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.

Book Review: “Stillness is the Key”

Author: Ryan Holiday

Busy is a Choice.

Our family calendar looks more complicated than my old fight schedule. Matching aircraft, crews, and mission equipment to a week’s worth of flights has got NOTHING on running a household these days. Trying to get kids to all their activities, while making sure you volunteer “enough” at the school, attend PTO meetings, and maybe sneak in a workout is more complex than air assault planning!

As I looked at our upcoming week’s worth of activities, and struggled to figure out how I could be in two places, across town, at the same time on Friday night – I realized something very critical.

I chose all this.

Not a single event on this calendar was forced upon me or my family. We chose to do sports, or volunteer groups, or workout classes. I begrudgingly added my name to the now endless number of “to bring” lists in signup genius.

Why…?

Ryan Holiday’s book “Stillness is the Key” hit me right up front with an ugly truth. I am doing all this because I think I am supposed to do it. Other people need me right? This is the kind of person I am – or I want to be. Right?

“Stillness is the Key” helped me take the first step to answering that question in my overly busy life. It was remarkable simple, but shockingly difficult.

Stop.

Stop doing. Hold still. And listen. Ryan explores how life bombards us in three critical dimensions; mentally, spiritually, and physically. We experience demands imposed upon us by others and we struggle when we try align our three dimensions with someone else’s values.

“Stillness” provides a roadmap for the reader to get their mental, spiritual, and physical self off the express highway of external demands on back on the road of self. For me, as I read the book, I focused on my tendency to overcommit – both myself and my family – to things we did not need. I reflected on how these demands drew me away from our real goals and family values, despite maybe looking pretty good to everyone else.

Each night, as I worked my way through this short book, I started to slow down just a little bit more. I thought about ways to live deliberately. I started seeing where I was committing time and energy to things others valued but I did not.

Today, I strive to read more of everything, play epic legos wars with my kids, and enjoy the peace of a quiet walk with my dog. I try to listen to the chirp of birds on my walk rather than drown out the nature’s chorus with a podcast or audiobook.

It took slowing down to see just how much time I really had. And just like that, I wasn’t busy anymore.

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