Every deployment with the military I’ve ever been a part of always had some sort of farewell ceremony for families and friends to spend one last day with their service member before they travel to a mobilization training site prior to deploying.
Sometimes these ceremonies are large affairs full of pomp and circumstance while others are a small get-together with a few short speeches, food, and a lot of special last moments with loved ones.
For the most part, these ceremonies are organized through what the Army called a Family Readiness Group or in conjunction with a higher headquarters and developed several weeks, if not months, ahead of time.
This deployment, however, I couldn’t help but notice that our higher command seemed to have waited until last minute to put our farewell ceremony together. Sure, we knew what day it was going to happen about a week ahead of time, but we had no idea what time the event was actually going to happen until the day before.
As you can imagine, this posed quote a conundrum for many soldiers and their families. Our unit is comprised of many soldiers cross-leveled from multiple other units, myself included. This means that for most of us, our family doesn’t live within a relatively short commuting distance from where our deploying unit is stationed.
If the command had organized this properly and given us a good date and time for the ceremony, chances are more soldiers’ families could have made the arrangements to go to the ceremony and see their mother, father, son, or daughter one last time before spending an extended period of time halfway around the world.
I was fortunate, however. My family lived only a couple hours from the unit’s home station which meant, despite the extremely short notice, my wife and son were able to make the ceremony and spend the much of the day with me – others were not so lucky.
It was great to see them again. At the point when our command held the ceremony, we’d already been together training for deployment for a couple of weeks so it had been awhile since I’d had the chance to play with my little boy.
He stole the show, too. During the celebrations, we had multiple speeches from our battalion commander, command sergeant major, and even Burt Young, the man who played Pauly from the Rocky Series (and a close friend to one of the other soldiers deploying with us). Through all of it though, people couldn’t help looking at him as he continually threw and ran after a ball he’d found, laughing the entire time.
Even after the formalities of the ceremony, he still became the center of attention for many people as he ran around giving everyone a fist bump or high five or he would continually run and grab cupcakes from the refreshment table and (sometimes) go give them to other people. I think he really made the whole experience better for a lot of people and put smiles on their faces.
After the ceremony, my family and I went to grab some lunch from a local restaurant and had some quality alone time away from everyone else.
Overall, I had a really great time spending that time with my family and getting one last hug and kiss in before I went away.
Later, I felt bad for some of the other soldiers in my unit, especially those who lived locally. For those of us who had family come in, we were given the opportunity to spend some extra time with them in the afternoon. While the local soldiers were given that same opportunity, they opted to see their families later in the evening and scheduled dinners or other activities for their last night.
Unfortunately, when we all reported back to base and finished the work we needed to accomplish prior to flying out the next morning, we were all given meaningless tasks which had absolutely nothing to do with our deployment. To make things worse, the person who assigned us these tasks was busy taking care of other things so she couldn’t even give us the time of day we needed to complete these tasks in a reasonable time frame.
This led to our release being pushed back later and later – mind you, we had to be at the airport at 5:30 in the morning. Eventually, around 7:30 that evening (after some soldiers had already been there for more than 12 hours) I had enough and spoke with my leadership to explain how inappropriate it was to keep us there that late when we needed to be up so early in the morning.
They agreed and spoke with those who assigned us those tasks and, while hesitant, they agreed to let us go. Unfortunately, the damage was already done. Most of the plans soldiers had made with their families for that evening had to be scrapped because they missed dinner reservations or, by the time they got home, they only had time to finish packing and go to bed in order to get enough sleep to be functional in the morning.
As a father and a leader, this made me incredibly irritated. I loved getting the opportunity to spend one last decent chunk of time with my family and can’t imagine the frustration these soldiers and their families were feeling when something so simple as spending one last night with their family was taken away from them because of some bureaucratic bullshit.