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 Skype became outdated.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 Emails are now outdated.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.

Landing 01

On very rare occasions, themes from a few books come together – forming one single coherent thought. The thought forms slowly as the mind tries different combinations of words and ideas.  The closer the thought to forming, the more the mind will race and wrestle with it. Then, in what feels like a flurry– for the briefest of moments – the thought lives.

In that moment the mind sighs, rests, and is content. This is a landing.

And then it is gone.

This is the first of what I will call a Landing Post. It is a summary of themes pulled from a few different books into a lesson or an idea.


I am not a good writer. Or at least that is what I have been told or made to believe. I am a scientist and engineer by training. This means I am to hate writing and love math. Math and science are certainly noble justifications for my poor writing. At nearly every stage of my adult life, I have been told me that I am a poor writer. “Don’t worry,” they tell me – this is totally okay given the rigor of science and math.

That is, it was okay – until I decided I wanted to write a book. No. I needed to write a book.

The last three books reviewed helped me chart a path to the realization that maybe I am not as bad a writer as I had been telling myself for decades.  Here’s how it all went down…

“The War of Art”

Read: December 2018

Everyone is afraid to create. Everyone is afraid to try something new. Everyone is afraid of judgement. Everyone has fear.

And everyone has Work to do.

And in response to that fear, we create an incredible weave of distractions to keep us from doing what we know – deep down – we need to do. Our life’s work.

I am not saying this kind of writing is my life’s work. But writing anything at all is lightyears away from what everyone has told me my work should be. Thank you Steven Pressfield for helping me use my fear as a guide – and point me away from a life hiding to a life of trying.  

“The Coaching Habit”

Read: September 2018

Unlike writing, I have been told since I could speak, walk, and point a knife-hand that I was a leader. I led in high school in sports, and work, extracurricular activities, and of course, my siblings. Leadership drove me to join the military.  Leadership then, became my living. Multiple deployments, hundreds of soldiers, and countless missions reinforced and refined my leadership methods.  Leading was me. I nailed it.

Until I didn’t.

Leaving the military forced me into a situation where my results oriented, single-person decision-making leadership (so many hyphens!) style didn’t work. I was efficient at planning and executing missions. I was a professional at “leading-by-driving.”

Learning how to use listening as a tool to help people find their own solutions meant I too was building deeper trust and finally seeing people at their best – that is – when they learn and grow.  “Leading-by-driving” became “leading-by-guiding” as people chose on their own, the right spot rather than me just putting them there.  And WOW – so much better!

Thank you Michael Bungay Stanier for opening my mind to 360 degree leading. Mostly guiding, pushing when I must, and listening always.  

“Originals”

Read: October 2016

Read again: July 2019

What is courage?

You’d think I would have a pretty clear answer for this with the whole “military, war, deployment” thing. I thought I did.  But I actually only knew OF courage. People who were courageous. Actions that were valorous. Courage as a trait observed – but not known or felt.

Until I was afraid.

And a little lost.

Courage

Thank you Adam Grant for giving me the courage to be myself.

Turns out I am just human. Afraid of failure, sharply attuned to judgment, and terrified of criticism.

I also have Work to do. I decided to stop hearing fear and start listening openly. With that choice, I took the first step toward doing my Work.

This is courage.

Cheers to the long book!

Books slow me down, make me think, and stick with me longer than just about any other form of knowledge delivery. Books take a long time to read – and it is in this time that I process and reflect on the message of the book.

The book can be a leadership book, a business book, a sci-fi, or a romance. Each one delivers a message. Each author takes the time to nurture the message. In the time required to read the book, its core message takes root and sticks.

Books are not quick hit memes, social media posts, blog hits (the irony is not lost on me here), or some other short dopamine know-how kick. Books are for those on the long road for lasting gains.

So – clearly, this blog is going to talk about books. Books I like(“Ready Player One”). Books that have shaped me (“The Power of One”) and have stuck with me (“First Break All The Rules”). Some have fundamentally changed the way I think (“Thinking Fast, and Slow”). Some of put me on a new path or down a new knowledge quest (“Obstacle is the Way”). Some have simply given me the mental space to breath and process in a hectic life (“Expeditionary Force: Columbus Day”). All books slow me down, make me think, and make me better.

So cheers to the long book. The one that keeps you going for nights on end (“Ender’s Game”). The one that calls you back for a re-read (“The War of Art”). The one that makes you weep (“Where the Red Fern Grows” – 6th grade). And may we all write our own books, of our own lives, in one long beautiful story until THE END.