92: Purposeful Waiting

92: Purposeful Waiting

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

Purposeful Waiting

In about the same degree as you are helpful, you will be happy.

~Karl Reiland

It had been two months since we got the news, and I was still trying to grasp the reality of what it all meant. My husband Greg was going to be deployed to Iraq for at least nine months.

For as long as I had known Greg, he was “just” a Navy Reservist, so I didn’t fully comprehend what it meant to be a military wife, let alone how to endure a deployment. Yes, we were a military family one weekend a month when he had his drill weekends, but a deployment meant so much more. It meant he wouldn’t come home each night; it meant he would be gone for months at a time; it meant we couldn’t just call him on his cell phone whenever we wanted; and most importantly, it meant he was going to war. Worst of all, I knew the not knowing was going to be the hardest to endure—not knowing where he was or what he was doing, not knowing if he was safe, and not knowing when he would come home. I knew that I would have to keep myself busy while Greg was gone.

A short time after learning of his deployment, Greg asked if I would be interested in being the ombudsman for his unit. I had no idea what an ombudsman was, but the thought of doing anything for his unit was appealing.

Greg explained that it was a volunteer job taken on by the spouse of a military member. As ombudsman, I would be a point of contact for families back home—essentially a bridge between the Command, unit family members and the community resources. I was also there to be a sympathetic ear, someone who would understand the emotional journey the spouses were on because I was on it too. Ultimately, I would be the go-to person for the families because they couldn’t go to their deployed spouse when they needed support.

My first task as ombudsman was to complete the required training for the position. It was almost like a volunteer boot camp. I learned so much, so quickly—but welcomed the new knowledge. For the first time since learning of my husband’s deployment, I felt empowered. I had a focus and a direction to follow. My next task was to reach out to our families, introduce myself as their ombudsman and let them know what I could do for them during the deployment.

In July, my husband’s deployment and my ombudsman position kicked into full gear. Officially, my main jobs were to keep resources handy so I could share them when requested, participate in conference calls with Command, relay all permitted information to our families, and pretty much be available 24/7 should any family need my support. However, over the course of the deployment, I found that it was the other unexpected volunteer opportunities I created that brought me the greatest sense of purpose.

The first unexpected opportunity arose as Halloween approached. I watched my children get excited about their costumes. My son was going to be a superhero—“just like Daddy.” He would share this exciting fact with anyone willing to listen, and then get a little sad when he remembered that Greg wouldn’t be there to see him in his costume or to take him trick-or-treating.

I realized that we had many holidays to live through without our military heroes, and I suggested that we support our troops by supporting their families. I was a teacher, so I turned to my middle school students and enlisted them to make holiday cards and gifts for the children of the deployed parents. We would eventually send care packages to the children in our group for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter.

With my students taking care of our families’ children, I reached out to my fellow spouses. While I had a supportive network of family and friends who kept asking how they could help my kids and me, not all families had that. Therefore, I sent an e-mail to my family and friends telling them how they could extend their support to other military spouses. I was going to put together small care packages for the spouses—with a Starbucks card to let them know that people were thinking of them and their sacrifice at Christmas and to go “have a treat on us.” My hope was to raise enough to give a $5 gift card to every spouse.

As expected, I began getting letters with money from my family and friends, and I was touched by how generous many of them were. Then, something truly awesome happened. I started receiving letters from people I didn’t know. In their letters, they explained they had heard about what I was doing for the military spouses and that they wanted to donate, too. When all was said and done, I was able to send $15 gift cards to all forty-five spouses.

When I first learned of Greg’s deployment I was afraid—worried about his safety, unsure of my ability to keep things together at home, and nervous about how our family would work when he returned. Being ombudsman made me feel like I was more than the wife waiting at home while her husband was at war. I had a job too, a purpose beyond myself. I wasn’t in another country, I wasn’t wearing camouflage, and I wasn’t carrying weapons. But I was part of a team—a team of spouses who were fighting to keep it together while our loved ones were away.

It was truly the hardest and scariest time of my life, but at the same time, because of my opportunity to volunteer as ombudsman, it was also the most rewarding and enriching time. And even though my efforts were acknowledged after the deployment, I didn’t sign up to be ombudsman for the recognition. Most people don’t join the military for the recognition, either. They sign up because they want to serve and protect their fellow man. And through my volunteer experience I discovered that so did I.

~Andrea Bowen

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