Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Second Child and Departure from the Army, Part 1

Daniel new cuddly little munchkin

I must be suffering from Mommy-brain recently.  I spent so much time doing everything else this week and this weekend that I forgot to write a post to celebrate my littlest one's sixth birthday on his birthday! I guess I can use the excuse that we were spending the weekend celebrating his birthday so it's not as though he was forgotten.

If you've followed my blog at all recently you'll know that I just posted about my oldest son's birth only two weeks ago.  This time of year is always busy for us because they are 5 years and 2 weeks apart. It wasn't planned that way when we decided to have children, it just worked out that way.  I was in the Army when I had my first child and was still in when I got pregnant with my second.

I'm sure you're wondering about the title of this blog post.  It wasn't as simple as, I got pregnant and got out.  I would have loved to stay in, but it became impossible to.  I guess I want my descendants to understand why I got out when I had my second child because it was complicated.  I volunteered for Drill Sergeant duty which is usually a two year tour of duty and you can extend to three years with permission. By the time I became a Drill Sergeant the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were well underway.  This meant that everyone was deploying and then being stabilized immediately following deployment, so all of the Drill Sergeants were involuntarily extended to that final third year.  We had a great a great cadre, so this wasn't horrible news to us, but we were all getting tired and had been looking forward to the end of our tours when we would be able to choose our follow-on assignment.

I was almost in tears when I said goodbye to the Soldiers
That was one of the perks for being a Drill Sergeant.  You serve in that difficult position and when you leave, you get to choose where you want to go.  Well, by the time I was preparing to leave, the Army came up with a new way of looking at the Drill Sergeant Assignment Preference Program.  It had now become the "That's a nice policy to have during peacetime" policy.  This didn't sit well with many of the Drills, but our Branch Manager was an awesome dude and was going to do his best to get us where we wanted to go.  Sadly, my husband's Branch Manager was an all out ass and he ignored the fact that my husband was married to a Drill and put him on orders.  When we tried to fight it, they changed his orders to a "less desirable" location for us.  Talk about no reprisals...yeah, right!

I was livid.  My Battalion Commander was a complete and utter waste of oxygen that hated Drill Sergeants so he was unwilling to help.  I'm sure he was relishing the whole thing inside.  I think the man was beaten up in Basic Training or somehow made to look bad by a Drill Sergeant at some point in his military career with how he negatively fixated on us.

Anyway, the problem that I had with where my husband was being stationed was that there was no job for me.  Sure they would have found a job for me, but it would not have been in my Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) and most likely not in my pay grade.  I had a serious problem with this because I had made the list for Sergeant First Class in just under 8 years and pinned in under 9. This has become much more commonplace now, but when I was in, this was fast-tracking and I didn't want my career to be hindered by a bad assignment.

There was an additional problem too though.  My husband and I put off having more children so that I could be a Drill Sergeant.  Despite the wars going on, our intent was to go to a quiet assignment after Drill duty so we could have more children.  Sure I could go to this new duty station and serve in a position that would be less than beneficial, but if I were pregnant I would be looked upon as the person that showed up pregnant to get out of deploying.  While anyone that knew me would know that this wasn't true, part of the problem when you go to a new duty station is that you most likely aren't going to be known.  I couldn't stand to be looked at as someone that was trying to get out of combat.  That would absolutely tick me off.  The thought of being looked at like a dirt ball was horrifying.

My de-hatting.  Goodbye Drill Sergeant hat...
As a mother, I also had a hard time with the thought of giving birth and then being asked to deploy in 6 weeks. That was the reason we had hopes of going to a quieter assignment.  Take the person that had been camped out avoiding hard duty and let us have some down-time after three years of Drill duty.  Let me pop out a couple more kids and then the Army could send me wherever.  My hubby would have been retired by the end of that duty assignment and he could be the stay-at-home dad while I continued playing Soldier.  Nope.  It wasn't meant to be.

I was given the option of going to San Antonio without my husband.  He could request to be stationed with me a year later.  Yeah, that kind of makes getting pregnant difficult when one person is in Texas and the other in Kentucky, so we moved up our plans.  I played a gamble that if I were pregnant they wouldn't separate us.  We rolled the dice.  I got pregnant.  I faxed my pregnancy profile/diagnosis to my Branch Manager.  He was hopeful that it would work.  He told my hubby's idiot Branch Manager that if we weren't stationed together in San Antonio then I would get out.  The other guy thought I was bluffing.  I was a Sergeant First Class with going on 10 years in service.  I wasn't going to get out!

Wrong.  Family comes first with us, and we now had a baby on the way.  We knew that this was a possibility (although we didn't really think it would come to it), and I had my commander begin my separation paperwork.  I was relieved that we were now going to stay together.  I was ecstatic that we were having another baby, but I was absolutely devastated that my career was gone.

I had worked so hard and the Army had become my life.  I was a hard-charging, butt-kicking Army chick and I had succeeded at almost everything that I tried during my career.  I had awesome mentors, and I felt like I had let every single one of them down.

All (except one) of my friends and mentors told me that they weren't upset and that they understood my decision, but even though I had their support, I still felt that I had somehow betrayed them.  To top it all off making the transition from Senior Noncommissioned Officer to Spouse was a shock I wasn't prepared for.

I was used to walking into the commissary or PX in my uniform.  I was a part of the military system. Now, when I walked into a commissary or talked to someone it was always, "Who's your husband?" Yes, sexism prevailed and I was no longer looked at as someone that might have my own accomplishments, but just a spouse.  Is there something wrong with being a spouse?  Absolutely not! But I wanted to just scream out that I had my own successes.  I didn't want to live only by who my husband was.  I wanted to yell at everyone that looked at me like I was "just a stay-at-home mom" that I had been a Drill Sergeant.  That I had been a Senior NCO!  After years of counseling (and I'm not really joking about that) I was able to come to terms with my decision to leave.  My decision to leave? No our decision to leave.  My husband and I are a team in everything and we knew it was the right choice for our family.

...Hello cowboy hat.  I tried to keep a sense of humor!
I also realized that being a stay-at-home mom wasn't all that easy.  I laughed and thought I'd be sitting at home and eating bonbons all day, but it was a job unto itself...and a hard one at that!  I often looked back wondering how we managed being dual-military with a child.  We managed because we had to, but as a result our first son spent the majority of his day in daycare.  We missed so much with him, but I got to experience all that with our second child.

I wouldn't change a thing about being in the Army.  It was such an awesome experience.  I hope that I made a difference in some of my Soldiers' lives as my mentors had made in mine.  I made awesome friends when I was in, and I met my husband because I served.  I can look back now, and even though it still gives me pangs of sadness in my chest when I remember having to leave (and I felt that I HAD to leave to preserve my family), I feel no regrets.  Everything in our lives happens for a reason.  The good, and the not so good.  You just have to make the most of it...and hey, someday my grandkids will be able to say "Grandma not only wore combat boots, but a Drill Sergeant hat too!"...Not everyone can say that one!

[The story of my second son's birth and the story of me leaving the Army are tied together, and both are things I want passed on for generations, but I don't want what might seem a "bad" event in leaving the military to be tied to my son's birth, because his birth was anything but bad!  So I will reserve the remainder of this post for next time when I can talk about the joy of his arrival.]