Why Do We Keep Deploying? There Is No Answer

Double digit deployments now, and counting. It’s like a grim reality show.

My kids and I just took my husband to the airport for a yet another deployment. We dropped him off the curb. There was no ceremony, no send off, no acknowledgement that we were about to, yet again, embark on The Unhappy Days. But we knew — even our 3-year-old was in a foul mood. She refused to kiss her daddy goodbye.

To the rest of the world we were just a normal family, taking a dad to the airport, for a normal kind of trip. A trip that would end in days or maybe weeks, not months. A trip without bullets.

It was a beautiful day. Clear skies the color of a swimming pool. Sunshine warming our bare arms, which were hanging out the open windows of his truck. Driving down an airport road lined in palm trees — how can any day be bad with that many palm trees?

I wore a yellow sundress with white embroidered flowers, chosen to a fake a sunny mood I didn’t feel. My outsides were tropical and bright, sheathed in light, breezy cotton. My insides were plaid flannel and scratchy, felted, wool.

Goodbyes are always too long and never long enough.

Driving home in the truck, the windows still down, wind blowing over the silence, all of us feeling numb, I turned on the radio. The drive home is always the loneliest part of a deployment.

Double digit deployments now, and counting. It’s like a grim reality show.

A spouse bids her soldier farewell at a ceremony at Fort Meade, Maryland.

 

Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” was playing. I’ve heard that song so many times. Living in military towns, it’s an anthem, played at every Memorial Day, every Veterans Day, every Independence Day and every MWR concert. We all know all the words, we all sing along.

American Girls and American Guys

We’ll always stand up and salute

We’ll always recognize

When we see Old Glory Flying

There’s a lot of men dead

So we can sleep in peace at night

When we lay down our head

I had just sent my husband off to fight — again. Just gone over that packet of “if the worst occurs” stuff — again. It’s rote now. Routine. Meaningless to us both. “Yeah, I’ll carry your fat ass if you get capped,” his buddy joked when asked to be a pall bearer. “As long as you’ll carry mine, too.”

We joke about his funeral plans now. We’ve been over them so many times before.

But when I heard, “there’s a lot of men dead” the faces of those men, friends, flashed through my mind like an old black and white picture show. Arlington is the gated community where so many of our friends reside now, the place where beautiful young women get called “widow.”

Steve, Thom, Vic, Gil, Pedro, Bob, Chris, Tim, Josh, Gary, Charlie, Allan, Ritchie, another Josh, Frank, Leroy, Jerry, another Bob, Randy, Sean, Andrew, Brian 

My daddy served in the Army

Where he lost his right eye

But he flew a flag out in our yard

Until the day that he died

He wanted my mother, my brother, my sister and me

To grow up and live happy

In the land of the free.

 

I twisted around to glance at my three children from behind my fogged up sunglasses, my vision blurred by hot tears. I wondered if these words meant anything to them. Their daddy serves in the Army, and he’s suffered some permanent injuries because of it. We don’t fly a flag in our yard, but we do insist they stand still with their hands over their hearts during the National Anthem. We insist they show respect.

We most definitely want them to grown up and live happy in the land of the free.

I thought of the first time I heard that song. It was 2002. Ground Zero was still a pile of rubble. U.S. forces were in Afghanistan but not yet in Iraq. My new boyfriend had bought me a plane ticket and flown me to his hometown to meet his family for the first time. He proposed to me that weekend. We’d known each other for just six weeks when I decided to become an Army wife.

That song was a rallying cry then.

Now this nation that I love

Has fallen under attack

A mighty sucker punch came flyin’ in

From somewhere in the back

Soon as we could see clearly

Through our big black eye

Man, we lit up your world

Like the 4th of July

 

That was back in the days when we had just one black eye. Back when the rest of us was whole enough that we could brush ourselves off and summon up some indignation. Fourteen years later, so many deployments, so many injuries, so many deaths later — the days of one black eye seem like the Halcyon days.

Now we limp forward on missing legs, grasp at hope with missing fingers, press forward with arms freckled with shrapnel. The love struck couples, clinging to each other in YouTube reunion videos, are now divorced. Doe-eyed children with flags painted on their faces at deployment ceremonies grew up to be disaffected, suicidal, teenagers.

Justice will be served

And the battle will rage

This big dog will fight

When you rattle his cage

And you’ll be sorry that you messed with

The U.S. of A.

`Cause we`ll put a boot in your ass

It`s the American way

Double digit deployments now, and counting. It’s like a grim reality show. The viewers ask, “Why do they keep doing this? Why don’t they just quit?” But we have no answer. There is no answer. We keep doing it because we keep being told to do it, because we don’t know how to say no. Because those bad guys never stopped rattling the cage, because the sucker punches still fly.

Because of Steve, Thom, Vic, Gil, Pedro, Bob, Chris, Tim, Josh, Gary, Charlie, Allan, Ritchie, another Josh, Frank, Leroy, Jerry, another Bob, Randy, Sean, Andrew, Brian, and all the others.

Hey Uncle Sam

Put your name at the top of his list

And the Statue of Liberty

Started shakin’ her fist

And the eagle will fly

Man, it’s gonna be hell

When you hear Mother Freedom

Start ringin’ her bell

And it feels like the whole wide world is raining down on you

Brought to you Courtesy of the Red White and Blue

 

Relentless rain. Grungy, flannel, wool rain. All over the palm trees.

 

Photo courtesy U.S. Army.

About the Author

Rebekah Sanderlin
Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. She writes the "Must Have Parent" column for Military.com. Her work has been published nationwide including in The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.
  • Just saying

    Thank you

  • gi ny

    Beautifully written. We will remember your family in our prayers.

  • Guest

    This is a nice piece. The answer to “why we keep deploying” is that the government does not set needed limits on deployments for service members. Instead, service members are left to choose between continuing their military careers or getting out to spare themselves and their families. Yes, those who deploy, and their families, are wonderful and selfless. However, sometimes our service members need to step back and take a look at what is happening to them and their families. If everyone is unhappy a large percentage of the time, it’s time to find a new profession. That is the right we fight for. Some soldiers don’t understand that protecting America means protecting yourself and your family from further pain, too.

    • Guest

      True. So many service members I know feel a sense of duty to serve and protect the country, and that is fantastic and very admirable. The frustrating part is when they approach this aspect of their life with an all-consuming mindset. Service members who are married (and/or have kids or others they consider immediate family) would do well to understand that being a good spouse or other family member means doing everything you can to be healthy and available for loved ones. It does not end with bringing in a paycheck or wearing a uniform. Serving the needs of your loved ones is a PART OF being a good service member, not an extra nicety. If, due to duty requirements, your loved ones are becoming angry, withdrawn, or have spent the greater part of the last several years alone, it’s time to think about changing careers. The nation needs you to serve at home too.

      • cornwall

        Yes. We hear talk about spouses “on the home front.” Well, the “home front” is a place for soldiers to concern themselves with, too. There comes a time when it is the SOLDIER’S turn to “hold down the fort” for the spouse, whether that means staying home while a spouse goes to school or just being present as a member of the family. The hope is that people realize this before either their health or that of their family is too far gone, with everything given to Uncle Sam and nothing for their own family.