27 April 2010

They got me for another 4!

Ah yes, reenlistment time. Yesterday, I took the oath to defend my country for another four years in the Air Force. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. The first time that I reenlisted in 2004, I was excited and looking forward to serving another four years in the military. This time around the excitement is definitely missing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm more than thankful for everything that the military has taught me, given me, and allowed me to be a part of. I am in a different and probably better place in my life because of the military and wouldn't want it any other way. I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I didn't take that oath back in 2001 (I was in the delayed enlistment program for 10 months before going to basic training). I'm sure there are people out there that can tell you exactly how they would be if they didn't make the decision to join the military, whether they'd be better or worse off. I know for me, the Air Force has done a lot for me and I wouldn't be where I am in my life without it.

When I first came in and first reenlisted, I was so proud to wear the uniform everyday and pictured myself wearing for 20+ years. The pride I felt whenever I talked to someone about bring in the military was overwhelming and I felt so good knowing I was serving my country. Alas, the times have changed. I'm coming up on my eight year mark (this June) and I no longer see going past 20. I blame Dan. Lol. Seriously, my priorities have changed. It was difficult deploying twice while Genevieve was young; the first time I left she was 11 months ( I came back to a running, talking, sassy 16 month old) and the second time she was 2.5 years old. After seeing how she tried to cope with Dan gone his last deployment last year I am glad I went when she didn't know what was going on but it's always harder on the parent knowing what you're missing. Dan and I want a big family and I want to be able to raise our kids without the fear that I might have to leave for short periods here and there because the Air Force needs me in the desert.

Maybe if we weren't living in California, I'd be enjoying terminal leave and figuring out what I want to major in while staying at home and taking care of the house while Dan brings home the bacon. That was one of the top reasons why I swore in for another time- California is too damn expensive (with or without the economy being complete crap) and even if we are technically pulling in 6 figures combined, we never see it because of bills and living expenses thanks to California livin'. The main reason I chose to stay is because as much as I do eventually want out; I'm not quite ready to let go of my security blanket. The military is all I know and I don't even know what I want to do when I grow up let alone what I want to major in.

I am still proud of serving my country. I am part of the less than 1% of the US population currently serving in the military. I am part of the 9% of the US population that has EVER served their country. There are more people working at Wal-Mart than there are people currently serving their country. I still and will always "bleed blue*" for the rest of my life. It's just that I feel I am needed more at home to help with our growing family than belonging to the military at this time in my life. No matter how I'm feeling about staying in or trying to make plans to get out, I will serve my next four years with a sense of pride and continue to give my all until I feel I can't (which will be my exit cue).

Maj Gibson giving me my oath of enlistment, in my huge maternity blues and all.

*an expression used to describe Airmen that are Air Force through and through, blue is the Air Force's color

03 April 2010

The most difficult thing I've done in my career

This June will be my eight year anniversary in the military. I've deployed, gone TDY, performed details around base, made friends, met the love of my life, witnessed plenty of retirements and change of commands, and attended military memorials for members I've never met but wanted to pay my respects. The toughest thing I've had to do in my career thus far happened this past Thursday. Even harder than being deployed away from Genie when she was a baby because I knew that I would see her at the end of the rotation.

I had to listen to taps being played for a friend.

One of the biggest cons of being in the military is having to leave all the great friends and people you've met during an assignment to move to another base. Pope AFB was my first assignment and has been my best assignment so far. The camaraderie of the 41st airlift squadron was strong, even with our high deployment tempo. As much as deploying away from loved ones is something no one really wants to do, I saw it as another rotation for the squadron to grow tighter as we all got to know each other more during those trips to the sandbox.

Todd Brunkhorst was a butter bar when I first met him. He was brand new to the squadron and like all other aircrew that came in, I inprocessed him. He had this excited, happy-go-lucky attitude about him and anyone could tell that he was anxious to get his training started. I didn't quite understand it until I talked to him during his first deployment that he had always wanted to be an Air Force pilot. Todd was always smiling, I can't recall ever seeing him upset, angry, or even sad. He knew how to get people to crack a smile even when they weren't in the mood to.

Going to the memorial for him this past Thursday was.... unreal. I couldn't believe that it was the reason I was seeing him again, seeing his wife, Maryanna again. She was also in our squadron at Pope and I'm glad I got to witness the beginning of their relationship.

I found out the both of them were out here in California and we tried to get together but of course, busy schedules make it difficult for friends to get together. The next time I tried to get together with him was when he told me that he had a brain tumor. I was in shock. I told him that it would be OK, that Dan's mom was a two time brain cancer survivor. He was still in good spirits about it and told me he'd let me know when he'd be out of the hospital. The last time we contacted each other, he didn't want me to visit him in the hospital and I left it at that. Let him know I was thinking and praying for him and waited for him to let me know when we could get together.

I found out from a friend on Sunday that he had lost his fight. I couldn't believe it and went to visit his facebook page. Sure enough, people were starting to share memories and post how much they missed him. I still couldn't really believe it. On Tuesday I went to lunch with Nick Torres, a fellow Black cat (our squadron mascot from the 41st) who is at Travis with me and we talked about Brunkie. He had told me about talking to Maryanna and that there would be a memorial on Thursday for him. Of course I was going to be there. As much as part of me didn't want to go because I knew I wouldn't be able to contain my emotions (pregnant or not), I needed to be there for Maryanna.

Words can't describe the emotions and thoughts that ran through me as I made my way up to Beale AFB two days ago. I didn't know what to expect when I got there. It still didn't hit me that he was gone, part of me was struggling to convince the other part that he was in the hospital and that I'd wake up from the dream shortly. I finally arrived at the chapel and waited in line to sign the guest book. I could hear soft music playing as I walked through the door. Nick greeted me and we walked towards the front and sat three rows away from Maryanna and Todd's mom and brothers. I remember after taking my seat at the end of the aisle and putting my hat down I looked up to see the slide show that was playing and being shocked that Todd's casket was there. I was in no way prepared to see it and lost it. I tried burying my face in my hands, stifling my cries. Nick told me that there was a tissue box next to my chair (they were thoughtful enough to put tissue boxes next to each row) and as I reached down to get it, a flyer had actually got up from his seat to hand it to me.

When the service started, there were songs sung, music played, memories shared, and the flag presentation. The flag that was draped over Todd's coffin was folder and presented to Maryanna by his squadron commander. That was the last time I cried during that portion of the memorial, I think I went through about 20 tissues while we were inside. After that, we were invited to go outside for the remainder of the service- 21 gun salute and the playing of taps. I wanted to stay inside. Hearing taps is the saddest thing for any military member. After we were all outside and in place, the base honor guard team started the 21 gun salute. All that was going through my head was to choke back the tears (as much as I knew it wasn't going to help any), and then they sounded off taps. I tried my best to hold my salute even though all I wanted to do was hide my face in my hands again.

That was it. I attended a military memorial for someone I knew, someone I worked with and deployed with. He had full military honors and he deserved it. He would've been so proud.

We miss you, Brunkie. I know you're up there, back in the herc where you started your career as a pilot. I'm sure you're making everyone smile, playing pranks and doing 3 engine landings. Rest in Peace.