Hampton Roads is home to the country’s Atlantic Fleet, with numerous navy ships, carriers, destroyers, subs and personnel stationed here. Regularly, the area’s news channels cover deployments, characterized by heart-wrenching good-byes, kids, wives, husbands and spouses holding onto each other as if for dear life as they embark on dangerous missions near and abroad, to safeguard the nation’s interests, help strangers, rescue those in distress – and do their duty to the nation. We witness them – their appearance and departures brief and emotional; suddenly they are gone from our screens and our conscious, until the next arrival or departure.
Many who live in the area – the author included – have had the privilege of knowing several military families personally, and it always amazes me the resilience, the stoicism that they carry on with their lives often in these ‘double deployments’. Whether they be stationed here or there, their lives are run with military precision – as are their shifts on duty. The schedules that we take for granted – like coordinating Child care, Parent-Teacher Conferences, visits with family…the men and women in Uniform give faith to the nation’s sacrifice, strength and unity. The lengths to which they go to serve demand that we respect – and acknowledge – these sacrifices.
Let’s call them the ‘John’s’ family. I got to meet them first about three years ago. They have lived in the Seven Cities area for the past five years. While the husband and wife are divorced, and Joanna has full time custody of the kids, they stay with him every three days -whenever he is home. In the time I have known them, he was stationed in Bahrain for two of those – while she pulled 4-day shifts at the Little Creek Base. She coordinated for the two kids – Abel, 12, and Cate, 6, to stay with him whenever he had R&R stateside. She attended their school activities, like soccer practice, soccer games, the nativity play, visits to the grandma, first overnight play dates, first loss of milk teeth recitals etc. She took them to the beach where they shot rolls of film…and later that night – morning in Bahrain – over webcam, they shared their exciting day at the beach with a father they have not seen in six months.
The 12-hour shifts she pulls do not end there: sometimes she takes on odd jobs to allow her incomes to meet the family’s need. $75 a pop to tutor kids in Math – often needing to rush home to ensure her kids’ work is done, catch a few hours of sleep and be on duty by 6:00 am sharp. She will not be late…she will be there, standing watch even as she later plans to do a bake sale for the church’s something or other, for the weekend camp-out for Abel…and a few million other things in between.
Joanna’s strength, resilience and resolve – and that of their two children and now separated husband – embodies that of the nation. Through Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, Beirut, Somalia Afghanistan, Iraq and Afghanistan again – among many other nameless ports, jungles and deserts on the global map – the nation’s finest, each with a story, a different set of circumstances, facing danger, full o resolve, never questioning patriotic duty – the men and women of the armed forces stand watch at home and abroad.
And now, a two-year deployment to Italy…and he temporary break in the bond with Abel – now going into his teenage years, and Cate, a sweet and needing her mother, understanding but longing – looking forward to the R&Rs. Yes, there is a future away from the military, for, you see, after serving for sixteen years, in three years she will move on. To study Christian counseling ministry, so that she can work with, and provide support to families whose loved ones are stationed abroad, keeping watch over the nation’s interests.
She will stand down, but she will stand watch…over those who stand watch. We will never know the personal cost, yet, a grateful nation will salute her, for service above self.
Dedicated to those who stand watch, for and over us. Please thank a serviceman/woman today.