The Coffee Group
This post is part of the series, The Real Army Wives, which I’m writing to document the early years of The War on Terrorism. Click here to read last week’s post.
Counselor, Friend, Same Difference
While Alan’s parents were still glued to the news, Dr. Jones actually recommended to me that I stop watching it for the sake of my sanity.
Once I quit watching it, I’ve never gone back. Ask me to this day what channel CNN or Fox News are, and I can’t tell you. It puts my brain in a negative place, so I don’t go there. About once every few months, the internet will get all in an uproar over something, I’ll turn on the television and watch it for 10 minutes, and then I’m done. 10 minutes is all it takes. After that, they just repeat the same story over and over again anyway.
A nice perk of the deployment was the temporary pay raise. I decided to take $250 of that special pay and fly myself in a counselor, and by counselor I do mean my good college buddy Jennings.
Jennings had narrowly escaped sending her fiancee, Jason, to the war with a Marine reserve unit herself.
Jason waited until one day before going AWOL to report for duty. By that time, his unit had already left. His commanding officer was notified and said to let him go. They had too many men and not enough equipment to have someone there who didn’t want to serve his country. Jason was administratively discharged. (Marrying Jason was definitely one of those love is blind–and stress paralyzed–situations for Jennings.)
Jennings was still a student at the University of Alabama. She is a year younger than me. She waited for spring break and then flew out, and I picked her up at the Austin airport.
What a happy sight Jennings was!! We had been friends for 3 years. Jennings and I went to the same church, worked as Resident Assistants in the same dormitory, and took many a quick trip down to the beach together. Jennings was a bridesmaid at my wedding, and I would eventually be a bridesmaid at hers.
Jennings was there when I started dating Alan. She was very much my wingman, if you can say that girls have a wingman. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Jennings did the unthinkable. She got up at 5 AM with me to go work out at the rec center. I do not know what her motivation was because my motivation was that at 5 AM the ROTC cadets were there working out, so that meant I got to see Alan!
Jennings would bang on my door those mornings to get me out of bed. BANG BANG BANG BANG!! “April, c’mon! Wake up! I know you’re in there!!!”
We’d work out, then we’d hop on the scales and weigh ourselves, as if our 45 minute work out would instantly make us shed pounds. The hilarious part was that neither of us had an ounce to lose anyway. We both weighed the same 115 pounds every single time, which is unimaginable to me now!
Gradually, Jennings started dating Jason, and I felt like I solidly had Alan, so we dropped that whole 5 AM workout routine quite easily.
There are many different types of friends that a gal needs, and Jennings is my favorite kind. She is the accepting, listening friend, the one you can call and tell the whole truth to, no judging. Well, at least she wouldn’t say judging things, even if she is thinking them, and that’s a worthy skill to have!
That’s who you call in when you’re feeling low–the old, accepting friend, and just as importantly, the fun friend. Jennings was also a fun friend.
I was practically jumping with joy to see her happy but mellow, 5 foot 3, smiling self at that airport! Jennings didn’t weigh 115 pounds anymore. She’d been through a lot since our exercise days only a year prior, and she was probably down to around 100 pounds, which even on her short frame was tiny. But everything else was the same. Jennings has long, straight, almost black, hair, parted to the side, down past her shoulders. She lives in fitted pants and a shirt. Jennings rocks the bohemian look but with tiny glasses, which fit the fact that she’s actually a hard worker, despite the free-spirited style that she has.
We hopped into my beautiful 1996 bright blue Pontiac Grand Am and talked non-stop the whole one hour drive from Austin to Killeen.
And laughter! Oh, we always laugh incessantly, and Jennings is one of the few people I’ve met in my life who laughs as loudly as I do, which I love.
Jennings caught me up on all that was happening in Tuscaloosa. She even brought me a present from the airport shop–a cute Route 66 tote bag, which I used for years.
We had an exciting plan for that week. I had saved two of those Coca-Cola Classic can Six Flags coupons, and we couldn’t wait to hit Fiesta Texas in San Antonio, later that week.
That Six Flags trip was a refreshing change of pace for me, a short break from adulthood, back into childhood, really. I remember that we rode roller coasters, and I have a photo of me putting sunscreen on my nose as well as selfies that we took of ourselves, before selfies were even a thing. But the thing that stands out most in my mind was that we got in trouble for having our shoes off–twice!
At the time, we thought it was completely ridiculous that people at a theme park, where half of it is a water park, would enforce a shoe policy.
This just cracks me up now because for the life of me I cannot figure out why we would want to be barefoot at a nasty asphalt theme park in the first place!
Youth is such a strange time.
4/42 Coffee Group
One Thursday night per month, our unit’s officer and NCO wives got together for a coffee. It was called the 4/42 Coffee Group. The battalion commander’s wife led the group. We’ll call her Ellen.
I was fortunate to have this group. Some battalions had a coffee group, and some didn’t. Ellen was an excellent leader, and I learned volumes from being a part of that group. I was careful to go to each and every single monthly meeting.
Jennings happened to be there on a Coffee Thursday, so she just went right along with me. I think Jennings managed to have a good time there, despite not knowing anyone.
Jennings sympathized with all the women there. She marveled afterwards that it was so much like the movies, all the deployed spouses gathered around a living room, desperate for companions and information, and her heart went out to us.
Our coffees followed the same pattern each month.
We all took turns hosting them in our homes. During the months leading up to and during the deployment, attendance was humongous. Everyone came, desperate for information about our husbands. Our group was all women because there were no female soldiers in combat units back then.
Another unique thing about 2003 was that we were all going through this for the first time together. There were a few families in the unit who had been in for Bosnia or Desert Storm, but they were few and far between. Almost all of us were completely new to this, all equally nervous, scared, and proud.
At each coffee, we would gather for food and wine. Everyone would just stand around and talk for the first 30 minutes to an hour. Yes, there was wine, but people weren’t getting tipsy. This was a serious event, and most of us had to drive home.
After the chatting time, Ellen would call everyone together, and we would gather in the living room. We sat and listened with bated breath for all the updates Ellen might have. As the wife of the battalion commander, a Lieutenant Colonel, her husband was everyone’s husband’s boss. He was the leader of the 4-42 Field Artillery.
Ellen also received information from the brigade and division levels, which she would share with us.
There was news about what was going on in Iraq, as well as news of what we were organizing at home.
I throughly enjoyed visiting with the women at the Coffees, but I never became very close friends with any of them.
I was the youngest one there at only 22, with my fresh-out-of-school 2LT husband. Most of the lieutenants and captains my husband worked with were single or didn’t have wives that attended the meetings. Plus, we were still so new to all of this! The main reason these weren’t my main friends was that we didn’t run into each other much except at the Coffees.
Even though I didn’t know these ladies outside of the Coffee group, I still found the Coffees always highly beneficial. It is an extra comforting thing to share and rub shoulders with other people who know exactly what you are going through and are also experiencing it themselves.
I still remember these ladies vividly. Ellen seemed so much older to me at the time. I was amazed to learn that she had a pre-schooler. Of course, now I realize that Ellen was probably only 40ish, if even that. She was a beautiful, trim, self-confident, lovely, realistic person. She had straight shoulder-length brown hair. I was way too intimidated by her to learn much more about her.
One of my favorites was Major Schultz’s wife, Audry. Audry was a working psychology doctor, and with my own little bachelor’s in psychology, I was inspired by her. Audry was from my same home town, and she was so welcoming despite how young and clueless I was. All of the major’s wives seemed so much older and more grown up to me, which is down right hilarious to me now. I was right. They were more grown up than me, but oh! What has become of me now??? My, how time flies.
I was much more comfortable with the captain and lieutenant wives because they were closer to my age and meager experience level.
There were so many wonderful women in that coffee group that I liked. They were all an important part of my support system, even if I did only see them once a month.
Together we learned what it meant to be deployed spouses. We scrapbooked together, created a cookbook, and sold t-shirts. I learned about how the structure of the Army works and I watched them juggle their parenting responsibilities alone, thankful that I did not have any children yet!
Jennings got a very up close and personal look at this new world of Army wives that I was now living in, between the coffee group and the yelling neighbor on the other side of my bedroom wall and the headaches associated with that situation. The week ended all too soon, but I felt rejuvenated by my visit from an old, comfortable friend. Meanwhile, THIS was my new home, and it was time for me to start spending more time with my new friends, as I had vowed to do.
With that in mind, I thought of Sarah, a young corporal’s wife from my husband’s unit whom I had met at the unit’s organizational day (aka “mandatory fun day”) which is a story all of its own. She was childless and jobless just like me and reached out to me several times that week. I had put off calling her back because I was kickin’ it with my old pal Jennings, who would again be hundreds of miles away by the end of the week. It was time to dig up Sarah’s number and call her back.
****Thank you to Jennings, for contributing to this post. ****
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