Friday morning, I had to get myself and the kids fed, dressed and out the door by 8 am. This is no small feat on ordinary days, and was additionally challenging since we all needed to actually look nice. As it was, when I turned to unbuckle Mary from her car seat, I noticed for the first time that she was not wearing her sandals as I instructed her, but rather her silver sequined Hello Kitty sneakers. With her Easter dress.
At least she had shoes.
At least they weren’t the well-worn but absolute favorite red cowgirl boots.
And they did have sequins.
Bill’s outgoing change of command ceremony was on the same field as his incoming ceremony had been. Instead of bitter cold, we fought the rising heat and humidity. I didn’t mind the early hour because of that.
All week long, Bill had been working on his speech. He had five minutes, but he wanted to say so much. He wanted to list all the programs and accomplishments that his team had done. He wanted to thank so many people by name. The night before, he didn’t come home until 10 pm carrying the last few personal items from his office. He worked on that speech until midnight…he would set the timer on his watch and then he’d read it to me. He’d stop and look at the time, and his shoulders would droop in frustration: too long. He’d try it again.
Twenty-nine months of the most challenging yet most rewarding time of your life are hard to summarize in 300 seconds.
At the end of his speech, he thanked me, of course. It’s required. I had strictly enjoined him to not make me cry, and listened carefully to that part. Aside from being a bit too profuse in describing my rather mundane activities, it was fine. Not too flowery or sentimental.
After a brief awards ceremony, the battalion formed up on the fake grass, and we took our seats in the shaded stands. I smiled broadly at my husband, directly opposite me, standing at parade rest at the head of his unit. And I was thankful for my sunglasses, especially as I mentally kicked myself for forgetting to bring tissues.
He won’t miss this job…except maybe how everybody stood up when he entered a room or that meetings began when he got there. But he – and I – will miss the people. There are so many incredible, dedicated, self-sacrificing people in that battalion. I am honored to have met them. I know Bill is, too.
The ceremony itself was brief. The colors – the flag of the battalion – are brought forward and symbolically passed from the Command Sergeant Major to the outgoing Battalion Commander to the Brigade Commander to the incoming Battalion Commander and then back to the Command Sergeant Major. The Brigade Commander spoke for 5 minutes, then my husband.
Of course, having your husband read a few sentences of thanks to you in your kitchen at midnight is one thing. My husband tells me that he thinks I’m amazing fairly frequently. It’s quite another for him to say the same thing in front of several hundred people on an emotional day that you have been looking forward to and counting the hours to for quite some time. Dang those missing tissues.
|Outgoing Commander’s spouses traditionally receive red roses|
After the incoming commander’s speech, we sang the Dog Face Soldier Song (worth at least reading the lyrics: “So feed me ammunition, Keep me in the Third Division”) and the Army Song, and then it was over. The incoming commander headed to a reception elsewhere, while we, the outgoing commander and family, stood on the field for final handshakes and hugs and congratulatory remarks.
They warned us – they being people who had been there and done that. They talked about what it was like when it was all over. The line of those wanting to shake your hand dwindles. A few people linger to get a photo. A reporter wants a brief word for the next day’s paper. Several people quietly pack up folding chairs or collect random water bottles or discarded programs.
And then, suddenly, everybody is gone. Some may have a new boss, or a new boss’s boss. Others may have said farewell to a co-worker or subordinate. But their lives are relatively unchanged, and they go back to their work day, the same daily grind.
But you, the commander and family, are on a field in the hot Georgia sun with the American flag snapping smartly on a flagpole high overhead, and you are alone. Your Blackberry now belongs to someone else. Nobody needs your signature. Nobody is vying for your attention. You don’t even really have a job.
It’s an odd feeling – for both of us. It’s taking some time to sink in. As I said to Bill last night: “You now have 7.9 dependents…not 407.9 dependents.” We still have plenty of transitions coming up, but we’re looking forward to a slower, more peaceful time – at least for the next month.
This one was on page 2 of the Savannah Morning News (you have to click the “next” button for Bill’s photo)
I’m hoping for more photos from others, since I took none. The unit’s Facebook page hasn’t been updated, because my battle buddy – Larry Wooten – who does the page has been sick.