Last month, during a game between the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Jets, I sat with my brother snacking, joking about the ‘cardboard fans’ and fantasizing about Arizona’s chances for a Super Bowl LV title shot. As I returned from fantasy land I noticed our wives and several of their friends, at the kitchen table; they had paper, markers, glue, glitter, and stickers strewn everywhere. They were hand-making Christmas cards and filling goodie bags to send to troops at home in the U.S. and abroad. It was a visual that, for a moment, took me back. You see, as an Airman who spent most of his career deployed overseas, I had always been on the receiving end of those packages; never on the front-end.
Nostalgia swept over me as I recalled my deployments and being the recipient of – always filled with a bit of home and a lot of love. Then came the memories of being in another part of the world, among distant languages, unfamiliar customs and unique diets (some better than others); thousands of miles away from family and friends, preparing for deployments, arranging one’s personal affairs -wills, benefits, etc.; mission briefs and the fear of the unknown. My thoughts quickly turned to those currently serving – their thoughts, feelings and sacrifices; sacrifices made by many since the dawn of our Nation; sacrifices which can never be fully repaid beyond the gratitude we share in expressing our thanks and appreciation every Veterans Day on November 11.
Continuing my family’s tradition of service to America, my oldest son joined the Navy in January 2020. Like so many this year, we were unable to attend his graduation. Formal celebrations from Boot Camp were canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Our family’s newest service member was unable to take leave and come home because the military’s new ROM's (Restriction of Movement) policy. For families and service personnel everywhere, 2020 has been a very challenging year.
Six years now, a civilian, I often feel detached from the life I lived during my 20-years in the Air Force. Admittedly, I harbor some guilt knowing that there are the men and women who remain vigilant 24/7/365 to ensure our Nation, its freedom and values remain safe and secure. So, even during the most amazing catch, break-away run from scrimmage, or incredible hit, as I sit comfortably enjoying the freedom that comes with watching the NFL on Sunday, I’m never distracted from being cognizant of those who allow me these weekend indulgences, staying ever vigilant, at home and abroad.
As I glanced over again at the white postal boxes labeled with APO addresses, full of candy, snacks, and holiday cards ready to go overseas, I thought of one of our friends receiving one of the packages - Kelly, a single mom with nearly two decades of service. I know what it will be like for her this holiday season away from her daughter as she hopes to make it back home free from injury - physically and mentally.
Deployments take their toll on you. Your mind is in overdrive - alert, ready, never allowing your emotions to take control. You direct your thoughts to the mission and not all the things you're missing back home. You turn your thoughts away from things like helping your kids with their homework, kissing your spouse, your aging parents you hope are healthy and well. And in 2020, there’s one more to add - praying that your family doesn't contract a Coronavirus-related illness while away because you won't be able to go back to help them; all-the-while counting down the days until your deployment ends and you get to go home.
That is what it will be like for our friend Kelly as Thanksgiving comes and goes, Christmas passes, the New Year begins, it will almost be as if they never happened. From my own experience, I have found that deployments affected my children in ways that I had never even considered. As the service member you think, I will be gone, but the rest of the family will keep rolling along perfectly while I am gone. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that when dealing with human beings with feelings, thoughts, and emotions of their own. If all goes well, she will return to a daughter who hasn't seen her for months, which is likely to be hurt, angry, and possibly resentful. I have dealt with it before. At first, it will be a sweet reunion full of hugs and joy-filled tears, then maybe weeks, months, or even years later, they'll get reacquainted, address the hurt of separation, and build back trust.
The box my wife drops in the mail will bring a smile for a moment, a temporary good feeling amidst the daily grind, but it might be enough to remind her that people are counting on her, and what she's doing is important. It will help her remember a bigger picture and that she is an integral part of the whole -- that her sacrifice is worth it.
As we thank those for their service and honor their sacrifice, let us not forget those serving today and in years past, faced additional challenges with far fewer niceties. Actor Gary Sinise says it best, "While we can never do enough to show gratitude to our nation's defenders, we can always do a little more.” Let us look for ways to be of service to our service members, encourage them, and remind them how truly thankful we are.
About the author
Dwight Hawkins is a Marketing Communications Specialist for Tech Data in Tempe, Arizona. In his role, Dwight works on several external communications initiatives, including the Authority blog, web content, an external newsletter for Tech Data channel partners, and executive and presentation content – all with a focus on thought leadership and brand equity. He also hosts a video interview series called “Tech Data Fly-by.” Before joining Tech Data, Dwight served for over 20 years in the United States Air Force, garnering experience in public affairs, video and radio broadcasting, and strategic communication.