBERSHIPS TO HELP SURVIVE DEPLOYMENT, Rachael talks about how we use technology to bridge the gap. But no Skype date can replace being home or imitate physical connection, no matter how creative (Check out our virtual date ideas).
NUMBERS. Numbers are big entertainment in the military. Most here keep countdown clocks to let us know when we catch the rotator home or even how many Taco Tuesday’s we have left to eat. And if you’re interested, I have about 190 days left from the posting of this blog. Fortunately, after almost five months deployed, I am reinvigorated to conquer the mission in front of me and that reason is because of one of the most beautiful numbers — 96! 96 hours of liberty! (For the non-military, is a 4-day leave granted by the Commanding Officer, but at the expense of the military member)
COMMAND CLIMATE & LIBERTY. I am fortunate that my command doesn’t just give lip service to boosting morale and “getaways” are encouraged, even if only for a 96 hour liberty. To that end, I was able to take full advantage of Expedia and plan a trip that would allow Rachael and I to reconnect… For 96 hours. Obviously, planning a trip back to the East Coast was not practical since I would have spent two days each way in transit, in addition to the distance limitations set forth in the liberty order. So what better way than to meet up in Paris, France for Valentine’s Day? Meeting in Europe meant almost the same amount of time airborne for both of us. I admit to setting the bar high for Valentine’s Day next year. But I don’t think the fact that the four days fell over Valentine’s Day really mattered; the time together was priceless. That long-held embrace at the airport melted away the distance and time apart in seconds. To feel my shoulders truly relax and feel a piece of home, it could have been a Wednesday of any week and it would have been fabulous. Even after our romantic little rendezvous was coming to a close, it was not as difficult to say goodbye as one would imagine. It was just another milestone in my final countdown for home.
LUCKY. Rachael and I count ourselves lucky, as not everyone can spend the money to take such a trip, keep up a household and take time from work. I know that some of the junior sailors, Marines and soldiers are not as fortunate and end up taking a “CLU-cation” right here on camp- keeping that gap from family. And with new Combatant Command requirements being implemented, NO mid-tour R&R (a 14-day leave where airfare is paid by the government to fly home) is granted for those serving less than 365 days boots-on-ground. There really is no escape to refocus and re-motivate. Please note, the common length of orders here is 330 days. Pre-deployment training and post-deployment debriefing are not included towards the magical 365 number, though is still additional time away from home and loved ones.
THE COST. A trip to Paris for Valentine’s Day was not inexpensive. We certainly did not do 96-hours in Paris on a dime. When I told Rachael what I wanted to do and the impact to our finances, I smiled when I heard her say “I’LL TAKE WHAT I CAN GET”. I booked our flights that night and never regretted it.