It was the Worst of Days, It was the Best of Days
LTC Robert Church
To “steal” and then change, a thought from an author much more famous and literate than I, “it was the worst of days, it was the best of days.” Friday, June 9, 2006 was the day HHB 1st Corps Artillery was called upon to bid farewell to our families and friends as we boarded the plane that would take us to Camp Shelby, MS to begin our training in preparation for our deployment to Afghanistan. We knew this day would come. We didn’t want it to come. We couldn’t wait for it to come. But in the end, it finally came.
It was the worst of days.
That morning, the skies were dark, thunder could be heard and it was raining. We had to say goodbye to our wives, our girlfriends, our kids, our grandkids, our parents, our friends and loved ones. As we gathered in the hanger at the Air Guard base, we had an opportunity to express our love to those who were there supporting us. Everywhere you looked, you could see fathers holding onto their small children, husbands, reaching out to touch their wives, children, clinging to their fathers. There were tears as well. And yet, there was an overriding spirit of pride. A huge American flag was hanging from the ceiling and family after family took their turn standing in front and taking pictures of, and with, their soldier. A friend of mine came to bid farewell and he commented on how poised everyone seemed to be despite the raw emotion that permeated the building. Our families did us proud.
Several made signs professing their love and pride. “I (heart) my soldier,” “I love my daddy” and others could be seen. Children waiving American flags, little girls dressed in red, white and blue. It was a sea of patriotism.
As the plane that was to take us to Mississippi arrived, a sense of, what?, foreboding, desperation to get in that last hug, that last kiss, seemed to fall over us. We knew that once we stepped on that plane, we would begin the long journey to Afghanistan.
We were told that we had ten minutes to say our last goodbyes. The tears that were close to the surface only got closer. Unless you’ve been there, words cannot express the feelings that are racing through your heart and your mind, knowing that these are the last moments you’ll spend with loved ones for a very long time.
Finally, the time came and we were called to final formation. As we stood there in our ranks, our families had an opportunity to take our pictures. I know we made an impressive sight. As were made a “left face” in order to march out of the hanger, the crowd parted to allow us to pass through. As the first soldiers began to march out of the hanger towards the plane, someone began clapping. Then another and another until the whole hanger was ringing with the sounds of clapping and cheering. The pride that swelled within us was palpable…as were the tears. As we marched towards the plane, I know I wasn’t alone in looking to see where my family was, to get one last glimpse. And I know I wasn’t the only one that was getting a little concerned when I could not locate them in the sea of faces.
As we made our way towards the plane, I heard a shout, “Hey Dad.” I looked back, and there was my middle, and tallest son, waiving over the crowd. Suddenly, they were the only ones that I could see. My wife and three boys were there waiving to me, sending me off with their love. I had to look away because the tears were ready to come.
At the foot of the stairs to the plane were the governor and his wife, General Tarbet, General Wilson, the Command Sergeant Major and several others. Each expressed their pride and gratitude in the mission we were about to embark upon.
Then came the stairs.
Each of us climbed the stairs and upon reaching the landing, turned to look back at the crowd. We found our own families and shared one last moment together. It was another moment that words cannot adequately express. And then we went through the door of the plane and were gone.
It was the worst of days.
But, it was also the best of days.
We have trained for years. We have worked together for years. And now, we finally have the opportunity to share that training with a people working towards democracy. We will be able to make an impact in the lives of the Afghani people that will last far longer than the mere twelve months we will be there.
We saw the best in our families. Of course they were sad, but they were proud. We have seen our wives, our children and our families step up to the plate and assume responsibilities that they didn’t previously have. No one disputes that it will be challenging for them, but they have been willing to accept those responsibilities so that we can complete our mission.
I was told that someone made the comment that if we left our families to serve, we must not love them. On the contrary, one of the reasons we go is because of our families. Our families are safe and secure because of us, and others like us. They are free to travel without the fear of IED’s and snipers and roadside bombs. Through our service, we teach our children that commitment, loyalty and honor are not just words, but values worth fighting for. We love them by serving them and the millions of other Americans who enjoy the peace and safety we live in.
As we found our seats and waited for the plane to take-off, the feelings of sadness began to be replaced with feelings of excitement. As we prepared for take-off, laughter could be heard throughout the cabin. Of course we were sad, but we were excited and ready to serve.
It was the best of days because we were finally on our way. In a few more hours, we would be able to say that our first day was done. Then it will be the first week, the first month, the first year and for most of us, the first deployment. While it may seem like an eternity, time will pass quickly. We will have experiences that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. We will come back changed men, but it will be for the better.