Yesterday was a worry day; today is a waiting day. If my luck holds, tomorrow will be a guilt day. This is the first of these sequences for this deployment. It’s unlikely that it will be the last.
It’s another beautiful day in Honolulu. Most of the 117 days since my wife got on the plane to go back to Kandahar have been beautiful. Most of the next 250 or so days will also be beautiful.
Thursday night was not a beautiful night in Afghanistan. It was, as Snoopy would type, a dark and stormy night. First reports suggest that this was likely a factor in the crash of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter in Helmand Province. The helicopter was one of two that were on a CASEVAC mission. They were en route to an Afghan National Police checkpoint that had just suffered a suicide bombing that killed four police officers and wounded seven more. The first news reports indicated that survivors were considered “unlikely”. Later reports confirmed the deaths of the four American soldiers onboard.
The last time I had any contact with my wife was before the first reports of the crash. This is not unusual. Attempts are made to restrict communications between troops and families in the immediate aftermath of a fatal incident that involves the unit. The Army – understandably – wants to avoid accidental notification of the next of kin. And my wife’s job is such that she is almost undoubtedly busier than normal right now, and probably won’t have time to call or email for the next day or two.
Yesterday, I worried. I did not go to bed until after 10 pm. I was up at 6 this morning. By 9, I had moved from worrying to waiting.
The Army attempts to notify next of kin as rapidly as possible. Notifications are made in person, and unless absolutely necessary notifications are not made between 10 pm and 6 am. When nothing happened by 9, I knew it was almost certain that four other families had been visited by someone of equal or higher rank than the casualty, accompanied by a chaplain or a second soldier, in formal uniform, without alcohol on their breath, and familiar with the local emergency numbers in case of “adverse medical reaction”.
So now I wait. News reports have identified two of the four dead soldiers. The names of all four will probably be released in the next day or so. A memorial service will probably be scheduled for later this week at the airfield chapel.
Once the formal identifications are released, assuming my luck holds, I get to feel relieved and guilty for feeling relieved because someone else is suffering the pain I was hoping to avoid.
If it sounds like I’ve written this post before, it’s probably because I probably have. This is not my wife’s first deployment. It’s not the first time that I’ve waited out news of a helicopter going down. It’s not the first time that I’ve dealt with stress by writing about it. All that has probably come together before. I hope – but do not expect – that it will not happen again.
I have not gotten used to any of this, but none of it’s new. It’s part of my normal life. Statistically, there is something like a 99% chance it’s not part of your normality.
We’ve been at war for over a decade. We’ve been sending the same people to fight that war, over and over again, while the rest of the country worries about whatever it is that people choose to worry about when they have no real ties to the war that the military - their military - is fighting.
Afghanistan is not one of the daily concerns of most Americans. I think most people like it that way. When someone asks me what my wife does, I say she’s an Army doctor. When they ask me where she’s stationed, I say Kandahar. Then there’s an awkward pause. And they talk about the weather.
I have not served one day in the military, but I stopped thinking of myself as a civilian a long time ago. My experiences have become so disconnected from the understanding of most Americans that it's hard to consider myself to be part of that broad civilian group when military matters are concerned. I can't even watch MASH the way I used to. Now I spend half the show wondering how Mildred Pottter, Peg Hunnicut, and Radar's Uncle Ed are doing.
There are lots of magnetic ribbons stuck to cars declaring the love the American public has for the military, and the support they offer. But one of the local bases loses its library two weeks ago, one of the arts and crafts centers closed, and the gyms and pools had their hours cut. Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs - which I consider to be a mental health resource - took yet another budget hit.
I am the spouse of an American soldier. Because I am the spouse of an American soldier, I feel alienated from the life that most Americans lead.
There is something very wrong with that.