This is the story about a man who worked hard, made many sacrifices, and achieved a goal.
Some – many – would say it is also the story of a wife and their children who supported him. But that story – my story and my children’s stories – is not about the man. My story is about me, and one of the many things about me is that I am married to a man who worked hard, made many sacrifices, and achieved a goal.
This story is about him.
On July 3rd, I attached a new shoulder board to the left side of Bill’s uniform while a two-star general pinned the one on the right. This was a repeat of the ceremony performed over a month ago and posted on FB, and many people saw it there. That one, done in Jordan, had a Jordanian general helping put on his rank. While that was unique and interesting, it wasn’t the ceremony that Bill wanted. He wanted, and deserved, to have his family by his side.
Plus, I’m better looking than most Jordanian generals. Makes for better pictures.
Bill and I have been together since before he was in ROTC, and I attended his commissioning. Every single promotion except for the one from Major to Lieutenant Colonel has been done in the field, away from home. It really doesn’t take much to get promoted to Captain, and in 2003, it was pretty easy to make Major. Bill calls his promotion from 2LT to 1LT his “Sharpie Promotion.” A Second Lieutenant’s rank is known as a “butter bar” because it is a gold rectangle. A First Lieutenant’s rank is the same rectangle but it is silver on dress uniforms and black on the field uniform. Bill used a permanent marker to change his rank when he received that promotion. I think he was given his Captain rank while at annual training. He was deployed to Kosovo when the paperwork came through for Major.
Way back in 1998, Bill was just a traditional Guardsman. That meant one weekend every month and two weeks every summer (usually), he would put on his camouflage soft cap and play the soldier. But that “one weekend a month” slogan is really just an advertising ploy. Even as a platoon leader, there were meetings and on-his-own-time training that he really needed to do. And then in 1998, he became a troop commander, and that job required daily attention. By the time he left command in 2001, our country’s cozy notion that bad guys live far away and leave us mostly alone had crashed into the ground along with 3000 innocent civilians. We didn’t yet know when, but we did know for sure, that serving in the National Guard would become more demanding.
Additionally, by 2002, Bill’s civilian job had plateaued. He really needed an MBA to go forward, but that required time he just didn’t have. Looking back at how much time we thought we didn’t have, we have to laugh. The kids were little: no sports, no Scouts, asleep by 7:30 pm. But at the time, we didn’t think we could handle him having one more thing to do. It was time to decide which career to pursue. Bill started applying for full-time jobs with the Pennsylvania National Guard. Other people – good officers – got them instead. It just wasn’t meant to be. By January of 2003, his unit knew that they would all be activated to full-time: first to train for 4 months at Fort Stewart and Fort Polk, and then to deploy to Kosovo for 8 months, replacing the active duty units who were there.
This was a difficult deployment for both of us. In my story it’s all about having a baby without him there to support me and help with the other children. In his story, it’s about having to say goodbye to little boys whose highlight of every day is the evening when Daddy plays lion with them. It’s about the guilt of making your wife a single mother for a year and making her do so many things without help- buy a new, used mini-van; mow the lawn and clean the gutters while pregnant; deal with neighbors and friends and family who just didn’t understand how hard this was on us. It’s about sitting outside your room in the dead of the night listening on the phone to your wife’s labor pains, and the terror that clasps your heart as all goes silent and you wait for one long minute to hear that all is well with both your wife and new baby. It’s about returning home to a hero’s welcome, even though it wasn’t a “real” (combat) deployment, and afterward facing the cold reality that life went on without you and everyone, even your wife and kids, even you, are different people now and you can’t ever go back to how it was.
Although Bill returned to his civilian job, he continued to seek full-time employment with the National Guard. In Kosovo, he had met someone who worked for the National Guard at the federal level, not with a state, and that man helped Bill get his first job down in Arlington. This one was a temporary, prove-yourself, kind of job, so we stayed up in New Jersey and he lived in a hotel for six months. The job was brutal, especially with the hours. He would not finish before 7 or 8 pm on Friday nights, when he would then get in the car and drive 4 hours to come home. He would head back Sunday after dinner and start another week before 6 am on Monday. He proved himself and secured a permanent job. We moved to Virginia in 2005.
It was around this time that Bill had to plan out his career. I’m not sure who made him do it or who reviewed it, but “they” (whoever that is) wanted to know where he saw himself in 10 years and how he intended to get there. Bill mapped it out: what types of jobs, which schools. He knew what he had to do to reach his goal of Colonel. And he’s done it. Every single time the Guard has asked him to do a job, defer a school, change plans, PCS early, stay longer, or whatever, Bill has done it. Except for the year of school at Fort Leavenworth (which was deferred a year), he has never had an easy job, never had a job with family-friendly hours. He has spent so much time in foreign countries that he’s almost an expatriate, home being where his family lives, not necessarily where he sleeps. Somehow he managed to earn a master’s degree, squeezing in classes here and there, mostly on-line, at night and on weekends. And now he’s halfway through the two year distance learning version of War College which so far has managed to schedule every single major assignment to coincide with any break he has had between trips abroad.
But even with these demands, he has not been willing to give up on spending time with his family – especially with the boys. He is an Assistant Scout Master with the older boys’ troop, and helps as much as possible with Peter’s den. He goes camping whenever those trips fall on a weekend he is home. He is the coach for Fritz’s and Billy’s fencing club, which (thankfully) only meets 20 times during the school year. And he suffers through interruption after interruption of his school work as everybody, even I, want to tell him all sorts of things when he is home or demand him to play a game or repair a broken whatever. He does not get much sleep, nor does he spend much time watching football, hockey, or even World Cup soccer. There are many things that he would like to do, but many personal recreations are on hold, indefinitely.
Years ago, Bill overheard a comment that he only got his promotion to LTC because he had done a particular job. Of course, it was true. But that job was a hard one, as was the previous one, and the one before that. Similarly, he has only gotten this promotion to Colonel because he has done certain jobs, hard jobs, the kind necessary for promotion. That’s generally how it works. It is unlikely that I could convey how proud I am of my husband. I give him a hard time, pressing him for more attention for me and our family, playing the helpless wife when the home needs maintenance, dumping the parenting of teen boys in his lap, forgetting that he has school work to do, complaining about how hard MY life is. But that alarm clock doesn’t go off at 4:30 am to get me out of bed. I’m not the one politely tasting lamb brain at a restaurant in a foreign country or having strange men hold my hand and kiss me (and they wouldn’t anyway, because I’m a woman). I’m not the one camping in hot tents and going without a shower for 2 days. I’m not the one getting jabbed with a steel rod by inexperienced fencers with no idea how to manage a blade. I’m not the one foregoing the comforts of home for weeks at a time.
My husband will be the first to admit that his successes have much to do with luck and Divine Providence. But it would be ridiculous to claim that his own hard work and dedication weren’t also a significant factor. I was upset that the orders came through while he was overseas, and I used the phrase “fake promotion” more than once in planning our celebration on the 3rd, but in the end, I am happy that I was able to see his accomplishments publicly recognized. It is a big deal.
Congratulations, dear husband.