The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


August 27, 2010

Name: Charle Sherpa
Posting date: 8/27/10
Not deploying to: Afghanistan
Hometown: Boone, Iowa
Milblog: Red Bull Rising
Email: Sherpa at

There's been a lot of Family Readiness Group (F.R.G.) talk on Facebook about the times 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division soldiers might be allowed a 4-day pass from their pre-deployment training.

Not all soldiers will take their passes at the same times -- or in the same places -- making it an administrative nightmare and a potential gold mine for travel agents. Soldiers are restricted to travel within 300 miles of their duty station, which means they'll not be able to return to Iowa.

Not to be too contrary, but passes, in my opinion, can be a mixed blessing. Sure, it sounds great, getting together with your soldier for a few "extra" days before they leave for Afghanistan. Please remember, however, that not everyone -- especially lower-ranking soldiers and their families -- has the resources to spend money and time on travel, lodging, daycare, and whatever else it takes to get from Iowa to Mississippi for four days.

That doesn't mean they don't love their soldiers. That doesn't mean they don't want to see them. That does mean, however, that you should watch what you say. You may think you're only asking about someone's plans to visit their soldier ("Aren't you so excited about seeing your soldier?!"), but what they may be hearing is "If you don't visit your soldier, something is wrong with you and your family."

All of this is only one soldier's opinion, of course. Here are some other tips to consider regarding pre-deployment passes:

Talk honestly and directly with other family members about your expectations. One Red Bull spouse reports getting pressure from a not-so-passive-aggressive mother-in-law. Mother-in-law wants to visit her baby boy during pass-time. Meanwhile, Mrs. Red Bull wants a romantic stress-and-kids-free interlude before her husband disappears for 12 months. Please do not put your Red Bull soldier in such a crossfire.

Don't talk about times, dates, and places on public venues such as Facebook. I say again: Don't do it. It confuses other people, and causes them stress. Your soldier may have different opportunities than my soldier. What you've heard about Joe's unit doesn't necessarily apply to Joan's. Focus on your own family.

There's also something the Army calls "Operational Security" or "OPSEC." Basically, OPSEC means "keep Army stuff out of public view." If you were going on a family vacation, you'd lock your doors, put the lights on timers, and stop your mail and newspaper deliveries, right? Now, if you're careful enough to hide your departure in those common-sense ways, why would you announce publicly the dates of your upcoming visit with your Red Bull soldier?

Think about the trip home, too. Not all families may want to re-visit the pain of having to say good-bye. Only recently did my wife tell me how painful it was to leave after we said goodbye after a 4-day pass at my 2003 mobilization station. It was a long, long way home, and she kept bursting into tears. People kept asking if she was all right, and all she wanted was to be left alone. Knowing that story now, I wouldn't ask her to visit me this time -- particularly if she were traveling with our two kids.

Other soldiers and their families, of course, might choose differently. And that's really my point, no matter how grinchy I may sound today: We need to give each other's families the spaces to make those decisions.

Godspeed the Red Bull families, and their soldiers.


I was a military wife for almost 10yrs and totally agree with what you've blogged. My ex-husband was deployed 2003 and it was one of the hardest things we had to prepare for. I especially agree with what you wrote about passes. I couldn't wait ot see my husband, got a sitter lined up, and budgeted out for the 3-day pass. As the days got closer to seeing him, I realized that our kids and I had just starting to adapt to life without my ex-husband and would seeing him make it that much harder again? I did end up going but saying good-bye a second time was truly harder than the first. People think it would be easier because you've done it once already but it just makes it more real to have to say it again.

I really wish that I would have been able to read this posting before I left to visit my brother at Fort Jackon after Boot Camp. He was very happy to see us (Us meaning me, my sister, mother, his girlfriend, and 2 young kids), but he only had 2 days in which to visit with us, and 14 hours of that visit was spent on the road driving him to his AIT training. It was very stressful, expensive, and he got little sleep and rest during that time, which I know was one thing that he had looked forward to after spending nine weeks in training. I know that my mother missed him, and I did too, but the whole trip did not even seem like it helped him in any way to prepare for being his transfer, and now wish that I would not have gone, if anything, just so that it would give him the opportunity to rest and recuperate for the short time that he had. I love my brother, and wish him the best in his endeavors, but I will probably not visit again with him for a very long time, just because I know now that leave passes are meant for what the soldier would like to do with them, and not for what the family feels they need. I wish you well, and thank you for serving our country.

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