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Six months wasted? No, not really

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Melissa B. White
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
I'm young and I have a family; I should be at home with them. Instead, I'm on a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. There's not much farther I can get from them than 8,000 miles. I missed my sister's birthday, Labor Day picnics, seeing my little girl dressed up like a princess for Halloween, Thanksgiving, my mom's birthday, Christmas, New Year's Day, and worst of all, my only daughter's third birthday.

Not only does it seem like I've missed almost every holiday and special event in the book, there have been many struggles along the way. My husband has dealt with depression and stressful situations so bad that our daughter had to go live with my parents in Pennsylvania - more than a three-day drive or a really expensive plane ticket away from where we both are based at in Lackland Air Force Base, Texas ... he hasn't gotten to see her very often.

Then I also realize that, wow, it's been such a long time since my parents have cared for a toddler. I get exhausted taking care of her every day, and I can't even begin to imagine how they are even able to keep up with her at their age. I keep asking them if they're hanging in alright, and with a smile, they say they're fine. And my daughter ... it's such an up-and-down rollercoaster every time I talk to her. She doesn't realize where I'm at, she doesn't know when I'm coming back, she doesn't know why I left, and sometimes she doesn't even want to talk to me. Ouch, sometimes she really tugs at my heartstrings.

So, is it all worth it?

I had just come up on my fourth year in the Air Force when I arrived at Kandahar Airfield in August to start my first deployment. My first night here, I felt lost and alone as everything swirled around me while people showed me around and told me what it would be like in my new home away from home. Then, I had the chance to talk on the phone with my husband, whom I had already been separated from for a couple of weeks since I began combat training. I talked to him and my daughter on Skype a few days later while my parents were visiting my family in Texas; that was the last time my husband and little girl were going to be together in our house until I came home because my husband was dealing with an unhealthy amount of stress. I cried. For the first time, I felt like my career was tearing apart my family.

But, it didn't ... it made us stronger. It takes a special type of person to love someone in the military, and an equally special person who is willing to step up to this challenge so other people don't have to go through the same hardships. Sure, there have been a lot of tears and tough times in the past five months, but there have been just as many great moments and people who have made these months bearable and even special.

First of all, I didn't know how many people cared. I've always been the type of person to think there's a little bit of good in everyone, but my husband's always thought the opposite -- being skeptical of everyone's intentions until they prove he's wrong otherwise. He has come to realize that, even though he never has and probably never will meet them, there are good people and friends here helping me through the tough times, just like I lend them the same support. He's also experienced the same kindness on his side, sometimes from where he least expects it. Friends, relatives, neighbors, and even his commander have reached out to him. His commander supported him when he needed it most by seeking him out, knowing his name, and just asking him how things were going while also not showing any type of favoritism. She even helped rearrange his work schedule to help eliminate any undue stress, allowing him to recover before his illness got the best of him. That type of leadership is inspiring.

Now, my daughter being separated from her father is both a sweet and sour experience. Both my husband and I were upset with the decision, but it was a decision that needed to be made until he was able to get his life together a little more so that he could be the best dad he can be. My parents, who don't get to see their granddaughter as much as I would like, also got to experience moments with our daughter they probably never would have gotten to savor with the short visits they usually got here and there. Yes, a 2-year-old can really test your patience sometimes, but it's the moments like when she dresses herself and the pants and shirts are on backwards but her face is still beaming with pride ... that makes it all worth it.

Though this was my first deployment, it certainly isn't my last. I know other people have experienced similar situations, or even worse situations. No matter who experienced what, a deployment is what you make it. We can either gripe about everything every day, or we can learn from it and appreciate what each assignment has to offer, even the painful growing experiences. I've learned to cherish every moment I have at home with my family and that, no matter how bad something seems when you first look at it, there's a way to find a silver lining in that dark loud.