I spent a lovely few days with my son down in Fayetteville, North Carolina, this past weekend because his unit was going to be deployed to the Middle East on Monday. We shopped, watched movies and ate a lot of food. I put him up at my hotel so he wouldn't have to stay at his stripped down barracks room. I met some of his buddies here and there as we drove around, and one night we had dinner with his sergeant and family. By the way, sergeant is apparently pronounced something like "sar'nt" with a hint of the south in the accent. At least that's what my son's picked up.
His sergeant is smart and has seen two tours in the Middle East already. He seems to really care about his men, which is a relief to me. His parents are very nice as well. It has to be tough on them to do this for a third time; I know it's been quite a challenge for me getting through this one, focusing on making sure my son is center stage and he gets whatever he needs to make his send-off as good as possible.
Yesterday we ran a couple of errands in the morning - he needed to get his rank insignia sewn to a new cap we'd bought the previous day and he wanted to get his hair trimmed up. Then it was off to the base to get checked out of his room. This was around 11. The following are details of the day to the best of my recollection - I might have gotten some of the timing a bit mixed up - but it's pretty close.
They'd told my son to report to formation at 1:00 so we grabbed him some lunch and got back plenty early and hung around with his buddies and their families and wives or girlfriends. One of his buddies is the oldest of 11 kids. The youngest, a 3 week old baby, was there with Mom, Dad and a sister (#3 sibling). Many pictures were taken, I got a few, too. One guys' dad probably filled his 8 meg memory stick. When I get home I'll post some of the ones I took.
At 1:00 they lined up on the field in front of a little wooden platform on the large field that sits in front of his company's HQ buildings. After a while they ran into one of the buildings and soon they were all coming out, staggering under huge packs and hauling overstuffed duffles. I'm guessing my son's gear weighed more than he does, but he ran briskly to his spot with it on his back. Then after some business with their gear, I wandered out to where he was and we stood around some more. A while later they formed up again. Then a large group ran off in another direction to a different building. My son was a good 20 yards ahead of the rest of them - he runs like a gazelle with a cheetah on his tail.
They came straggling back one or two at time to the field with their weapons. We stood around some more. I got to know some of his buddies a bit better - they're a good group of young men. Funny stories were told, lots of teasing happened. By now it's around 3:00. Next formation is at 7.
Now, not knowing whether they'll be leaving or not, each time he had to go form up, we said goodbye. I'd go off to my car to get some A/C and water and eventually he'd call me and say, come on back out. At the 3:00 formation, there's a huge truck for their gear. They load all the gear. I've said goodbye again and am in my car. He calls me again, come back, we aren't leaving yet. I stagger back out. He and I head over to an Arby's just outside one of the nearby gates and had a second lunch. He tried to fill up, since he had no idea when he'd get a chance to eat again.
The sun sets and blessed cool finally arrives. It's been sunny and in the upper 80s all day. I'm surprised I don't have a sunburn. They get in formation again, and they all get some stuff on a lanyard they have to wear for the flight out. We stand around some more. While waiting for this formation to end I sat on a wad of gum. The chaplains assistant had been wandering around earlier with a tub of candy and gum and handing out 120 minute phone cards, about which my son said "this is like gold!". I suspect one of the kids spit out the gum, the soldiers are very good about cleaning up after themselves.
There have been buses coming and going all day - each time a different formation of troops has arrived and gotten on those buses with about an hour or two at most between their arrival and departure. My son's group has been standing around sweating in their fatigues since 1:00. It will be a ripe group getting on that plane later.
Finally, around 8 they're told the next buses that show up will be theirs. The buses arrive. I give my son another huge hug and tell him how much I, and all his family, and the huge circle of friends around us, are proud of him, will be praying for him and how much I love him. He heads for the bus, I head for the car. When the last bus drives off, I head for the road - it's about a 2 hour trip from Fayetteville to Raleigh where I am for the week.
He calls me about half an hour later - he's at "Green Ramp" which means he's at the airfield from which his flight will leave. He's not sure when they'll be loading onto the plane, but he is pretty sure he won't have another chance to call tonight. He promises to call me the next chance he gets. I'll be keeping the cell phone charged and near by in anticipation for the next, oh, 15 months or so.