America's Longest War Phones Home

What does it mean, when war becomes home and home becomes war.

On my first deployment, I remember standing in line with about 25 other people holding an AT&T calling card, waiting to use a phone in a big trailer filled with phones. The calling card was for 60 minutes but for some reason the rates got all messed up and you usually ended up with about 15 minutes.

Those were 15 minutes worth waiting in any line. At first…

Email was difficult too. Again there were banks of computers with a slow dialup and Internet Explorer. Tents were usually sponsored by the USO or MWR. Lines for computers were really long, especially after dinner. Time per machine was limited because so many people were waiting. Early in the deployment, we’d all wait for hours to send an email or make a phone call.

But as the weeks, and months, and years (yes, 455 days is a long damn time) went by – we waited less and less to email or call home. The world we left stopped being real and just faded away. So why spend 3 hours waiting to send another email about lifting weights, or chow, and asking about family. Home continued on just fine without us. We continued on without home. Our old world no longer seemed real. We were forgotten. We forgot everything besides the missions, the gym, the chow, and dust.

Enter technology.

It started with Skype. For the first time, we could see our family and they could see us. The video would freeze a lot and we’d make the calls over and over and over. But we could SEE each other! We were real and they were too.

Then the other 10s of different messaging platforms (we now call them “apps”) happened. The internet got faster. MWR started providing internet in our rooms. Skype became outdated. Today, my kids can send a video message by tapping an “app” and talking, whenever they want. I can share a google doc with my grocery list with my deployed spouse. Emails are now outdated.

When we first deployed, we were happy to see a box with magazines, beef jerky, and sunflower seeds. Letters would take 3-5 weeks to reach us. Today, troops serving in Iraq or AFG can order what they need on Amazon. APO is now an option on most drop-down menus for your “state.” Service members now struggle with the decision whether to bring their iPhone with them or wonder if the internet will be fast enough to support online gaming.

I don’t think I am happy knowing that ordering from Amazon or dropping a quick video message is common and normal. War is not common. War should not be normal. Normal is easy. We seem to have forgotten that war is not normal. What was hard, rare, and of last resort – today is normal and common.

I miss the 3-5 week letter.

That letter was special. That letter had a hard path to find me – in a hard place. I knew, when I got that letter, that someday I would return to a place where letters didn’t take 3-5 weeks to reach me. Home would be different.

What’s the difference now?

Who is the Strongest Generation?

Touched by America’s longest war…

America’s strongest generation is all around you.

They sit next to you at soccer practice, watching their kid or grandchild play. They take your order at a restaurant. They pray silently in church with everyone. They stand in line for groceries, mentally planning what final errand can be run before picking up the kids.

America’s strongest generation is all ages, races, and religions. Some are infants while others are old men. There are college graduates and high school drop outs. Many are immigrants.

Each of them carries within them the seed of strength forged through struggle.

I served as a member of the military. But I was not alone. My family served. At any given point for about a 10 year period, my parents had at LEAST one child deployed. My parents, like so many, lived daily with the dread of what could happen.

Parents served. Grandparents served.

As a military spouse, I also worried about what could happen. Most days I was too busy caring for small children, getting to work, and trying to squeeze in some joke of a workout to think too much about the unthinkable – but when I stopped at night – there it was. And the children, who we all assumed were too young to understand, at night being tucked into bed asked the simple, yet disarming question. What happens if Dad dies?

Spouses served. Children served.

The families of our military carried the absence of their loved ones daily. Some days the feeling was acute. Other days it was not so near. Parties, holidays, and special events can make the absence crushing. A date on the calendar, a countdown clock – but we all learned that years apart cannot be healed by minutes together. People change, children grow. In reality, days, months, and years are needed after each deployment to grow together again.

Absence is an injury.

Some families don’t make it. Often the relationships were too young, tested in the fire of war before being given the time to anneal. Others were tired and they collapsed because, as a Nation, we asked too much of that marriage.

These are untold casualties of war.

All separated families struggle. It is in the struggle that we grow stronger. Accepting the struggle and embracing the challenge. Always working toward the goal of together. The strongest generation chooses love above all else. The family – despite the countless cycles of anxiety, isolation, and jarring returns, continues to look for the good times. They appreciate peace. The live for steady.

If you’ve been touched by war – as a Soldier, spouse, parent, or child – you are part of the strongest generation. You’ve know the greatest pain, the deepest loss, and the purest love. You’ve fought the inner voices of doubt or fear and continued forward. America’s strongest generation is all around us.

Find them, and you will never be alone.

Veteran Voices: Part 3 – Behind the Generator

So that’s how I’m going to die –

It wasn’t so much of a question, nor a complete thought, it was more of a realization – that hit me like a train. Almost a decade ago, I stood in front of my boss, torn between the desperate desire to run and the inability to move.

I was a pilot working for an infantry unit. Mostly I planned air missions with the Aviation unit, serving as a coordinator between the helicopters and the ground guys. After our final coordination meeting, my boss stopped me and said, “ You’re rolling out with the Strykers to run the TAC,” which is a planning cell that typically operates closer to the front lines of a battle and away from the safety of the main base.

Umm what? Keep your shit together.

I couldn’t move. I don’t think I heard much after those words and my body seemed to stop functioning. My heart was in my stomach. My nerves were racing and the world was spinning round about me. My boss was still talking, and others in the TOC were moving around working, but I couldn’t hear anything.

I pictured all the terrible things that had unfortunately already happened to that unit many times over. The Stryker seemed liked a death trap to me. Maybe this is what ground guys felt when they climb into an aircraft –a flying death trap. They can’t control it and are hundreds of feet from impending doom.

Don’t puke. Breathe. Don’t look at anyone. Keep moving. Don’t stop.

I acknowledged my boss, walked straight out of the tent and kept walking. I knew I had to get away from everyone. I found rows of generators, all clean and packaged, sitting on pallets waiting to be shipped out. I was finally alone. But my counterpart had followed me out and started talking rapidly about the mission, with excitement and enthusiasm. Then I looked at him. He stopped dead. I just blurted it all out. I cried. Tears streamed down my face, I couldn’t stop them. He tried to console. I was having a panic attack.

How could I be so weak? I didn’t feel as tough as I thought I was.

My counterpart left, knowing I needed to be alone. I paced. I kicked rocks. I cursed. I tried to accept my fate. I thought about what I’d need to survive the week. I just needed to pack my bags and go.

  • Ammo
  • Extra ammo
  • Can I get a 9mm too?
  • Snacks. Must avoid MREs as long as possible
  • Warm Clothes
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Call my family one more time. Write one more letter.

They had my folder with my Will, POAs, funeral plan, and another set of letters to each family member. I left my stuff at home in boxes just in case. After my last deployment, this folder was the first thing my Dad gladly handed back to me saying he didn’t want to touch it again.

If I died, well I guess my number was up. I was in not-so-wonderful Afghanistan, at a not-wonderful time. After non-stop deployments you understand, sometimes it’s just your time. Way back, so many innocent years ago at Flight School, they told us to look left and to look right, and that in a few years, one of us wouldn’t be there anymore.

  • My flight school stick buddy
  • Several friends
  • My commander
  • My Soldiers
  • My teammates
  • Close calls – that but for the difference of a few moments – me.

I cleaned myself up, dusted myself off, and put myself back together. Then I walked back in, no longer hidden by darkness, fear or shame. I can do this, I will do this.

I apologized to my boss for the way I just stood there before. But he had the most perplexed look and said he and my counterpart realized it was smarter for me to run the mission from the base, with better radios and equipment, while my counterpart went to the TAC.

I’m sorry what?!? This night will not end!

Back outside to the generators, this time, motioning to my counterpart to follow. I yelled at him. “You told the boss I freaked out?” He replied, “No! I asked why you would go out with shitty radios to the middle of nowhere, when what you need to control the mission is here.”

Once again, I couldn’t stop the tears or the flood of emotions- anger, confusion, frustration, relief, guilt.

And I hated myself for it.

It wasn’t about the operation anymore. It was about him. “No, way! You aren’t taking my seat and I’m not sending you. I’m not writing a letter home to your parents. I’m not writing a letter to your fiancé.” He said he’d be fine and let me be. I kicked a ton of rocks, and cleaned myself up – again – and went back to work.

For a short period of time, we debated who would go – each of us wanting to carry the load for the other. Ultimately, the mission was called off. I used to wonder which one of us would have gone, and if the entire convoy would have survived. I see now that we both were afraid. We knew our fate.  My teammate wanted to protect me and I him.

The only way I know how to honor those I’ve lost is to strive to be a better human being, officer, leader, and friend every day. It could have easily have been me. 


This post is part of a series called Veteran Voices. These words offer insights into the souls of our warrior class. Photo credit for the generators that gave us the time and space we needed: US Army.