COVID Re-deployment

As the plane descended, I was struck by how green everything looked. Just a week ago, flying over the desert of Iraq, the only color was brown sand. The green below didn’t look real. As the plane began to taxi to the terminal, I again noticed the differences of home. The runway concrete wasn’t cracked or full of potholes. The grass was freshly mowed. The plane lurched to a stop at the terminal, and seat belts clicked open. I began to sweat and my heart raced.

I was afraid to get off the plane.


America will start coming home from a deployment soon. This deployment was unlike any I’d experience in the military. In response to COVID, we’d deployed to our homes, rather than to Iraq or Afghanistan. Like a deployment, our daily routines of work, school, and activities were replaced with routines at home. We got new jobs as teachers, chefs, guidance counselors, and fitness instructors, while often continuing to work but from a new office.

Like a deployment, we had moments of anger and despair as well as happiness and laughing. There were countless hours of sheer boredom. Some people worked out a lot while others put on the pounds. Our uniforms were masks and we learned to know, just by feel, a 6 foot distance. Slowly, over time, we adapted to our deployed surroundings.

Redeployment begins this Fall as many people start coming home. Unlike military deployments, coming home will actually mean leaving home. The drive to the office, the walk to school — these things that were once so routine we barley noticed — will now be new and unfamiliar.

Today I stand at the threshold of the plane and wonder if I can step off.

I watch other people for signs about how to feel about all of this. I’m questioning why I feel different. Some passengers are dashing for the door, eager for things to get back to normal. Others hesitate, unsure about normal and not yet ready to go home. I find myself judging both those who sprint or those who freeze.

The weight of the first step is heavy. For many, this will be the hardest single step they’ve ever taken. Deciding to come home is a choice. It is one that must be made by each individual. Some people might take years to choose. Others will step easily back into life. A few might never return, remaining trapped in a deployment they cannot leave.

As I steady my breathing and slow my racing heart, the challenges of my past fortify me in the present. I’ve stood here before, wavering in face the obstacles thrown at me in life, work, or school. Recently, just deciding whether to get a haircut made me pause.

The plane has brought me home from home a COVID deployment, but I am not back yet. With one more steadying breath, I make the choice and step off the plane. I am coming home, one step at a time.

Welcome to the 1%

Sitting outside at the bar with some old friends, I sipped a cold beer and listened to the conversation. It was hard to believe that only a month ago, I had been sweating in the hot sun of Iraq. I sat, enjoying the warmth of the sun and ideally wondered how this could be the same sun that had scorched me mercilessly for the last year?

But the day wasn’t turning out exactly like I had pictured. Despite having known my friends for much of my life, they felt foreign to me. The conversation – about reality TV shows, sports, or someone’s relationship injustice – all seemed trivial. Next to us, a man complained about his meal, citing a violation of his self-imposed dietary restriction.

What the hell was wrong with everyone?

Almost certainly, a US service-member would be killed or maimed today. While we sat here chatting about bullshit, my deployed friends continued to live knowing that today might be their last breakfast, phone call, or preflight. In the country I just left, having a meal, or a job, or even electricity was a luxury. Going to school or the market could get you killed.

At the bar, people bought me drinks, called me a “hero,” and thanked me for my service. My friends asked a few questions about deployment, but I didn’t want to answer. How could I begin to explain any of what had happened when I couldn’t even talk about college football?

I silently sipped my beer. Angry and alone.

They say less than 1% of America served in the military. Listening to conversations of my friends — about Real Housewives, college football rankings, or some trendy diet — I began to feel just how small that 1% really was. I eventually left the bar, wishing I was back in Iraq with people who understood how I was feeling.

No one gets it.

Perhaps only 1% of the population treated patients, searched for medical miracles, and held the hands of the dying during the COVID pandemic. These workers sacrificed their families and their personal well-being, stood in the face of COVID, and chose not to flinch.

Healthcare workers will be coming home soon. My world of semi-normal will begin to mix with theirs. Our family has had schedule disruptions, frustrations with school, and disappointments certainly, but overall our COVID experience has been rather benign. I’ve seen the pictures of the morgue truck, PPE covered doctors, and people weeping behind masks. But I will never fully understand what it was like to be a healthcare worker during the COVID pandemic.

I will listen.

While I will never fully understand what it was like to fight COVID, I do know what it’s like to come home changed. I have felt isolated by an experience I could not share. When everyone seemed to move on with their lives, I know the feeling of being stuck and left behind. I know what its like to want to talk, but not have the energy to make a sound. I have wanted to just go back.

Welcome — to the 1%.

I pledge to hear your stories, ask you questions, or simply sit in silence and sip a beer with you.

Behind the Door

I stood in front of the door because I could not bring myself to go in. School doors are locked to protect the children, but it wasn’t the lock that was holding me back. I’d picked up my kids through this door countless times before today. To my left, a box with the intercom button that would buzz me right in. I was unable to press the button.

How do I go through this door? How do I tell them?

The kids knew the second they saw me. Picking up children from school is usually a flurry of bags and coats and art projects. But once the tornado of construction paper and backpacks slowed — they knew. The teachers could tell something was up too. All eyes turned to me, to us, and watched.

It was probably my eyes that gave it away. It is always the eyes.

We walked 20 feet to a bench just outside the doors of the school and sat down. I told them the facts of what had happened. Unlike the movies, there was no wailing or screaming or even questions. Their tears were so quiet, silently falling on the red bricks at our feet. One question came…

What do we do now?

We drove to the hospital to see Dad. As we walked inside, I was thrown back to the events of the morning — entering a hospital I’d driven by a hundred times but never been inside. Wondering what I would hear when the ER doctor emerged. Bracing as he pulled the curtain back.

Later, with my children, the automatic doors opened and unfamiliar lobby space reminded me, again, that I did not know what I’d find upstairs. My wounded family entered this foreign land, which was far more terrifying than any battle or war I’ve ever fought.

We must walk through the door.

This week, we had more frustrations thanks to the COVID pandemic. What upset me most today, was again bringing bad news to the kids. I braced for the disappointment I’d become familiar with seeing in their eyes. Explaining why our neighbors crossed to the other side of the street rather than say “Hi,” as tears of confusion and hurt fell. Birthdays that would be celebrated without friends, mourned with silent tears. When the tiny screen of what has become school, ruthlessly closes on the world they left behind and little hearts break all over again.

I have to break their hearts again.

This morning, I again delivered a message of disappointment thanks to COVID. I braced. But this time — nothing— they simply asked, “What’s next.”

We chose to move forward with our typical COVID day — some school, gardening, art, and riding bikes. The future changed again, but today had not. As the kids logged into school and resumed their work, I realized that they had just walked through a door.

Thinking back to the hospital many years ago, I remember guiding them to the elevator and up to Dad’s room. We did not linger outside the door. We walked in to face what was the most terrible unknown a child could face. Dad was hurt badly. It was scary. But Dad got better and eventually, he walked through the door of our home again.

Each day threatens to bring a new change or new challenge. It is paralyzing to wait for the unknown to happen. I don’t try to predict or anticipate what is to come from COVID anymore. There will be more doors ahead and I will have to decide to walk through. But we have walked through some pretty terrible doors already, touched the face of despair, and found our joy once again. When I look into the eyes of my children, I know I am strong enough to lead them through whatever happens. And they are strong enough to follow.


Photo Credit: Dad

Finding Our Stride

The first month of deployment felt like running the 100-yd dash — in boots. For 18-hours a day, I went non-stop, fueled by coffee and energy drinks. My unit was busy inventorying gear, getting familiar with our mission, flying orientation flights, and doing last minute training. We held a daily update brief on the status of our critical tasks as we prepared to conduct a transfer of authority with the unit we were replacing.

A big change from home-life to deployed-life was that there were no cars. Where I used to drive from my hangar to meetings at battalion, I now found myself sprinting multiple times a day to the TOC. We had one van but it was usually fetching supplies or being used to coordinate inventories. Some of the bigger bases had bus routes, but the buses smelled like a high school locker room and broke down all the time.

On deployment, I walked everywhere and I walked fast.

After about 30 days, things started to slow down. The daily battle update briefings went to probably half the participants and were over in 30 minutes. In another month, the briefing would be held once a week with people only dialing-in if they needed something. Inventories became less frequent, soldiers starting working shifts, and I found myself walking to the gym as frequently as I walked to the TOC.

I was finding my stride.

My family has been through the “first 30 days” of our COVID deployment. Today feels a little more like yesterday and tomorrow doesn’t seem as scary. We try to keep a daily schedule, but we make allowances for an impromptu snuggle or the moments when someone just needs a little space. We’ve figured out how to have virtual workouts, playdates, happy hours, or anything else we used to do in person. My husband and I even have hand-and-arm signals to indicate “on a call” or not.

My household is finding its stride.

America will find its stride too. Changes to our lives that came rapidly, now seem to be a little more spread out. We are still watching the news but no longer glued to our TVs. We are putting our phones down and starting to pick up books. We still watch Netflix at night, but not every night. America is catching its breath, slowing down, and finding its stride.

The Strongest Generation: Weight of the Bag

This morning I went up in the attic, looking for Autumn decorations in storage bins that are poorly labeled (organization has never been my strong suit).  As I opened one of the bins, I noticed a plastic trash bag inside, also not labeled.  I soon saw the box next to it containing “memorabilia” from my husband’s jet crash that nearly took his life almost nine years ago, and immediately knew the contents of the plastic bag.  

This particular moment is etched into my memory with remarkable clarity, and I’ve never taken the time to write it down.  I want to share it in hopes that others who may be going through extremely tough times might find some encouragement that one day, by the grace of God, you will be able to breath again.



“Are you Mrs. Smith” a young sailor hesitantly asked.  “I’m Mrs. Smith,” I responded, with just enough breath to be audible.  “This is for you,” he responded, as he handed me a heavy trash bag.  “Ummm…” I said, but before I had the opportunity to inquire at to what it was, he had left the room.  

Nine months pregnant, I slowly ambled back to the hospital lobby chair, waiting to find out my husband’s prognosis – bag in hand.  I was curious as to what the guy had just handed me, a welcome diversion from the sense of shock that had robbed me of a full breath of air just twelve hours prior.  

“It was heavy…what was inside?”  

As I began to open the bag, still puzzled, I caught a glimpse of green fabric, the kind that carries with it a familiarity of both deep joy and heartache.  Though it was familiar, it was not as it should be–it took me a moment to realize what it was– his flight suit, ragged and torn, and then neatly cut in some places.  It was heavy, drenched in sea water, with one peculiarly unscathed detail…

His patch.  

The sight of his name stole the last little bit of breath from my lungs and I froze. A rush of emotion welled up inside with no way to escape.  I swallowed the tears that were too big to express… I was numb.  

In disbelief, I began pulling more items from the plastic bag.  His shirt and boxers, neatly cut from top to bottom. A torn sock. Finally a combat boot– only one– with the bottom partially ripped off.  It was heavy.

“He’s alive,” I kept thinking… “he’s alive”… and yet I still couldn’t seem to catch my breath.  

All of that water, some lost blood, and actualized fears were contained in that bag.  It was a bag I wasn’t supposed to have received, the contents of which were intended to be evidence for the investigation that was already underway.  I gave up on trying to take full breaths, it was a futile cause anyway.  

I closed the bag.  It was too heavy.  

Today, nearly nine years after this event, the contents of that bag still carry a weightiness, bringing back a flood of memories from that uncertain time.  The “what if?” still haunts me from time to time. The thought of why he survived when so many others in similar circumstances did not still makes my head spin. The fact that he fully recovered, fought to get back up in the jet, and has gone on to have a successful aviation career– while almost miraculous– means that the same danger is ever-present. It’s not entirely in the past.

Yet now, when I see those clothes, that patch, the titanium rod (which we keep as a memento of my husband’s transition to semi-bionic limbs!), that spent nearly a year in his leg before being replaced during yet another surgery, my fears give way to an underlying sense of hope.  

The sea water that once weighed the bag down has long since dried up, the wounds have healed, and new patches have replaced the old.  

My breath returned, although it took much longer than expected. Only scars remain, reminding me of a time when the load was too heavy, too big, too much to bear…a time when I was carried through by grace.


This post is part of a series called The Strongest Generation. These words offer insights into the souls of those touched by America’s longest war.

Veteran Voices: Thankful

Veteran writing can be about the tough stuff – the hard times, challenging situations, and how we grew from it. Not every day was terrible or traumatic however. Many days were thrilling, funny, and totally kicked ass! My military friends are eternal and the experiences were unique. Every single day, I worked with the best people America had to offer.

And I mattered.

When deployed, it was easy for me to focus on all that I was missing. Looking back now, I can see more clearly all that I had. Here are a few things–funny and wonderful–I am thankful for from military deployment:

  • Fresh eggs, rather than powdered ones
  • The chow hall in remote Afghanistan that somehow had Baskin Robins ice cream
  • The crewchief that used the “scientific method” to determine if farts could be seen on the FLIR (he claims yes)
  • Midnight chow
  • Gyms with just weights
  • Gyms that were a 5 min walk from my office or my bedroom
  • Quiet nights, crystal clear skies, all the stars
  • The perfect amount of illumination for NVGs (not too much, not too little)
  • Illumination rounds
  • Xbox360 – Halo and Call of Duty
  • Otis Spunkmeyer muffins and Rip Its
  • Being welcome in every office, at every table in the chow hall, and with every group of soldiers. Always having a place.
  • Frozen water bottles
  • Hard dirt, No dust
  • Safe landings. Also the landings that reminded me that not all landings were guaranteed to be safe.
  • Shared loss. No fear of judgement for my tears or my lack of tears.
  • Knowing with certainty that if I did not make it, my team would get me home and they would remember me
  • Mattering

To those deployed- we miss you. Your empty chair at our table brings with it the deep ache of your absence.

This Thanksgiving however, I choose to live grateful for each moment, both the happy ones and the sad ones. From the sadness of your absence, I appreciate your presence even more. I look forward to when you return and can create shared moments with us once again.

Today, I live in this moment and I am thankful for it all.


This post is part of a series called Veteran Voices. These words offer insights into the souls of our warrior class. Feel free to share things you are thankful for, from deployment or not, in the comments