Alan’s Convoy Attack

****It has been a few weeks since our last chapter, so let’s do a quick recap. I finally quit teaching, and Alan left Tikrit and moved to Ad Dawr.  At this point, we are 6 months into our first deployment, exactly halfway through it. So far, Alan’s unit had suffered 3 casualties. I also came up with this clever list of my expectations as a mil spouse. This is part of my ongoing series of the story of our first deployment, way back in 2002-2004.****

The Convoy Attack True Stories of Real Army Wives Series

There is life after teaching.

With the decision made to not ever, ever be a teacher again, I adjusted quite well to my life of new-found freedom. My house became a hub of activity again. We Army wife buddies were always eating at each other’s houses and watching movies and even planning trips.

We had our own little clique. In fact, we spent so much time together that sometimes we did have jealousy and little gripes spring up, but they were never anything big. Usually, someone simply didn’t like something someone else said, or someone got mad because they weren’t included in a fun trip.

We took day trips to San Antonio to go outlet mall shopping, and one of the girls was pretty mad at us for not inviting her to the first one. That sort of thing happened, but in the end we all knew that we needed each other, and in general, we had a ton of fun.

It was around the day of the San Antonio trip that Alan called me with sad news from war.

On September 26th, Alan and his roommate, 1LT Arizona, worked out together as usual, and Alan went around to every company in his unit putting together enough up-armored humvees to make a safe trip up to Bayji. For some reason, he met with a great deal of resistance in acquiring the heavy-duty humvees, but if you know Alan, you know that persistence is one of his greatest strengths. Therefore, he DID acquire his humvees after all.

You see, that day Alan was the designated Officer in Charge for the 3-truck convoy, and he intended to keep his men safe.

(Now when I say men, I literally mean men. His entire unit was a field artillery unit, which is a combat branch. In those days that meant that the entire unit was male.)

On the way back from Bayji, Alan, who was in the lead vehicle, heard an EXPLOSION, and looking in his rear view mirror, he saw the last vehicle with all the doors open and smoke coming from it.

Alan’s captain yelled over their radios, “Go! Go! Go! Get out of here!”

However, while Alan was outranked, he was still the designated OIC, and he had no intention of leaving his friends behind. So Alan commanded them to turn around, establish a security perimeter, and get the men from the third humvee, which had obviously been hit by an IED.

Thankfully, Alan had insisted upon those up-armored humvees, so everyone lived!!

The four men in that vehicle were all injured, though, of course. They were all friends of Alan’s. One of the injured men was Alan’s battle buddy and roommate, 1LT Arizona.

Shortly thereafter, Alan and his captain butted heads on how to handle this situation. The captain was desperate to get the whole convoy back to the home base in Ad Dawr.

The Convoy Attack True Stories of Real Army Wives Series

The problem was that Alan assessed that the injured men seemed to be in need of more urgent medical attention than the captain did and their unit’s assigned medical officer was back home in the states on leave. Alan did not want to risk making them wait out the long trip back only to have a medic evaluate them, require evacuation by helicopter right back to here…all the while worsening potentially time-sensitive injuries. Alan had to convince the captain to take them to the nearby unit’s medical clinic and get them seen right away.

Again, Alan had to override the captain. “No sir, we’re going to get them care now.”

Done. Don’t worry. This wasn’t insubordination, this was Alan pointing out the hard right because this incurred additional tasks such as them finding a place to sleep the night on the local forward operating base, or “FOB”, send word back to Ad Dawr why the humvees (one of which was damaged) weren’t going to support the next needed mission by being delayed…and other various reasons…but it was the right thing to do based on the situation at the moment.

It was a good thing they did. Lt. Arizona’s ear drum was busted. The men were all in need of medical attention. Two of them had to remain in a field hospital.

Lt. Arizona actually ended up having to go home for a month or so before he returned to the war.

Several of the men, including Alan, received medals for their bravery that day.

The captain actually put Alan in for a much greater reward than he ended up receiving, but either way I was so proud of him.

There’s no such thing as sending your husband to war repeatedly and nothing ever happening. Alan was serving in the hometown of Saddam Hussein. There were plenty of enemies all around, but that was, thankfully, the last time Alan’s own convoy got attacked.

I’d always had this feeling that Alan would come home without a scratch, and he DID, so long as you don’t count the damage the desert did to his eyeglasses! This convoy attack news shook us all up and challenged that assumption of safety quite well. I didn’t even learn about the incident until several days after it happened.

It’s a helpless feeling, being the family back home waiting. What could I possibly do to help, way back there in Texas? Nothing– but keep up a positive attitude and do a great deal of trusting. I had to trust God, trust the Army leaders, trust Alan, basically just trust that everything would be okay.

 

Click here to read the next chapter: Fork in the Road

 

 

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My First Colossal Failure & My Supportive Spouse Overseas

***This post belongs to the series True Stories of Real Army Wives. A new chapter appears each Monday morning on storiesofourboys.com.***

My First Great Failure & My Supportive Spouse Overseas

 

My last post was about how miserable I was as a teacher. Alan must have called me the morning after my first or second day of teaching from Iraq.

What he wrote in response to my hardship is one of the most touching, empathetic, heartfelt letters I have ever read. No, he wasn’t physically there, and yet with this letter you can see how he was still obviously there for me when I needed him most.

Tues., 19 Aug., 2003

6:35 am

April,

I love you, April. I just got off the phone with you, and I’m bursting with feelings of grief, sorrow, sympathy….things I’ve never felt so strongly for anyone else before…only myself!!! April, I hurt so bad for you right now, but indeed, I am giving it all to God RIGHT NOW, our Rock, our Fortress, our Comforter, our Lord.

Oh, April, how I wish there were something I could do, there! Aaaugh!!!

But what this has done is it has forced me to go to my knees and begin this battle by asking for help where the most help will come from!

April, I know you can do it (teach) and do it EXTREMELY well….However, enjoying it is a completely different story! April, if it’s still this bad by the time you get this letter then I have no problem with you quitting.

When you feel bad, it really makes me feel sick at my stomach….literally. And when you said you’ve been too stressed out to eat all day long, I could have cried! Now I don’t have an appetite!

Oh, April, I just love you so, so much. I want so badly to be there with you. God knew this was coming all along just like he saw everything coming that’s happened over here. He wants us to turn to Him for strength! He loves us so much more than we can even imagine!

Oh, April, I love you so much. I feel so terrible, but I know God will get us through this and when it’s passed, the three of us will all be that much closer!

1 Peter 5:7   “Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you.”

April, I love you…and I am praying for you harder than ever!

Always Yours,

Alan

 

*******

Y’all must think I am pathetically weak to fall apart at such a thing as having a job that I hated. Ha! That’s how it felt at the time though.

Alan took this trial on as his own, not just as mine, even though we were oceans apart. That’s how you support your spouse from overseas. He never once downplayed my unhappiness, even though he was in a WAR zone, and I was simply unhappy at work.

I forged through the first four weeks of teaching.

There was the day I even got to work so early, I set off the school alarm and caused all sorts of trouble. But gracious, why did they give me a key if I also needed an alarm code!?

There were parent/teacher conferences where I faked “happy teacher” as well as I possibly could.

I was an emotional mess. I lost 20 pounds and got down to a pitiful-looking 110 pounds, on a 5 foot 6 frame.

During this time, three soldiers from Alan’s unit, 4-42 Field Artillery, were killed in action in Iraq.

Up until this point, I’d built Alan’s Iraqi world in my mind as not a super dangerous place. This wasn’t anything like the Vietnam War, I figured. Alan was hooking up utilities and working with the Mayor’s office of Ad Dwar. He worked with the local civilians, so he must be okay, right?

Then came the three deaths, and these weren’t faceless names on the news. These were men in our very own unit. Reality once again nudged at me with a pitchfork. “Wake up, April, your husband is in combat. That’s why he gets “hazardous duty” pay. This is real, and anyone you know, including Alan, could be next.”

I didn’t say much about that to anyone, I stuffed my feelings inside…

only to let them come roaring to a head when children in my class made fun of the pledge and danced around making faces and wouldn’t stand up straight and put their hand over their heart.

That was it, the proverbial final straw. I was leading my 3rd and 4th graders in the pledge, and THAT KID kept goofing off and disrespecting the flag, the teacher, the country, in my mind everything, and of course, it had to be the very kid whose mother was constantly bothering me. (Look, I still treated him very nicely. I was professional, but this day his behavior set me over the edge that I was already falling off of.)

So what did I do?…..Well, I went on a tirade, giving the offending boy, his buddies around him, and the entire class, a very thorough lesson on the reason we say the pledge with respect. I reminded them that many of their mothers and fathers, and step-fathers, and cousins, and my husband were overseas fighting for us, and the least we could do was show proper respect. They were passionately instructed on sacrifices made during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. I exalted the importance of respect in general.

The class was silent and wide-eyed. They were like 10. What did they know?

It wasn’t really them I was losing it with. It was me, it was the world, it was everything. That morning I had a high school student in my classroom as a teacher’s assistant. I instructed her to watch the class, and I fled to the bathroom to cry and get my act together.

I stared at my sleep-deprived, red, mascara-streaked, freckle-covered, miserable face in the bathroom mirror. “What kind of a teacher am I? I have got to get out of this!”

Soon after, the administration announced that it was time for us to sign our contracts.

My mind reeled.

Then the moment came. Mrs. W. asked me to come by her office to sign my contract, and I had to tell her.

Mrs. W. was the principal’s wife, but she was also the assistant principal. She was an adorably cute but commanding and accomplished, small African-American woman with super curly hair. If she had asked me to please stay, I might have caved, as she was such a great leader. I looked up to her. It was humiliating to have to confess this to her.

“I can’t sign the contract because…because I don’t think I can finish this job and stay here all year.”

Mrs. W. looked so surprised.

Cue the waterworks. I tried not to cry, but there was no stopping them.

“This is so hard for me to quit, admitting defeat, and leaving these children with no teacher, but this job is too much for me. I cannot do this. I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to admit this. You know Chelsea?”

“Yes, Chelsea, yes,” she listened intently. I know she was in shock. They all seemed to think I was doing just fine.

Chelsea was a student in my class, well known for being capable and working hard. Her mother also supported her well.

“I was Chelsea. I was that girl. Success mostly came easily, and now here I am, and this is it for me. This is my first time to completely fail at something.”

“Oh,” she said, and she said other things, motivating things, and she asked me to please sleep on it, but I knew there was no turning back. I put in my 2 weeks’ notice.

I wanted out of this job as much as you’d want to escape a 0 degree dungeon infested with rats and cockroaches. Teaching was so very not a match for me.

**********

The first week of my notice, I still struggled to get out of bed and go to school. One day I called in sick with a “migraine.” I didn’t have a migraine. I had a bad-life-choices-hangover, the kind you get from regret and confusion.

I felt guilty from lying about the migraine, so I went to work all the other days of my notice.  People there were kind. A replacement followed me around that last week.

She leveled with me, “Why are you leaving? You’re doing great. You should stay.”

I began to actually consider it. That last week wasn’t so bad. Some things actually started to click. It was week 6. My LD kid was learning his own spelling words and reading his own beginner books. Maybe I was making a mistake. Maybe I should stay.

I came in the Saturday after my last day to finalize the 6 weeks’ grades for the report cards. Mr. and Mrs. W. were there going through my class’ papers too.

Mrs. W. talked as she sorted, “All of the assessments are here, April. This is good. You know, we didn’t really believe that you’d quit. We thought you’d change your mind and come in Monday.”

Ever so young and dumb, and still excited about not being a teacher anymore, I didn’t get the hint. She was totally giving me another chance to stay. Perhaps I should have taken it.

I’ve always wondered if I made the right decision that year.

Did I just quit when things got hard? Yes. Yes, in the career realm that is EXACTLY what I did, which sounds weak, wrong, and disappointing.

I re-hashed that decision in my mind for years, but the thing is you can’t go back and fix the past. What would it have been like had I stuck it out, and why didn’t I??

Looking back now, I see so many different things going on. I was immature, and my deal-with-it- tank was already full from the moving away from home and sending my husband overseas in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

There was nothing more anyone could have done for me. It was simply more than I felt I could handle at the time, and I have to make my peace with that and move on. Could I handle that job now, at 36? Yes, it would still be hard, but not the horrible misery it was at 22.

But that’s the thing about the past.

Our mistakes and failures are what make us sweeter, humbler, more merciful people, and sometimes also tougher, more dependable people, so long as we learn from them. I regretted quitting mid-year so much that I have been loathe to ever quit mid-stream again in anything.

You accept the past for what it is and learn from it all that you can.

 

 

 

 

True Stories of Real Army Wives: My First Teaching Job

my very first teaching job. True Stories of Real Army Wives during deployment

Sun., Aug. 10, 2003

Alan,

Hey Babe! Tomorrow is my first day of work. In case you haven’t yet gotten my previous letter, I got hired by Graham Elementary School downtown yesterday! Yay!!

I’ll be making $32,000 this year. It’s a state charter school serving mostly low-income students, but it’s located in a church. Yeah, it’s different, but I’m excited about it. I’ll be teaching 3rd and 4th grade in one classroom, all subjects.

It’s going to be tough. School starts the 18th, but teachers start tomorrow. I have to be there at 9:15 am, and from now on, I have a full-time job! It’s exciting and yet terrifying at the same time.

Last night, I cooked dinner for 8, mostly our neighbors: Elsie, Cloe, Annie, Kayla, Katherine, Jay, Phan, and myself. After dinner, Jay left and all the girls stayed and talked while I cleaned up, joining them occasionally in the living room.

I’m glad you met Kayla’s husband. She’s a real sweet girl. She’s enrolled at Central Texas College.

I got those three cameras developed today. I cannot believe you managed to use up 3 cameras in 1 month. And almost all of them are landscapes! Take pics of you and your friends, geez. Just do the method we use to take pics of ourselves, hold the camera in your right hand and click. I do it.

 

my very first teaching job. True Stories of Real Army Wives during deployment

Not all of Alan’s “landscape photos” were uninteresting. This one is of the Tikrit Palace Compound, which became 4th ID Headquarters during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Alan!! I’m so nervous!! How can I be a teacher??

I’m so scared! But it did hurt my feelings in one of your letters when you said you didn’t know how I’d be with kids because you’ve never seen me with children. Hello! Kid’s Klub! And did you ever notice Laura Ellen and Matthew like me? I know you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but I couldn’t help it.

It’s so weird that I’m starting a new job tomorrow, and you don’t even know about it. I hope you call or email soon so I can tell you. I love you so much, and I hate not being able to share stuff with you. But I’ll deal.

I keep having these dreams that we’ve lost touch, and in them I’m always sad because you never call or visit.

In the dream, I’m all confused, and I don’t understand why we aren’t together. Dream April doesn’t know that you’re in Iraq. Many times you’re just in another state, but always we’ve lost touch, and I’m so hurt.

Depressing, huh? I guess my subconscious knows you’re gone, misses you, and feels abandoned, like a cat in a box on the side of the road. Ok. Ok. Sorry. I’ll stop.

I MISS YOU! I miss you so much I just want to cry! And if I keep thinking about it, I will cry, so I better move on to another topic.

Your family has been really helpful with the teaching job. Your mom and Ellen gave me lots of good ideas, which will help. I’m glad there are lots of teachers in the family.

I love you so much, Alan. Keep praying for me. The first year of teaching is super hard, but add that to the stress of a year-long deployment, and the thought is foreboding. I’m just thankful I’m a Christian. I couldn’t do anything on my strength alone. All credit is due Him.

Thank you for marrying me, Alan. If you were here, I would climb up in your lap and hug you so close and just have a good cry, while you tucked my hair behind my ears and told me everything will be okay. How I wish you were here. I know you do too.

I love you, you big stud muffin.

Forever Yours,

April

 

************

Was it a bad sign that I hadn’t even started my job yet, and already I wanted to cry?

Starting a full-time job like teaching was exhausting, and I was still trying to be a good housekeeper and a faithful friend. The funny thing is that once you have a full-time job, whether you are a man or a woman, something has to give.

No one can do ALL the things. Even without kids, we have to delegate things to give ourselves space to breathe.

When I was in high school and college, I worked, but I had certainly never been a school teacher before. To this day, I will tell you that all teachers are underpaid, and I have all the respect in the world for them!

 

***********

Tues., Aug. 12, 2003

10:48 pm

Dear Alan,

I just have too much to do to get to bed early! And I’m sleepy! But I guess you know what that’s like.

I had in-service training from 9-3. I stayed after and talked to Mrs. W. I can’t remember her name, but it starts with a W. There were so many questions I still had unanswered. Mrs. W. was very helpful, and she will be extremely easy to work for.

After work, Annie needed me to drive her to the PX so she could buy a phone card to call her fiancée, Drew, in Germany.

Then I had to drive to Copperas Cove and fill out my “I have a job” form. By the time I got home it was 4:45. I came in and changed, vacuumed the house, tidied up, and collapsed on the sofa at 5:30 or so for a brief break in which I consumed like literally 20 ounces of blue Gatorade in 2 minutes flat.

I was exhausted!

So I made myself dinner, and I was all excited about watching the Miss Teen USA pageant, but I didn’t even really get to watch it because the phone rang. It was your mom, and the call was helpful because I got some good ideas from her. Then my mom called, which was good, but they were both very long calls.

Then I had to get online and submit my application for certifications, and I got that done, and that brings me to now.

I don’t have any idea how full-time workers keep a clean house!

There is delicate laundry hanging to dry all over the place, dirty dishes in the sink, clean, unfolded laundry and school supplies everywhere! I could get much more done if the phone didn’t ring so much, but I know that it is good for me that so many people love me and want to talk to me. Even still, I did ignore three other phone calls.

Oh, Alan! I CAN’T WAIT ’til you get back! I need you! That would help my busy-ness because you can take over the laundry. You’re better at it than me anyway.

 

my very first teaching job. True Stories of Real Army Wives during deployment

Me, in teacher classes. Yes, I used to be tiny, but I promise I do have a right arm. That was an odd angle.

 

I also learned more about the school and my room today. This school is fine arts oriented. Many children miss out on opportunities for piano, dance, those types of lessons because their parents can’t afford it, like when I was little. I wanted to take dance but couldn’t because it was too expensive.

This school has several fine arts teachers to provide those services. They have chorus, piano, violin, ballet, etc. Really! Pretty cool, huh?

Yet they have no media center…not so cool…But I think it’s a good school, and I’m excited about working here.

I love you, Alan, and I miss you so much. I get letters from you constantly, almost everyday. It means so much to me! You know that though because I’m sure you feel the same way about me.

I know I’m complaining about getting too many phone calls, so allow me to clarify. I am thankful that I am loved. It is a blessing. Calls from you MAKE my day. I love it.

So you just call ANYTIME.  I love you so much, and I always will. Hang in there. It’ll be winter, or at least fall, before you know it!

I love you,

April

*************

I didn’t even get to go into my classroom until the third day of training, and there was such an overwhelming amount of cleaning, decorating, organizing, and planning to do in there.

My friend Sarah was a life-saver. She rescued me day after day, organizing my things, filing my papers, helping me move desks. I couldn’t have done it without her.

We poured ourselves into setting up that classroom, which left little time for planning the actual lessons! I was left furiously scouring the internet for good first-day-of-school ideas the very night before school was to start.

And I’ll tell you all about the first week of school, and the mother I called “the Toothless Wonder” — Don’t worry. Only in my head I called her that– next week!  😉

 

Want to catch up? Click here for last week’s post and here for the very first post in this series.

 

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