She’s leaving home today.
She’s leaving behind her husband and three children, a pair of boys ages 10 and 9, and a little girl, 6.
She likewise will leave behind her wifely and motherly responsibilities — cooking, cleaning, loving, nurturing, she’s putting all that behind her, stepping out into a brave new world.
She is chucking it all for a life that could prove far more exciting than her normal day-to-day routine.
She has known for some time this was coming, in fact was counting down the days, preparing herself both physically and mentally for this new chapter in her young life.
One track on the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album is “She’s Leaving Home.” Among that song’s poignant lyrics are the words, “Wednesday morning at five o’clock as the day begins, silently closing her bedroom door, leaving the note that she hoped would say more. She goes downstairs to the kitchen, clutching her handkerchief, quietly turning the backdoor key, stepping outside, she is free.”
But unlike the young woman featured in the song’s lyrics, the heroine of our story is not sneaking out in the wee hours, not running away from anything, but she is doing it for freedom, ours as much as hers.
Like millions that have gone before her throughout this country’s storied history, she is answering her nation’s call to go and fight on foreign soil.
In case you have forgotten we are at war. Yes, we are at war with ourselves, to be sure, as well as with a virus that has morphed beyond a public health crisis to become a focal point in our civil differences. Regardless we remain in a real-life, honest-to-goodness shooting war in the far-off land of Afghanistan.
They have drawn down the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan of late, but there are still a few thousand American men and women in uniform standing in harm’s way a half a world away.
And soon she will be one of them. This Air Force personnelist who normally does her work with a computer, dealing with issues of pay, benefits and travel, nevertheless had to be trained to fire an M-4, to drive a Humvee, to subsist on MREs prior to her departure. She’s been wounded already, picking up a nasty bruise from a simulated round during weapons training.
She will be away for six months, an eternity in the lives of her young children. She will miss holidays, a birthday and other important occasions and milestones.
But such is the lot of the military family. Her husband, like her an Air Force technical sergeant, understands and realizes that he, too, may face a similar assignment someday.
But the children — ah, the children. How do you explain to one so young that mommy won’t be home for many, many sleeps? How do you explain that while you can see mommy via Skype or FaceTime (though doing so will be difficult given the 10 hour and 30 minute time difference), there will be no hugs for six months, no kisses.
While you are fussing over the recent election or fuming because you have to wear a mask, give a thought to those who are fighting to keep this nation free, still fighting the longest war in American history, a conflict that began 19 years ago, when the airman in question was a small girl.
We will pause to honor our veterans on Wednesday, Veterans Day. On that day we recall the sacrifices of all who have served this country, at home and abroad, but with a special nod to those who watched the stars and stripes wave in the breeze of a far-flung land, those who traded civilian garb for some shade of blue, olive drab or mottled camouflage, who put their lives on hold to fight on the world’s oceans and beaches, in its forests, fields and cities.
But we should also give a thought this Veterans Day to those who are currently serving, both at home and abroad.
She is one of them. She is certainly not unique, save for the fact she is a valued member of our family. She is funny. She is sweet. She is smart as a whip.
There is a picture of her on a visit to Enid with her family years ago, at the old Comet Go-Carts, racing her two older brothers and her dad. The photo is of her taking a corner at speed, her teeth clenched and her eyes wide, obviously scared to death, but unwilling to lift her foot lest she fall behind. That sums up her personality perfectly.
We don’t pay much attention to the war in Afghanistan any more. It doesn’t affect us, so we ignore it, just as we ignore the fact service men and women are leaving home every day, leaving their families and their real lives behind because they are doing their duty, sacrificing so we won’t have to.
To them all, and in particular to one special airman who knows who she is, we say a heartfelt thank you.
She’s leaving home today. Godspeed, young lady.