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.

IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE |

August 18, 2011

Name: 1SGT (retired) Troy Steward
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Keeping An Eye on Afghanistan

Twenty-four years ago when a young Bouhammer was running around with his hair on fire, invincible and thinking nothing could hurt him, he had no idea what was in store.

The day in June when my parents took me to the Memphis MEPS station, I remember my mom being all sad and never more than an arm’s reach from a tissue. I could not understand why she was so upset. Hey, I was getting out of the house, and about to tackle the world as a man. I was not going to live with them and go to some community college or work some dead-end job trying to figure out what I wanted to be in life. I was going into the Army destined to be an Airborne Infantryman.

But boy was Mom upset. Dad was pretty melancholy himself. I was excited, ready for the challenge, ready to be my own man, ready to take on the world and be all that I could be. I remember later Mom telling me how she cried all the way home after dropping me off. I don’t remember what I said or what I was thinking but I am sure it was something along the line of “Sheesh mom, you gotta cut the cord sometime."

Now 24 years later…..I get it. I friggen get it!

Last week as my wife and I were getting ready to leave home with our middle son and take him to the Citadel I found myself running around taking care of some errands. I also found myself having (extremely rare) emotional events. The day before we left, while by myself, I would just start crying. I guess it started hitting me. That my little guy was not that “little” guy anymore. He was about to embark on life. He would not be sitting in the living room anymore with his feet on the coffee table and me telling him to take his feet down. He would not be asking to borrow the car anymore. He would not be around to beat us terribly in Scrabble or any other game that his intellect provided him an unfair advantage. He would soon be crossing the sallyport into the Citadel barracks and being refined into more of a leader than he already is.

On Friday, which was his last free day before becoming a cadet, he and my wife and I spent a great day together. We ran around Charleston, SC, getting lots of the last minute things we needed on his packing list. We joked, we ran through a terrible rain-storm together and just generally enjoyed our time. I knew what was coming, I knew how it would be after we dropped him off on Saturday, but for the time being all was well and happy.

On Saturday morning, we spent our last few hours with him for a while. We helped him get moved into his room, and stuff un-packed, we walked around the campus, and even picked up some more last minute items. I was good until the loudspeaker announced that the parents had to leave and that all cadets were to report to their rooms. He turned, hugged his mom, and hugged me. I put a small memento in his hand, something to keep as a motivator, and I hugged him telling him how damn proud I was of him. I could not hold back anymore, the tears started to come. Once mine started, so did his and of course so did Mom’s.

He then turned and moved out quickly, following the orders from the loudspeaker.

It was then that I realized yet again how my parents felt 24 years ago. The pain in my heart and back of my throat was recognizable as I had experienced it before a few years back as we hugged my oldest son goodbye the day before he flew to Afghanistan.

But now I saw it, now I saw myself from the other side. I saw a young man ready to conquer the world, with a superior positive mental attitude (he spent the last few weeks professing the mantra “Failure is not an option”), and probably not sure why were sad. I realized later in the day it was not all tears of sadness, I mean some were because the last 18 years are gone and can never be reclaimed, but also tears of joy and pride.

He will do well in whatever he does, this I know. But boy what I would do to turn back the clock 18 years to that cool April morning as I held him in my arms for the first time amazed at the gift God had given us.

Let me close this by urging all who read this blog post whom have young ones at home to never take that time for granted. Try to soak up and enjoy every single minute that you can. Or else those moments will be gone “in the blink of an eye."

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"Cat's in the Cradle", Harry Chapin

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