Friday, June 7, 2013

Happy Alive Day, Drew!

Throughout one’s lifetime, a person will have key, landmark events or journeys that will shape their memories and their history. For example, the most landmark event that had occurred in my lifetime before last summer was the attack on the World Trade Center in September 2001. For my generation, it will always be one of those events that will forever be imprinted in our minds. If you ask anyone, they’ll be able to tell you where they were and what they were doing when that plane hit the first tower. I remember it being a Tuesday. And as a freshman at the University of Georgia, I was lucky enough to only have one class on Tuesdays and Thursdays my first semester. That class was a PE class—volleyball— and I was on the campus transit when I heard of the devastation over the bus’s radio. And the rest is history… 

Unfortunately for us, most people have more than one landmark event that will ever be imprinted in our minds. The second, and now most important, event for me was on June 7, 2012. It was a summer day in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I had on black slacks, comfortable black high heels, and a mauve colored, short-sleeved knit top that I wore to work that day. I remember feeling good that day. It was a Thursday—almost the weekend—and although I hadn’t heard from Drew (who was deployed), I wasn’t as worried as I normally was. It was a rough deployment, with a lot of people getting hurt, and although my friends and I could usually predict, sense, and fret over when there was a communication blackout (meaning someone got hurt or killed,) I never had my sixth sense that day. Ironic.

I even remember snapping a picture of myself from my desk at work and emailing it to Drew that day—smiling and writing that I loved him. You know… the usual stuff you do when you’ve got a loved one deployed.

Little did I know that Drew wouldn’t be checking his email that day.

It was busy at work that day. As the Marketing/Admissions Director for an assisted living facility, I was always busy at work, which helped pass the time and the days when Drew was deployed. But on this particular day, I was working later than usual. The State was in our facility for the next few days to conduct our annual survey. This basically means that we were working long hours to ensure everything was up to par for the survey. Even though we were working late that day, I remember enjoying myself with my co-workers. With no end in sight, our boss decided to order us pizza for dinner. I volunteered to pick it up.

Pizza Hut was exactly 1.1 miles down the road. I knew the exact distance because I used to give directions to our facility from that intersection. After picking up the pizza, I started the short drive back to work. My cell phone started ringing. It was a local number. Assuming it was one of my colleagues asking me to swing by the gas station to get them a drink or something, I answered. It wasn’t a co-worker.

The unfamiliar voice on the line asked, “Ms. Mills?” Suspecting it was some kind of telemarketer, I answered shortly, “yes.” Then he asked again, more persistent this time, “Is this Linda Mills?” Frustrated, I answered rather harshly, “YEAH. WHO’S THIS?!”

He introduced himself. When he stated that he was the commander for Rear D—that’s Rear Detachment, the group that stays behind while the unit is deployed to handle affairs such as these—my heart sank.

He continued. When he stated that my husband, Andrew Mills, was seriously injured by an improvised explosive device, the blood left my body.

Mind you, I’m still driving down the road.

His exact words were all a blur, but I do know that he didn’t have much to say. He mentioned soft tissue damage to the legs and a back injury. He mentioned “in surgery” or a “flight”…. or… something. But again, he didn’t say much. His voice sounded detached; tired. Now, a year later, I know why. He was busy making a lot of these phone calls during this deployment. And on June 7th alone, he probably had close to ten calls to make. Having gone through volunteer CARE Team training, I remembered the three, different levels of injury that the Army used. I asked him, “What level of injury is my husband classified as?” He responded, grimly, “VSI.” VSI stands for Very Seriously Ill/Injured. Through my training, I remembered soldiers classified as VSI usually didn’t make it. VSI was the worst possible level of injury.

The blood left my body. Again.

The above conversation and emotions happened in less than half a mile’s drive. It all happened so quickly. It was all so… surreal. I soon pulled into work, left the pizza in my car, and found my boss and co-workers inside. I remember sitting in the front office, just staring off. I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t throwing up. I just stared and answered their questions. They didn’t really “get it” though. I, surprisingly, was the only person at work who really had any ties to the military.

Lucky for me, I had two RNs on staff, and I walked to their office. I asked them, “What is a soft tissue injury?” It didn’t sound too serious to me at the time…

I worried about the term “back injury” that was given to me. I feared paralysis.

Naivety saved me that day… and the next week to follow.

I was offered a ride home by several co-workers. I declined. I got back in my car, and somehow managed to start the drive home.

Unknowingly at the time, June 7, 2012 would be my last day at work.

I remember calling my dad. I remember the stoplight on Reilly Road where I was when I told him, and when his exclamation of fear carried across the phone. I can still, to this day, hear that sound that my dad made. You never want to hear your dad express sadness or fear.

I called several friends next. Army wife friends. Three of them met me at my house immediately. They were my family. They were all I had at Fort Bragg. My parents would drive up from Georgia the next day…

Now, I must wait.

Several hours passed, and I received no information. Nothing. Nada. Not a phone call. I called the gentleman back who had notified me. I told him that I had some questions for him since I’ve had several hours to process the information. Even in a time of crisis, I tried to use inference and deductive reasoning as best as possible with the little information that I had. They’re not allowed to tell us much of anything. It didn’t stop me from asking him directly if Drew were the one that stepped on the bomb. He stated that all he knew was that Drew was “in the vicinity.” I chalked that up as a positive at the time. I concluded that he had a better chance of survival and recovery if he hadn’t stepped on it directly. It now saddens me that someone I know was the one who did, though. I also asked him if all notifications had been made. He hesitated, but he told me “no.” I knew at that point that someone(s) had died. I feared for my friends. I knew so many of those guys and their wives. They were family.

It was a mass-casualty attack that day. And we would later find out that Brandon Goodine gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Personally, I was still fearful of the doorbell ringing that night… or the next day. With my friends at my house, I would make frequent trips to the front door and driveway at every sound I heard, fearing they would come notify me in person that Drew hadn’t made it.

I wasn’t playing the waiting game very well. And luckily for me, I knew the right people who could help get me more information. At around midnight that night, I made a phone call to the Army’s Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Center. A warm voice greeted me on the other side of the line. I told him who I was, who my husband was, and if I could get any additional information. After a few clicks on his computer, he gave me what I needed.

It wasn’t much. And it wasn’t complete, but it was something. He said, “Ma’am, your husband is currently being transported from Kandahar (K03 hospital) to Bagram. He is currently on a ventilator. We don’t have much more information than this, but I can tell you that they would NOT be transporting him if he weren’t stable enough.” He encouraged me to call anytime, and that they would be updating me regularly. Four months later, in October 2012, through personal connections of my Uncle Mike, we would obtain pictures of Drew in the ICU at Kandahar on the ventilator. Chills.

To me, the Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Center was like that oasis in the desert. Why hadn’t I been given their phone number six hours earlier? Why doesn’t EVERY military spouse with a loved one deployed have this phone number on speed dial?! I later was flabbergasted that this wasn’t commonplace. Or maybe it was, but Drew’s unit didn’t know about it.

But regardless, I got the number. Thanks to one of my ArmyStrong friends who knew the right person.

I felt some relief. Very little, but some. I still wasn’t crying much. I remember getting emotional when I feared Drew being in pain and alone, with no one there to comfort him. I was still in shock. My friends departed soon after that. I told them to leave and that I was “OK” and felt more at peace after receiving that little bit of information. I was left to battle the night by myself. I really wasn’t OK.

As expected, sleep didn’t come. I got a phone call at around 2am. It was a surgeon in Bagram. I remember his European accent being warm and friendly, like something out of an animated Disney film. He had just finished operating on Drew. He had stated that Drew was stable, and that they saved his legs… for now.

I didn’t like, nor truly fully understand, what the “for now” clause meant.

That next morning, I was speaking to a nurse in Bagram. After giving me more updated information, he stated that Drew wanted to TALK to me. They had expected him to be on the ventilator for many hours to come. But I should have known that my hard-headed husband wouldn’t have it that way… 

The rest is history. June 7th (thankfully) came and went. That next morning, after hearing Drew’s voice, I began Drew’s story—our story—on Facebook:

June 8, 2012 near Spring Lake, NC 
“To All My Friends: For those of you that don't know, Drew was severely injured in an IED explosion yesterday. In the short 12 hours that I've known of his injuries, prayers have been received and answered. He was able to be flown from a Kandahar Hospital to Bagram Air Field, where he underwent a long surgery. I got a phone call at 2am from his surgeon stating that he was on a ventilator and in ICU recovering. He has soft tissue damage to both legs, with the left being the worse. His tibia was fractured in his right leg, and he was suspected of a C-Spine injury. The Doctor stated he would be intubated for 12 hours before they stabilized him to be flown to Germany for more operations. About an hour ago, I got a call from a nurse who stated, "Your husband wants to talk to you." !!!!!!!! Drew was awake and off the ventilator in about 5 hours times. Of course he was... he's Superman! He was extremely sedated but sounded like his normal self. He said, "Hey honey bunny. Baby, I've got a big chunk missing from my leg... but I still have my man parts." He also stated that he couldn't imagine the pain Travis Mills went through when losing all his limbs. He cussed the Taliban multiple times. He asked me to pray for the others that were involved in the explosion. He is expected to fully recover and will be getting an 8 hour flight to Germany at 4am Bagram time. I'm extremely blessed and grateful that my husband is still here with us today. He's such a strong, honorable man. Please keep all our soldiers in your prayers and thank you all again for the overwhelming support.”

It’s so strange to go back to the very beginning. It’s so weird realizing how very little information that I knew, and what I did know, how it proved to be incorrect or inaccurate. Most of the injuries I mentioned in the above status weren’t correct. I believe it was for the best that I was so na├»ve about the extent of his injuries in the very beginning.

Facebook would soon become our connection to our friends and family. Never expecting his recovery to be this long and involved, I would soon find myself typing dozens and dozens of “updates” on Facebook over the next year.

Another eight, long days would pass before we would reunite on June 15, 2012 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

Words don’t do justice the amount of gratitude, appreciation, humility, and love we have for all of our family and friends who have supported us this last year. No prayer, gift, visit, phone call, meal, card, knowledge, useful connection, or other act of kindness has gone unnoticed. I can wholeheartedly say that we couldn’t have gotten through this past year without each and every one of you and your prayers. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

So there you have it: That was June 7, 2012. The first day of the rest of our lives.

Our journey has just begun. It’s been, and will continue to be, a long one at that—a roller coaster ride for certain. But every tragedy proves to have a silver lining… if you allow it to. We’ll continue to include you in our journey if you’d like to join us.

So, without further ado:

Today is June 7, 2013… All aboard!

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” Maria Robinson

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Sun Always Shines After the Rain

I've had a bad day. All around.

But after coming home and watching this update on Travis Mills's recovery, I feel somewhat ashamed at what I label or classify as a "bad day." He actually writes off  losing all his limbs as his "bad day" or having a "case of the Mondays." He is such a true inspiration-- words cannot really describe how amazing I think he is. And I have no doubt, as he mentions in the interview, that he will help and continue to serve others through teaching and/or motivational speaking.

So, be like me... and bookmark that video. That way, when I (or you) have a bad day... we can be smacked back in to perspective.

And although it's nearly the end of the day, I came home from work beyond determined to find a cure for the "badness" that ensued today. So, in addition to watching that above-mentioned clip, I decided to go against my normal, post-work routine and surround myself with All That is Drew

We all have our rituals during deployment. Ask any military spouse-- they will probably be able to share quite a few things he/she does daily during a deployment. Call us superstitious if you'd like, but I like to see it as holding on to the very special thoughts, items, and processes that help us get through every single day our loved ones are in harm's way.

With that being said...until today, only my close friends were aware that I haven't slept in our master bedroom since the week Drew deployed. I've almost treated it like a museum... wanting to keep everything the way Drew left it. Preserving All That is Drew. The blue jeans he wore the day before he deployed are still lying on the bathroom floor, with the belt still in the belt loops. His loose change is still sitting around on the nightstand. His hand-written, pre-deployment packing lists are still on the sink in the bathroom. Everything is pretty much as if he'll be home any minute... to carry on our lives together.

I've even informed him that I refuse to wash his very full basket of laundry until I know he is en route home safely. (Nothing has smelled too badly... yet!)

So, tonight... while I was hanging out in our room with high hopes that Drew's presence would cheer me up, I opened his night stand drawer.

I found a little notebook that I gave him in August 2009-- right before he deployed to Afghanistan the last time. I hand-picked and hand-wrote pages and pages and pages of my favorite quotes-- quotes that I thought would help him get through his days (good or bad!) I also wrote him a letter-- encouraging him to write in a journal while he was gone.

But what really made me just laugh, smile, and cry the most was the 2 pages I labeled as:

"20 Things I Love About You"
  1. Your panda bear eyes
  2. The way you get your shower sponge all sudsy
  3. How you think you're the "Alpha Male" around all dogs
  4. The "musky" smell of your car. --> (Now my car!)
  5. The way you look in New Balance tennis shoes
  6. Your monkey ears
  7. Your "Mr. Rilllleeeeyyyy" voice --> (that's our dog!)
  8. The way you say 'member instead of "remember"
  9. How you look in your uniform
  10. Your smile (small teeth!)
  11. The fact that you don't snore
  12. The way you make the bed and fold clothes
  13. Your left handedness
  14. Your hands
  15. Your "trademark pose" in pictures
  16. The scar on the back of your head
  17. Your handwriting
  18. How well you chop veggies when we cook
  19. Your snuggles, even when you annoy me --> (I like my personal space. :) )
  20. Your love, patience, kindness, support, and companionship... to me.

I feel so much comfort knowing that ALL 20 of those items still hold true... nearly 3 years later. If you know Drew, you will understand and appreciate most of these. And if you don't know Drew-- just know that this very small moment in my day... turned it from Bad to Good.

I know you can find your "moment" too. And as I always encourage and say with any advice that I give...

... Find It... and Go There.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Adventure Is Just Bad Planning

I've always been a planner.

Planning my day through checklists and benchmarks; planning my weekend with friends; planning dinner parties, theme parties, and house parties; planning my future career and planning my future family. Planning, planning, planning.

Becoming an Army Wife was not part of my plan.

I went through my Life envisioning my future (as we all do.) I graduated high school with honors, graduated from the University of Georgia with a business degree and a dream, and then graduated from grad school with an MBA... and a bigger dream. My Life was on track-- on my plan...

...Until 4 years ago this weekend.

As everyone knows, today is Memorial Day. A weekend in which I usually take an extra day off work and head to the beach, the lake, or a backyard with a pool. It marks the beginning of summer. It's always been one of my favorite weekends... probably because of the fun memories that I've experienced over this long, holiday weekend.

I'm slightly embarrassed that Memorial Day weekend didn't hold more meaning to me than the BBQ, beer, and bronzing that I experienced... until 4 years ago.

I never would have imagined that I'd become part of an exclusive club the One Percent and become humbled by Memorial Day... and every day on the calendar for that matter... until 4 years ago.

And I definitely would have never imagined that I'd spend Memorial Day experiencing anxiety and worry from a weekend full of deployment "Missions" and "Communication Blackouts"... until 4 years ago.

4 years ago this weekend, I was en route to Panama City Beach, FL. A weekend of fun in the sun was in store for me, as it usually was Memorial Day weekend. Upon our arrival to the beach, my sister Paula and her friend Cassie convinced me that we needed to have a night on the town. I was tired after a full day of work and a 4.5 hour drive, but for some reason, I found the energy to join them.

We randomly met a group of guys at a local bar. We ended up hanging out with them for the next 5 days, which in turn, became one of the most memorable weekends of my Life...

...4 years ago is when I met my husband.

4 years ago is when my Life changed forever... and when my Plan was thrown out the window.

I think back to that weekend a lot. I think about the Sunday on the beach, when our newly formed group of friends was enjoying the surf and sand, but my future husband was no where to be seen. When I asked one of the other guys where Drew snuck off to, he stated that he needed some time alone... to think and reflect. I didn't really "get it" back then. But Drew went to think and pray for some of his friends he had lost during his 15-month deployment to Iraq... just a few months earlier.

Drew was celebrating Memorial Day... the right way. (And when he returned to the group after some time away, he came back with flowers for us girls to wear behind our ears.) :)

And now, 4 years later, my Life is so different.

I'm so honored, appreciative, and grateful for what I have. I'm so proud that I now "get" what Memorial Day is all about. I'm so humbled by those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

And sure, my Memorial Day weekends from here on out will still consist of the beach, backyard, or BBQs with friends and family. But, I can... and will... silently reflect on the true meaning of the holiday.

And no matter what your plans are, or where Life takes you... I hope you will do the same.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Strength Training 101

Back when I was young, my sisters and I seemed to roam the streets day in and day out. Whether we were riding our bikes, playing roller hockey, basketball, or four square...or driving in our go-cart or jumping on the trampoline, we seemed to grow up strong-- with thick skin. And I, particularly, seemed to be able to handle "rough and tough." Whether I was falling out of a tire swing 20 feet in the air, crashing off my bike on a sleep hill, or getting pushed over by a neighborhood boy while rollerblading... I seemed to be able to get right back up and keep on going. (My sister, Susan, will still blame my clumsiness on my left handedness.) And I've got lots of scars to prove all the "fun" I had. But regardless of my faulty attributes, I always claimed to be a "strong" girl. As I continued to age and mature, I still found myself hanging with the guys-- holding my own. Physically or mentally, I was always up for a challenge-- with quite the mouth that wasn't afraid to stand up, speak out, and show how "strong" I was.

And now, I realize... I didn't know what Strong was until this year. I've hit new lows (and thankfully new highs, too) that I never thought I'd encounter. I can confidently say that I've experienced every emotion possible in the last few months:

Worry. Anger. Fear. Dread. Sadness. Happiness. Relief. Excitement.

And there are just a few people out there that know the extent of my last few months. For about 3 weeks time, I wondered what I did to deserve such bad news. Such heartache. Such disappointment. It's hard not to get mad and question everything in your Life when you keep getting thrown curve balls-- curve balls with spikes and spines! Ouch!

Details aren't necessary.

But what is necessary is the fact that I discovered the Strength to get through it all.  And no matter who you are, or what you're going through, you can too.

And since it's been nearly 4 weeks since my last blog entry, I figured tonight couldn't be more perfect to write... again. After all, Drew just finalized his re-enlistment today.  Many have asked me today, "What?! WHY would he do that!?" And I just smile. Sure, he may have sold his soul to Uncle Sam for yet another 6 years (8 years down!), but I couldn't be more proud of his Strength to do so. Think about it: Only a small portion of our One Percent choose to make the Army their career and commit their lives-- and their families' lives-- to the Military.

But let's face it-- One Percent or not, Life is hard. Crisis will enter in our work, our relationships, our finances, or just our day to day struggles. But despite it all, we all will find the Strength. The Courage. The Motivation... to get through it all.

But, how?

Well, that's a great question. And while we're all different people, with different personalities, and different problems, we can all make sure we have the following locked and loaded in our arsenals:
  • Your Faith. No matter what or who you believe in--turn to it. And Believe.
  • Your Family. Blood or not, make sure your support system is on call 24-7.
  • Your Friends. Whether they deliver ice cream or take you to the gym (maybe after the ice cream?)-- use them to keep busy and maintain your normal, everyday Life.
  • Your Fortune. And I don't mean your monetary wealth. Remember all the good that is still in your Life and be continually grateful for it....

And you just have to remember:

It. Will. Get. Better. No. Matter. What.

So, who knows. Maybe those days in the "streets" did help me become a Strong person. But whether they did or didn't, I've come a long way... and I'm proud of how Strong I've become...

And I bet that I can still play a mean game of four-square...

"A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sail Away With Me, Honey...

It's Thursday night, and I don't quite have the strength to post an all-inclusive blog about my insanely crazy week. Not yet anyways. But I'm sure the strength will come with time.

But I do want to briefly write about Nostalgia. And the power that lies within the sights, smells, and sounds of our memory. The images that can take us back to a place we yearn for. The mental images that can be more powerful than any photograph or video can do justice.

Out of nowhere this week, a song popped in my head. I do consider it one of my all-time favorites, no matter what new music enters my Life. I do have it on my mega-list-of-songs on my iPod. But I hadn't heard it in quite some time. Until tonight.

I had thought about it multiple times this week, but I just hadn't taken the time to play it. To listen to it. To remember the power it holds for me.

But I asked myself: Why did the song pop in my head this week?

And now I know. After the week that it's been, I now know that my subconscious was trying to take my back to a happier place.

A place that will always mean more to me than any other physical place on this planet. A place where I have the most positive memories in my life. And most importantly, a place where I met the Love of my Life.

The Beach is that place for me. The Coast. The Ocean. The Shoreline. Heaven on Earth.

My mind takes me there more than any other place. Too bad my mind can't rack up frequent flyer miles.

I've spent many years-- many springs, many summers, and even Chrstimas at the Beach. I could sit here and fill this blog with many images-- many pictures-- of my favorite beach memories. But what I want to focus on is how powerful one's mind can be, especially in a time of stress.

And this week, my mind did exactly that when it was thinking of this song. It did exactly that to bring me closer to Drew.

And I must admit that Drew believes in more things than I do. He has more dreams and more goals than I do. I, sometimes, limit myself too much with reality.

And now in his absence, I'm starting to realize how powerful his thoughts and beliefs are. How I need his positive thinking-- his dreams-- when I'm struggling through Life.

And this week... his Dream entered my subconscious with this song. And if you know him well enough, you know his Dream:

He would love to get a a meager, yet satisfying, life, and sail those waters that mean so much to both of us. And even though I'm crying as I type this, I'm laughing too. Because again... if you know him well enough, you've heard his sales pitch: "I'll fish; you (Linda) can cook potatoes. Riley (our dog) would love the boat... and so would our babies." And then, if you were in that taxi cab with us on the way to the Atlanta Braves game a few years ago, you would have shared our laughter when a wee-bit-intoxicated-Drew claimed he wanted to live "under the sea." Just like SpongeBob. :)

So there you have it, my friends. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Find your happy place... and go there.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday Share: 4/15/12

It's been exactly 112 days since the last time I've seen my family. In all of my (soon to be) 29 years of living, that's the longest I've ever gone without blessing my family with my presence.

And I miss them. I miss "home." Even though I'm approaching 2 years living at Fort Bragg, it's taken me a while for me this realize that home really is where the heart is. And I guess, after much denial, I've realized... I'm home.

I spent a lot of today reflecting... as I always do on Sundays. And my theme for tonight's Sunday Share fell into place without having to look very far. After this week's series of events, I'm starting to realize something else more and more. And I've always known it-- I just haven't had to quite utilize it, (and REALLY appreciate it), until this week:

Friends are relatives you make for yourself. ~ Eustaches Deschamps

So, despite my absence from my blood family these last few months, I've never felt more loved. More complete. More part of a Family.

And I have some proof-- some evidence-- of how amazing these people really are.

Upon awaking from my much needed nap this afternoon, I found that I had not one. Not two. But three text messages from three friends. All supportive, encouraging, and full of love.

I found this one too good not to share:

I am sitting on my back deck reflecting, and I just wanted you to know that I think you are an absolute beautiful person both in and out! I hope you have a wonderful day!

Amazing. And I wondered what I could have possibly done to deserve such loving words.

Then, a few hours later, I turned to Facebook and saw two more amazing items that a friend posted:

Here is an incredible photo taken from my army wife friend's husband's platoon. One of their platoon's soldiers was severely injured and yesterday was his 25th birthday. Last night I got to hang out with some of these amazing ladies, toast to our heroes, and recreate our own supportive photo, and really feel lucky enough to share what being Army strong is all about.

Now, how powerful is that!?

And, the same friend, references the very same thoughts in her blog. And she finishes it up with the perfect catch phrase: "There's strong, and then there's Army Strong. This is what ArmyStrong is all about."

These are just a few examples of how powerful, rewarding, supportive, compassionate, caring, loving, and amazingly awesome my friends family is.

And that, my friends, is what I want to briefly talk to you about this evening.

We are all human beings. We all crave love and affection. And in the absence of our blood family, I think having a support system of friends-- true friends-- is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves.

So, not matter who you are-- military or not-- works towards this. Find your home... no matter where you live physically. Make sure you surround yourself with friends that will build you up and support you, no matter how weak of a foundation you have. Start small. One person can make the difference in your life. And remember: Family isn't just about blood and shared chromosomes-- it's bigger, wider, deeper than that.

And lastly, I want to share our Family Photo from yesterday. I know I usually don't post pictures on my blog, but when you have an amazing family like I do... it's hard not to "Bragg."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Slow Ride... Take It Easy...

Today is Friday, the 13th.
And today is also one of the first days that I've had Writer's Blogger's Block. Don't get me wrong-- my mind has been FILLED with thoughts, emotions, ideas, advice, quotes, and lessons. But nothing felt quite write right to share. Until tonight.

As much of a nutcase that I can be on some days, (I'm sure Stacy, Tori, Crystal, and many others would agree to this statement), I'm actually quite the rational person. And when it comes to my blog, I want it to feel right before I put pen to paper-- or, finger to keyboard.

I could have blogged about how nervous I was on Tuesday. It had been quite a few days since I had heard from Drew, and I just knew something didn't feel right.

I could have blogged about how I was up most of the early hours of Wednesday, after finding out about an unfortunate series of events that left 3 of Drew's platoon mates, (Ryan Theriot, Brandon Fessey, and Travis Mills), seriously injured-- with Travis suffering the worst of the injuries and losing all of his limbs from stepping on an IED in Afghanistan.

I could have blogged about how I spent all of Wednesday, home from work, trying to reason and understand and accept how something so horrid could happen to someone I know. And how my heart ached beyond belief for his wife, his 4 month old baby, their families... and our other soldiers who were there.

I could have blogged about how I went back to work on Thursday, still heavily distracted, depressed, and worried for all those involved. Or I could have mentioned that, despite the circumstances, we do not and will not have control over such situations, and we must push through the obstacles and stay strong for our soldiers and for those that need our support.

But I do need to take a moment to thank and recognize my friends and family, colleagues, and support system-- for their love and compassion. Because, although we may never truly understand how it feels to be those families of Ryan, Brandon, and Travis, we do mourn and empathize with them. Wholeheartedly.

So, that brings us to today: Friday the 13th.

I was damned determined to make it a good day. Yes, I find myself superstitious at times, but I was going to make conscious effort to ensure my day was happy, worry-free, and as normal as possible. And it was today, when my mind slowed down a bit, and I finally realized after the most-mega-rollercoaster-ride of a week... what I would blog about.

But before we get started, let's talk about Fayetteville.

Ahhhh, lovely Fayetteville, NC. You gotta love it. Award winning All-American City. It's close to the beach; it's close to the city; it's close to the mountains. It's home to the largest Army Installation in the world-- Fort Bragg.

It's also home to me, Linda Mills, the most annoyed Fayettevillian (I have no idea if that is even a word). And I am the most annoyed person in town thanks to the potpourri of citizens that call Fayetteville home. And with their lovely presence comes their lovely driving skills. Or lack thereof.

Every day, I drive down All American Expressway and Cliffdale Road on my way to work. Yes, I'm usually running a few minutes late. Yes, I like to get to where I'm going and wouldn't consider myself a slow driver... but holy moly!, I've never experienced such bad, FAST drivers in my life.

And it blows my mind. These people want to drive 80 in a 45 and rush to the next red light less than a quarter mile away. That's even if they can SEE that the light is red. And if they do, it doesn't matter to them. It's green in their world...

So after me really wanting to survive Friday the 13th, I slowed down more than I usually do and started my thinking...

 People really need to slow down... not just on the roads, but in Life in general.

Everyone's in such a rush to get through the day, and they seem to move through Life only with their agenda on mind. We're rather selfish creatures if you ask me.

And it's not until after a loss, a tragedy, or a life-changing event that people really realize how grateful they truly should be or realize how wonderful something or someone was until it's too late.

And, lately for me, I feel like an outsider looking in. I try to appreciate everyone and everything in my life during this deployment. And as high strung, Type A, nutso that I am... I really have been trying to make a conscious effort to slow down.

So, now I'd like to share a story about part of my day today:

I was coming back into Fayetteville after taking a trip out to Raeford for some work obligations. After surviving the journey on the autobahn I like to call the "401 Bypass to Hell," I stopped in Wal-Mart over my lunch break. While browsing the greeting card section to find some cards of encouragement to send to those above-mentioned families, I looked up and was extremely startled by a gentleman that approached me.

He was an older man. With very inquisitive eyes. He was standing a little too close for my comfort. My first and only instinct was "Fight of Flight?!" I immediately chose Flight, of course, but was stopped in my tracks for some strange reason. We stared at each other for what felt like a lifetime.

I really don't know what motivated me to actually slow down, stop, and appease this gentleman. I feel like the "old" Linda would have brushed him off and ran down the next conveniently located greeting card aisle. But I didn't. I let myself process his presence, despite what felt to be an awkward eternity.

I never caught his name, but he basically wanted me to help him choose the "right" cards for many occasions: His wife's best friend's birthday, which was belated (April 1); his anniversary; Mother's Day; and the death of a cousin.

His wife had just had cancer removed for the 2nd time. She missed her best friend's birthday. She insisted that her husband NOT pick out a belated birthday card because that "just wasn't right." She wanted him to pick out a card about friendship. Then he wanted to pick out a perfect card for his wife for their anniversary and for Mother's day. At this time, he proceeded to tell me his life story about how he and his wife met:

They were in 9th grade. Friends which later developed into more. Upon graduation from high school, he joined the Navy and they went their separate ways. She married a man, a Colonel, who was abusive. I don't know if they divorced or he died, but my new friend and his long-lost love were reunited at their 35th High School Reunion in South Carolina. He exclaimed that it took him 4 more years of talking every day on the phone for him to convince her to marry him.

Now they're married. And she's apologizing for the Cancer. He shook his head at the thought of her ridiculousness.  

I spent upwards of 15 minutes with this gentleman. And at the end of the conversation, his attention turned to me for the 1st time. We started talking about the reason I was there. And what cards I was buying. I gave him a one-sentence run down of what happened.

He bowed down a bit... and thanked me.

He disclosed that he felt I had one of the hardest jobs in the world. He said that he went to Vietnam twice, and it was no concern to him until his little brother went. He said, "when we're over there, us guys know that we just need to get our butts back home. But it's you wives that have to worry about us and everyone else."

We talked for a few more minutes about the military and how proud we both are.

And now I know why I didn't use my "flight" instinct. I knew God presented him to me for a reason. He wanted me to slow down and listen to this man's story-- a story that would uplift me and make me feel gracious. And to remind me of what I had been saying all week to many others-- about the roles the families play; about the War the the families fight back home. My life; my week-- was coming full circle. 

And to wrap up my Friday the 13th, I had the honor and privilege to speak with Tom Sileo, with The Unknown Soldiers. I got to tell my story; Drew's story; our story. I got to represent the One Percent in the most wonderful of ways. Tom plans to use my words-- my experiences-- my opinions and emotions-- my passion and pride of the U.S. Army-- and share them with the rest of the world in his nationally syndicated newspaper column.

Now, how cool is that?!

So, I allowed myself a lot of time tonight to digest this week's events-- good and bad. And it hit me...

...And it's rather simple:

Slow down. Enjoy Life. Appreciate Life. And, as we say in the South: Be Blessed.