The Only One Without Mid-Tour Leave

Alan, at the Balad Airfield, with other soldiers, waiting to board a C-5 to Qatar.

****This post is part of a series titled The Real Army Wives of Fort Hood. Each Monday I post a new chapter. These are all true stories of my own experiences on the home-front as well as stories from my friends.****

Please excuse the horrendous photo quality of these pictures. They were taken in 02-04, and are not available to me digitally, so all I have is fuzzy photos of photos. My apologies!

Sometimes in life things simply don’t go your way, and there’s nothing to do but make the best of a tough situation. Sending my husband to war the very first year of our marriage felt like a series of tough breaks, let me tell ya!

Somewhere around the 6-month-mark of the deployment, word came down that SOME of the soldiers would be receiving a little thing called “mid-tour leave.”

Mid-Tour Leave is this amazing treat where a service member gets to leave their year-or-longer deployment to come home for TWO whole weeks.

When I first heard of this, I was full of hope and excitement. I had never imagined that Alan might get to come see me before the year was up. But wait. Some? How do they choose which ones get a break and which ones don’t?

Alan, proudly displaying a rat that he’d killed. Their building suffered quite the infestation of rodents.

My friends and I tried not to get our hopes up, but of course we all hoped and prayed that our husbands would indeed receive one of these mid-tour leaves. Sign us up for that right away!

Immediately, we started seeing soldiers come home on pass. We were excited to see them, and it filled us with even more anticipation of “What about me? Am I next?”

And right away, Alan began his campaign to keep me from getting my hopes up.

Alan had no intention of taking any pass. If there were a limited number of mid-tour leaves available, then Alan maintained that he would not touch one. No way was he taking a pass which may cost a younger soldier, with less rank, or a father who wanted to see their children, theirs.

“April, think about it. Some of these have children they haven’t seen in 6 months. And how would you feel if you saw my boss at home while I wasn’t getting to come home? We don’t want to make anyone feel like that.”

He was right. Eventually, I had to watch all of his bosses come home on leave while Alan stayed in the combat zone. No, it wasn’t a fantastic feeling.

That’s Alan. Always taking the high road. Yes, that’s one reason I married him, but how irritating was this now.

At first I fought it.

It was hard for me to convert to this unselfish way of thinking. Alan hardly had any rank, it seemed. He was a lieutenant. That’s as low as you can go in the officer ranks, but compared to the average, young enlisted men it was a different story.

Everyone had a hard job over there. It’s war. War is ugly, but the lower you are on the totem pole, the greater the likelihood of getting the worst job (in my opinion) of all…..burning out the outhouse waste. There’s actually a registry now of all soldiers exposed to that toxin.

I didn’t want to think about who wouldn’t get a pass if he did. I just wanted HIM to get one! He deserved it. They ALL deserved it. Oh! The insanity of it all!

But in the end, I was proud of Alan for declining to take a mid-tour leave. I accepted what he was doing as the right thing to do.

I stood by and watched as one by one, all of my friends’ husbands came home for their two-week pass. Jealousy threatened, I know it did.

Sure, I was jealous. Who wouldn’t be? But at the same time, I was happy for my friends. I was especially happy for the ones who were still having a harder time emotionally and for the fathers and children reunited.

Isn’t it funny how sometimes you have to work at being a good person? Ha! I sometimes had to work at it, but not too hard. It made me happy to see my friends happy, and yes, it made me sad too. I wasn’t sad that they got to see their husbands. I was only sad that I didn’t get to see mine. Why couldn’t we ALL get this privilege? I’m sure there was a good reason, though I don’t know what it was.

Ever the optimist, sometimes I’d allow myself to dream that one day he’d just show up at my door, on a surprise mid-tour leave. Surely he was just taking me for a ride. Really he was coming home just like everyone else.

But it never happened. 

Alan did eventually receive a pass, though it wasn’t nearly as awesome as going home for 2 weeks. Instead, they sent service members who did not receive a mid-tour leave like Alan on a 3 day pass to Qatar.

He got to relax for a few days without the stress of war, and that’s the most important thing, though 3 days doesn’t sound like much. It was definitely better than nothing.

I laughed because the kitty that I was fostering belonged to an Air Force officer who was deployed to Qatar. In this case, the Air Force’s deployment location was the Army’s vacation spot. ha!!

 

While Alan was in Qatar, he went shopping in a local mall there. He sent me photos from the Starbucks and such to show me how Westernized Qatar is.

That crazy man purchased a full burqa for me and Middle Eastern clothes for himself as well. He thought it would be so hilarious if we wore those to the mall in Killeen whenever he got home from the war and just watch people’s reactions. I told him no way. He was out of touch (literally) to think people in Texas in 2004 would find it funny for us to dress like that and go hang out at the mall.

Alan may be extra responsible and kind, but now you also know that he has a good sense of humor and enjoys shocking people. I, on the other hand, would rather never shock anyone.

As you can see from the women’s clothing around Alan and the other soldiers, Qatar is still a very strict Muslim society.

We weren’t the only ones to not receive mid-tour leave. We were just the only ones of my close friends, so it seemed like EVERYONE got one but us.

You can also see (in the photos above) that there were actually plenty of young soldiers who did not receive a mid-tour leave. I think there may have been some sort of lottery that Alan asked them to leave his name out of or something.

I’m thankful they gave at least some of the soldiers a mid-tour leave. Some is better than none, but it was a giant disappointment for all the ones denied that leave. I don’t know. Maybe Alan wasn’t all that disappointed, but I can guarantee you that many were.

Years later, when Alan went back to Iraq in 2008-2009, we DID receive a mid-tour leave, by then everyone did, and it was so sweet. We took the boys to Disney World, and it was such a blessing that helped Joshua (then age 3) to remember who his father was.

the Persian Gulf

 

Be sure to come back next week for the day Alan’s parents woke me up with BIG news from the war, involving Alan! Here’s a hint: It was December 13, 2003, and I have AMAZING photos of this event.

 

 

When They Touched Us

Cloe, Me, and Kayla in Houston

Friday, Oct. 17, 2003

Alan,
Hey! I’m in Houston, Texas! I’m sharing a room with Elsie.
We left Killeen around 3:30 this afternoon. It’s Cloe, Elsie, Kayla, and myself. We all rode down in Cloe’s little 2-door Civic! it was a tight squeeze, but we’re having a lot of fun.

We got here at night, so we haven’t gone anywhere yet. And don’t worry, we aren’t planning on spending much money at all. Tomorrow we’re going on a tour of homes, the mall, and an outdoor concert that’s free.

Cloe’s friend Rachel came over, and we all played board games, Cranium and Clue. You would enjoy Cranium, I think.
And guess who won Clue?? Me, of course! My Clue-winning streak is still alive.

Road trip!

I enjoyed talking to you SO much this morning. I did manage to go back to sleep too–and slept until 12. 🙂 I’ve been talking about cute things you said ALL day.

It meant so much to me that you support my going back to school. Thank you so much. I promise I’m not going to let you down! And we’ll still get to go on our cruise. We’ll cruise away. Just being together is going to be SO romantic!

***********

October and November were all about studying for the GRE, applying to my local university satellite campus, and making trips with family and friends. I went to Houston, Tuscaloosa, my parents’ house, and Destin.

First, there was the trip to Houston mentioned in the letter. I remember staying up past midnight just talking to Elsie after staying up to play board games, and the tour of homes the next day was amazing. It was a tour of these custom-built houses in a swanky area of Houston. Why is it so fun to look at enormous homes? I don’t know, but it is.

Can I be that skinny again, please?? Gracious.

But the thing I remember most was that we visited a church service with Cloe on Sunday morning. I think it was a little Presbyterian or Episcopal church, where Cloe’s father-in-law was the minister. During the “greeting” time, there were many congregants who hugged us and thanked us for our service to our country.

We had not realized this one major human need that we were all missing. We talked about it all the way back to Cloe’s house.

“Wasn’t it great how they hugged us?”

“Yes, but I had a really hard time not crying.”

“Oh, I totally had tears. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t realize how long it had been since someone touched me.”

“I know! Yes! Who knew touch was so important?”

“It is. I had no idea. We should all hug each other more often.”

“Yeah, it’s like you just want to go up to people and say, ‘Excuse me, will you hug me? I haven’t been touched in months, not even on the shoulder. Just touch my arm. That will do.”

There was lots of laughter and that bond of walking that same strange and lonely married-deployed-spouse-with-no-kids path together.

Elsie, Me, Kayla, and Cloe at Cloe’s parents’ house

I don’t think any of us had realized the importance of this need for physical touch in our lives until that church service, and I know for a fact none of those church members that morning had any idea how much their hugs had blessed us….a good thing to remember when you want to help a lonely person! Sometimes it’s just a simple hug that’s needed.

1Finally, brothers, rejoice! Aim for perfect harmony, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 12Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13All the saints send you greetings.…

 

2 Corinthians 13:12

 

 

SaveSave

Shelby the Spider Slayer is Busted

****This post is part of my series on Real Army Wives. This series follows my husband’s first deployment to Iraq in 2003, but it’s the story of the wives back home more so than the men at war. Click here for the previous chapter, The Fork in the Road*****

 

I love telling you the sweet, happy stories every week, but the truth is not everyone’s story is either of those things. When one tells a story, one must tell the whole entire story. I would be amiss to leave this part out.

 

Shelby, the duplex neighbor I mentioned here, was still in this downward spiral. Her husband, Dylan, was overseas just as the rest of ours’ were, but she’d taken up with this Muslim man. His car was always parked in her driveway, so Shelby wasn’t bothering to hide this.

Meanwhile, she was still cussing her husband out on the phone, as well as occasionally cussing out the new boyfriend, and this was all Shelby’s general pattern so it didn’t feel like anything new to me.

One time Katherine, my other next door neighbor, asked me, “April, what about Shelby, are you not going to try to save her?” Now Katherine was saying this half-sarcastically anyway, as she had sworn off all “organized religion” for herself.

I just looked at her with big eyes.

“Nooooo, no. I am not about to deal with that level of crazy.”

I could not save Shelby. Dylan could not save Shelby. The new boyfriend couldn’t save her either. No one but Shelby and Jesus himself could save her.

My actual interactions with Shelby were few and far between, though I heard her everyday on the other side of our ridiculously thin wall.

I could count our actual conversations on one hand. There was the time I mentioned before when the police came, the time she borrowed my vacuum cleaner (and two months later I was STILL waiting for her to return it…), and the day of the spider incident.

Did I ever mention the spider incident? Well! Let ma tell ya.

I had just returned home from the grocery store. After bringing all my bags in, I was putting groceries away from off the table, and there in the middle of my dining area floor, was THE spider. I was later told that this was a garden spider, but to me it looked like some sort of gigantic Harry Potter spider. This thing was as big as my hand, and I am not exaggerating a bit!!

Terrifying!

So there we were, and what was I to do? Alan wasn’t coming home for months yet, and I certainly couldn’t kill it. No way could I get close enough to it to kill it. I do NOT handle creepy-crawly things. I do NOT. It is not in me.

“Who in the world could take care of this for me,” I thought, and it came to me. Shelby was 2 things:

1. She’s a mom, the only mom on the street, and moms do gross things… and

2. Shelby is scary herself. She could totally take this spider.

I was desperate, so I knocked on her door. It was 12pm, and she answered in her bathrobe. I’d clearly woken her up. Her bleached blonde hair was all catty-wompus, her eyeliner which is usually an inch or two thick, was all over her face, and she looked annoyed. Ha! But who was I to judge? Back then, I routinely slept until lunch time.

“Um…” I definitely stuttered through this, “Do you, um, kill spiders? There’s this ginormous one in my living room.”

Then it was her turn to get the wide eyes..”uh..Okay, I’ll come see.”

I escorted her into my living room and pointed at the offending monster.

“Ewwwww, do you have paper towels, or a napkin?”

“What!!!???” I thought, and probably SAID out loud. A paper towel!!?? I had thrown a lamp at it, and that hadn’t worked. How was she going to kill this thing with a paper towel!!??

I dutifully rolled off literally 20 paper towels and quickly handed them to Shelby.

She looked at me like I was complete bonkers and tore off ONE.

And then, y’all! She grabbed that spider up with that one little old paper towel and squashed it.

My eyes were popping out of my head. This was both horrifying and amazing.

I don’t remember if she flushed it or threw it away, but wow.

So…..all people have their redeeming qualities….and I had to respect her for this!

******

Shelby didn’t know much about me either. She knew I helped her out with her kids sometimes and the cops that one time, and she knew my husband was gone too. She probably knew all the neighbors hung out without her.

Also I should confess…..I used to sing to Shelby.

Say what?? Okay, I know that sounds weird, but it wasn’t really. See, remember we had the  thin walls. The bathrooms and the master seemed to be the thinnest, and by nature I am a singer. I can’t help it. It’s what I do. If I’m not singing, I’m humming or whistling.

I keep it in check in public, but at home, that’s my space to sing out as loudly as I want. And we all know that bathrooms have the best acoustics, right? So that’s where I sing the loudest when I really want to belt out a powerful song.

Shelby’s family needed some powerful songs, but not just Brittney Spears. They needed the gospel. So what do you think I sang? I sang How Great Thou Art and It is Well and my favorite Jaci Velasquez and Point of Grace songs.

So you might say she knew me better than you think. Was it annoying or endearing? Judging by the state of mind she was usually in, I’m guessing it was annoying. But I could no more not sing than I could just not eat, so it was what it was.

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

Fast-forward a few months, and one gossip talking to another gossip who talked to another gossip. Rest assured, I was not involved in this particular gossip trail, as I didn’t know any of Dylan and Shelby’s friends or co-workers….but the thing is your sins really do eventually find you out.

And Shelby left a steady trail. Dylan’s superiors in Iraq knew all about her affairs, and they did something that might surprise you.

They shipped Dylan home to get his house in order, and they switched him to rear duty, so he was home to stay.

Around the first of October, Dylan just showed up at home one day.

First, there was an epic fight. Of course. Then Dylan packed himself and his two children up and left.

For two weeks, things were fairly quiet, and the boyfriend’s car was never seen there again.

Then as suddenly as they’d left, they were back, both Dylan and the children. They moved back in with Shelby. I guess this was their attempt to work things out.

Shelby’s defense was that their marriage was over even before he left. Emotionally that was true for her, but technically it wasn’t true at all.

It didn’t take long before Shelby moved out, and for the rest of our time there it was Dylan and his kids living there. Actually, it was them PLUS Shelby’s oldest son, who wasn’t Dylan’s, but he said he was the only person that kid had who’d really take care of him.

Elsie and I went over and introduced ourselves to Dylan. He asked us if we’d be willing to testify if it came to court as a custody battle. We said we would, but we never had too. Shelby willingly surrendered them over to him.

All in all, it was a heart-breaking saga to watch play out from the very beginning, though I’m thankful that those kids do have a dad who cares for them and was looking out for them.

In situations like that, you hope for the best, but I’ve always wondered if there was a happy ending of any kind for that family. Did Shelby ever face her demons and calm down? What ever happened to them? Did those sweet children go on living with Dylan?

I like to think they did.

 

SaveSave

1 2 3 5