Monday, December 03, 2007

HOME FRONT: Far apart on special occasions: AHWATUKEE FOOTHILLS NEWS

I missed Halloween with my kids this year because I was sick in bed. I missed the whole shebang – sprinkling glitter on my princess’ hair, tightening my pirate’s sash and tying a bandana around my cowboy’s neck.

I missed the chicken shish kabobs grilled in a friend’s driveway, and the Tecate offered to the parents congregated in lawn chairs. And obviously I missed trick-or-treating.

Before heading out the door, my oldest son looked upset. He said he really wanted me to go. In 10 years of parenthood I had never missed this annual night on the town. But this year I queasily explained that sometimes life conspires against families, forcing them to be apart on special occasions. I kissed the top of his hat and sent him on his way, realizing the magnitude of my understatement.

Earlier I had spoken with my brother Mike in Iraq. He said a new sergeant had recently arrived from the States to command his vehicle on convoy security missions. This sergeant didn’t deploy with the rest of the unit last June because she was pregnant. She’s since delivered her baby and is now back on the job, joining her husband who is also deployed in Iraq.

These parents are missing more than their baby’s first Halloween; they’re missing the entire first year of their baby’s life. Years ago the Selective Service Board granted Dick Cheney a “hardship” exemption from serving in Vietnam – his hardship being that he was a new father. Policies are no longer so kind to children.

Recently a friend described a scene he observed at the airport. He noticed a commotion surrounding a soldier departing for war. A frantic mother wrestled to unpeel her screaming son who was clenching the soldier’s legs and begging, “Daddy, don’t go!” As soon as the mother ripped the child free, instead of spending the full amount of every last second embracing his family, the soldier had to quickly disappear to avoid more painful drama. My friend said it was the saddest scene he’d ever witnessed, yet it illuminates the grief children feel not just on departure day, but more subtly all deployment long.

People ask me if I think Mike should be in Iraq. It’s a loaded question, one that I can answer in a variety ways. I can start with the invasion and rant about how the president exaggerated threats, how most of the Congress ignored the data that told the truth, how the media did little to demand accountability and how the majority of the citizenry was (and still is) apathetic (elected officials report that very few constituents ever call or write to comment on the war).

Or I could just cut to my answer: Yes! The military is short staffed. To compensate, this year the Defense Department extended the length of deployments to 15 months, longer than any tour in Vietnam. Congress just failed to pass a bill to ensure that soldiers returning from war spend an equal amount of time at home before being redeployed. Soldiers are overscheduled.

So unequivocally yes. Mike should be in Iraq because our military is fighting there, he volunteered to serve, and in doing so he’s replacing a soldier who deserves a turn at home, a place where regular civilian clothes might feel like a costume, and to some child his or her presence is better than candy.

Missy Martin is an 11-year Ahwatukee Foothills resident, mother of three and editor of Bombshells: War Stories and Poems by Women on the Homefront. Her brother, U.S. Army Specialist Michael Dunn, attended Arizona State University and graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in accounting and now provides security on convoys in and out of Iraq. He can be contacted at Spec. Mike Dunn 7th Chem – APO AE09366.

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