Finally, two months and change after I dropped DH off in Massachusetts, I was able to see him again. I flew into Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 11 and picked up my rental car. At the rental car agency, I ran into an army major who provided all sorts of useful information. I lost his name and address before I could write a thank you note, unfortunately. After a two-hour drive to Columbus, I checked into the La Quinta hotel.
Early Wednesday morning, I set out to find Fort Benning. At Sand Hill, I waited with other family members for family day ceremonies to begin. Each platoon marched in singing cadences, some funny (“put me in a barber’s chair, spun me round I had no hair; the army life is not style, they’ve got me looking like Gomer Pyle”), some eerie, others downright creepy (“kill the enemy and take his soul, so early in the morning”).
I was toward the back and couldn’t even tell DH apart from the other bald-headed, uniformed men. When the platoons shouted their names, Renegades (DH’s), Wolf Pack, Mad Dogs, and Rough Riders, I could at least tell which group was his. After this very brief display, DH was mine for the day!
I kept double-checking to make sure I had the right soldier. While he wasn’t completely bald, DH’s “high and tight” haircut made me feel like I had a new husband! The haircut is a lot of fun to touch. DH also lost a bit of weight and was wearing camouflage throughout family day. Due to too many Vietnam movies, he looked most like a soldier when his dogtags occasionally peaked out of his green shirt.
I had rented a car and we set out to explore Columbus. Over the next few days, we covered every inch of the two main blocks of Columbus and the area surrounding our hotel. There is a surprisingly robust counter-culture in the area, and we quickly settled into the local coffee shop, “The Fountain.” The men were still not permitted to drink alcohol or smoke so you can imagine how many joined us there for their caffeine fix and internet access. DH was very excited about this opportunity to drink coffee and read the newspaper.
These two blocks also included a barbecue, a brewpub, Caribbean food, a used bookstore (“Judy Bug’s Books,” run by a man who LOVES the Wizard of Oz and can’t wait to travel to New York to see “Wicked,” you connect the dots), and access to the riverwalk and historic district. Outside of these blocks, you can find “Ranger Joe’s” (where we picked up some supplies for DH); strip malls; and, of course, strip clubs.
DH’s actual graduation was a lot shorter than I had anticipated. One of the drill sergeants immediately recognized me (DH had my pictures up in his locker) and directed me to the best vantage point. We heard the soldiers before we could see them. Finally, they marched onto the blacktop. There were speeches, and a short parade, and then we were allowed to go meet the men. DH was so handsome in his Class A’s (uniform equivalent to a suit) and I was so excited to spend a second day with him. I knew I would have to return him again to the barracks at night but after two months I was grateful for anything I could get!
On the third day, I had another taste of the Army’s capriciousness. On Friday, DH needed to report to headquarters and then he was supposed to get a weekend pass. While most of the new soldiers were going on to AIT (advanced training for enlisted soldiers), DH and a group of others were waiting around for the next OCS class, which would begin in early January.
I was not expecting a call until noon but the phone rang at 6:30 am. DH’s drill sergeant suggested that the presence of a group of anxious wives might speed-up the paperwork. The women arrived to drive the men to headquarters. Just as we were about to leave, a drill sergeant ran out to us to announce that there would be no pass. The men were to report by 1300 hours and then they would be on “lock down” until Christmas exodus. We were in shock. We had no idea why they would do this; the men didn’t even begin OCS until January 5. There seemed to be no possible justification for this decision.
Still hopeful that things might change, we left to spend a few more hours with our men and then converged on headquarters at 1300 hours. There were a few jokes about sending one of the officer candidates in first with his newborn baby. The men went to see what the afternoon would bring and the women exchanged contact information. One candidate working at OCS headquarters informed us that there was at least a possibility of seeing the men in the evening on the base. A few of us ran off to the base lodging to get rooms, just in case our men would be allowed to see us but only on the base.
In the end, the candidates were granted their passes, and I spent a heavenly weekend with DH. One night the OCS candidates and wives/girlfriends went out to a pretty good Mexican restaurant. While we were there, the waitress’s soldier boyfriend proposed! We left her our best wishes and a nice tip. The base lodging turned out to be pretty cheap and clean. The visit ended too soon and I returned to the realities of my empty studio.
Reality also had a few tricks up its sleeve as well. I returned on a Sunday and went to work the following Monday. When I went to drive to work on Tuesday, my car was missing! At first I thought perhaps that, tired, I had parked in the wrong spot and the owner of that spot had my car towed. No such luck. The car was stolen. The police officer told me that even ancient Honda’s with a lot of miles are often stolen for their parts. Apparently, my New Rochelle apartment was just a mile away from some of the most notorious chop shops in the Bronx.
With life so up in the air, I had no intention of buying an expensive car but I began to look at used cars. We had no theft on the Honda because we never thought it would be stolen.
I called the American Red Cross to get a message to DH. He still had no phone privileges but that is how you get “emergency” messages to soldiers who are incommunicado due to their “mission.”
Of course, this was not a true emergency but, given that his mission was to sit around in Georgia and wait, I thought they might pass it on.
They did and DH called just as I was looking at a car. When I told him that I was looking at a “new” car, he got upset…but I quickly clarified that I meant “another” car and was only looking at inexpensive cars. Within a couple of days, DH and I became the proud owners of an outrageously teal but very functional ’93 Saturn, which he did not see for another couple of months.
WARNING! UNSOLICITED ADVICE: In relating this story, it reminds me of the need to communicate with your spouse before he or she leaves for training or deployment. DH and I had briefly discussed “What if something happens to the car?” but had not made any real decisions. Chances are, as a military spouse you will have to make at least one major financial or life decision when your spouse is unavailable. Sit down and make a list (What if I get accepted to a graduate school far from post/before you know your assignment? What if the kids need braces?) and then write down what you agree is the ideal outcome in each case, of course leaving room for error, crisis, opportunity, and your best judgement in each case. You make not be able to follow each plan exactly, but at least you’ll have your spouse’s input.