Saturday, June 13, 2009

Army Kids are Army Strong

My Army Strong Army kids
A Welcome Home Hug

I have been thinking lately about Army kids and how they seem to have their very own brand of independence and confidence, honed by years of moving to new places, meeting new people, and saying farewell to good friends whose Soldier had been reassigned to a new location. When my kids talk about taking a family trip, they don't stop at the local Six Flags or Water Park. They suggest places like Washington, DC, London, England, and Vicenza, Italy ... all places where friends have moved in the past year.

In my reminiscing of Army kids, I was reminded of an Army child I met years ago, before we had kids of our own. My husband and I had just moved into temporary quarters at Fort Stewart, Georgia, when we heard a knock at our door. We had just arrived and no one yet knew how to reach us, so we were surprised to have a visitor. When I opened the door, a little girl about nine years old was standing there. "Welcome!" she said, "I am new here, too. Do you have any kids I could play with?" I loved that she was making the most of her situation (with her parents close by), and "growing where she was planted." It makes me wonder what personality traits she will take with her into her adult life that are enhanced by living the Army life during her childhood.

I have been monitoring my own children closely as of late, evaluating their reactions to the separation from their father along with seeing more close friends pack up to leave this summer. Last week, we were able to welcome our Soldier home from a year-long deployment. As we went through the various stages that were a part of this event, I kept an especially close eye on both of my children, ages nine and six. They have endured a long year of separation from their all-time hero and father and were beyond excited to welcome him home.

I enjoyed observing them making "Welcome Home" banners (favorite quote? "Mommy, how do you spell 'welcome-home-daddy-you-are-my-hero-and-I-have-missed-you-so-much-and-let's-play-our-favorite-game-when-we-get-home!'"), cleaning their rooms, baking welcome-home cookies, and hanging welcome home signs all over our house. They both made comments that the last few days before 'welcome home' were just too long. One said it's harder than waiting for Santa Claus; the other simply stated, "We've waited for this day for a long time."

Numerous times, I found myself filled with a strange mix of emotions -- pride, joy, sadness, anxiety -- as I worked with them to get ready for Daddy to come home. I loved how excited they were and was so proud of how well they have handled all that they had been handed during this time apart. I was thrilled that we would be a complete family unit again and that my youngest would have a parent available who could actually help him with his baseball stance (and not just say things like, "Mmm, I don't think that looks quite right, honey. Try lifting your elbows a bit ..."). I was also a bit anxious about what their reaction would be to seeing their Daddy again. I knew they would be happy, but it must be every Army spouse's nightmare that their children might not recognize their Soldier-parent upon return.

As it turned out, our welcome home ceremony was scheduled for midnight. The boys were crushed that they had to go to bed ONE MORE TIME before Daddy would be there, but were able to fall asleep fairly quickly. When I woke them up, the oldest bolted out of bed, slid into his shoes (they both went to bed in the shorts/shirt they would wear to greet Daddy), and raced to the front door. The youngest was exhausted and fought all the way to the car ("Why are you waking me UP?!?!?"), but woke up on the ride to post, thrilled to be on his way to getting his Dad.

When we arrived at the parade field, I was again amazed at the flexibility and independence of Army kids. My sons immediately approached a group of kids gathered on the field and, within minutes, were playing like old friends. As "arrival time" grew nearer, I watched the growing group of kids on the field. A dee-jay was playing fun songs and they ran and danced and played like they had all been best friends for life. It occurred to me that having a deployed parent in common might just be as strong a bond as knowing each other since birth.

Eventually, the deejay announced that the buses were just moments away. We watched as the military police car, with sirens blaring and lights flashing, escorted our Soldiers to the field. The Soldiers then exited the bus, moved into a formation, and began marching across the field. As they got close, the deejay announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen! America's Heroes are HOME!!" The cheers were deafening and the front row of kids looking for their parent again caught my attention. The looks of pure joy and excitement on these little faces were a wonder to see.

As the 2-minute ceremony ended, the announcer said, "In the fine tradition of the Cavalry, it is time to find your Soldier ... CHARGE!" If you've ever seen an elementary school field day race, you'll have some idea of how fast these kids reached their Soldiers. I think my oldest might have broken some sort of land-speed record as he sprinted to tackle his dad. As caught up as I was in greeting my husband, my hero, and the love of my life ... I still was astounded at the Army kids around me, all welcoming their hero home, and all ready for whatever might come next.

For these and a hundred other reasons, Army kids are heroes.  Army Strong!

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