Once and always a military family
This week, our family took the ultimate leap of faith.
After 28 years of active-duty military service, my husband, Francis, retired. I used to think that it would feel weird, that I would be a little depressed, that the world would look different through civilian eyes. But now, as we prepare to transition, I remember the moment a couple of months ago when I realized it would be OK.
It was seven in the morning, and the late-summer sun was already shining crisp and bright on the train platform. Francis hastily parked my luggage at my feet, inadvertently nicking my toe in the process.
“Oooh, sorry Hon, but I’d better get to work ... Call me when you get to your mother’s.” He leaned down to give me a quick kiss goodbye, wearing his khaki uniform — buttoned, tucked, pinned and polished. In 23 years as a Navy wife, I’ve become quite accustomed to goodbyes, but this one felt different.
I observed the other passengers waiting and drew conclusions about their lives. A sleepy student, a hip grandmother, an arrogant businessman, a frumpy divorcee. It dawned on me that they had taken notice of Francis’ uniform and deduced, “A military family.” The uniform that I scrubbed ink stains out of, ironed countless times, hung on the back of the kitchen door and often took for granted, had defined us for more than two decades.
The uniform dictates that I am a military spouse and our kids are “military brats.” It is a sign that Francis has dedicated his career to military service. It tells a tale of duty, deployments, separation, transition, challenges, hardships, patriotism, pride and adventure. It speaks to the strength, resilience and courage of the people who wear it.
At our wedding in 1993, Francis was a young Navy lieutenant and I was a brand-new attorney. Within two years, we rocked our baby boy, Hayden, in base quarters in Monterey, Calif., at the Naval Postgraduate School. In another couple of years, we were in rural England, where Anna was delivered by an Irish midwife, and where Francis drove a beat-up Fiat on dark, winding roads to stand the watch. A few years later, we were in Virginia Beach, Va., where Francis completed a sea tour, three shore tours and a yearlong deployment to Djibouti, Africa, while our family grew to include our youngest daughter, Lillian.
After a three-year adventure in Germany, where Francis worked at Africa Command, we found ourselves at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., where we could see dolphins, frigates and destroyers in the Atlantic waves just outside our base house’s kitchen window. Now, in Rhode Island at the Naval War College, in the twilight of a long military career, we watch our children use their skills as military kids to succeed in high school and college.
A rooster suddenly crowed from behind a house across the tracks, bringing me back to the present. I gulped hard, remembering that in a few short months, Francis would retire from the military.
“Where do we go from here?” I wondered, squinting at the sun’s reflection on the tracks. Francis and his uniform were long gone, and I was there, just another passenger on the crowded platform. Is this what it’s like in the civilian world?
“Stand clear of the yellow line. Fast train approaching,” blared from the loudspeakers. A flash of metal and momentum blew by, sucking the air from my chest and clearing the cache of my wandering mind.
With newfound clarity, I realized that our military identity lies deep within our hearts, not in outward signs and symbols. Soon, Francis’ uniform will be stored in the back of the hall closet, but he will always be a Navy veteran. And our family will always be a military family through and through.
The Number 95 arrived right on time, and as I stepped off the platform and onto the train, I knew that our military life was not coming to an end. We are simply onto the next stop as our wonderful journey continues.