I awoke on New Years Day with an unexplained and somewhat unsettled feeling – then I remembered why. I waited until a decent hour to call the NOSC Command Duty Officer’s (CDO). He was probably anticipating a quiet day and probably a chance to sleep in on a holiday – too bad. I was going somewhere and needed to know the destination. Not surprisingly, he needed to do some research and indicated he would call back soon. A few hours later, he called with confirmation that I was indeed recalled with a Mobilization (henceforth to be called “MOB”) date of 10JAN2006. So where was I going? He hadn’t a clue. The Petty Officer in charge of MOBs was on Holiday leave and would not be back until Tuesday 04JAN2006 – three long days away. No need to panic – I had a whole 9 days to get ready for destinations unknown. At this point, I kicked in my basic laid-back attitude towards life. Rather than worry, fret, or think too long and hard about things, I invoked the Navy motto “Semper Gumby” and started the process of going to war.
Fortunately for me I was ready for the call. Stepping back to 2001, I will forever remember my commander in chief telling the military to be ready. He did that on the Friday following the attack on Tuesday September 11th. I spent that entire weekend sorting through every bit of Navy gear I had and packing it for immediate mobilization. I took the Navy’s mobilization checklist and put all of my affairs in order with Powers of Attorney, Wills, Guardianships, insurance, etc. Shortly thereafter, I took command of a Navy Reserve unit (Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Detachment C) in Erie, Pennsylvania and presided over the recall of twelve of my Sailors. The last step I had taken was to place my name on the list as a volunteer (known as a “VOL” in reserve circles) since I could not in good conscience lead my unit through this storm without stepping up to the plate. So I had raised my hand and waited for the Navy to call. I was surprised it took 4 years, but believed that the event was on the horizon. I clearly did not expect it over the New Years holiday in 2006, but once assimilated I was consumed by an excitement that must have been shared with Soldiers over the millennia.
I drug all the gear out and sorted it again. I had piles of uniforms for shipboard duty, office work, and the jungle. These came in sizes that fit Ensigns, Lieutenants, and Lieutenant Commanders. So what do you take? It all depended upon where I was going. What about my sword and Mess Uniforms – would I need them? You laugh, but a sword is a Naval Officer’s badge of office. Would I end up posted to some remote diplomatic mission far, far away (my father didn’t get to meet the Queen of England since he did not have a Mess Dress uniform) in which my war consisted of soirees and dances while engaged in the 21st century’s version of the Great Game (you may notice I am a romantic) or was it to be on some tub in a part of the world most people couldn’t pronounce? I ended up packing a basic officer’s kit of Khaki’s, Coveralls, and Dress Blues. The rest I sorted into piles labeled for different needs to be sent by my wife once I had landed at the ultimate destination.
Added to this mix, were my nice and shiny Commander’s cover, shoulder boards, and insignia. I had been selected for promotion the previous year and was waiting for the letter to join the ranks of senior officers. I remember a couple of discussions and thoughts along the lines I would come home a Commander – I would either get the opportunity to pin on the next rank or the Navy what posthumously promote me. This grim thought somewhat stilled the enthusiasm that last year’s selection had engendered.
Tuesday morning dawned and it was time to head into work and wait for the NOSC to open so that I could learn the next step. Once at work, I immediately went to our Human Resources (HR) department to let them in on the news. I will never forget my friend, Debbie, the HR manager joking with me that I had used up too much of HR’s time during the end of 2005 with my frenzy of hiring and firing a staff and that if I intended to give HR anymore to do I needed to come back the next day. I floored her with my announcement. She shouted three times in a row “You are kidding!” before she could take it in. Since this was a Tuesday and Friday was my last day, I had dropped an HR bombshell that took months to work through. Given the short run-way, I told her I intended to be at work for the rest of the morning and come back on Friday with the copy of my orders necessary to take extended military leave. I needed to tell my staff the news, pick a replacement manager, and wrap up about a thousand loose ends at work.
Finally, it was time to call the NOSC. I quickly reached the Petty Officer in charge of my MOB. He informed me that I was headed to Afghanistan on an unspecified assignment. I needed to check out from the NOSC and report to the NMPS (Navy Mobilization Processing Site) in Millington, TN by next Monday. I made arrangements to check-out through the local NOSC in Raleigh. (By the way, at the time I was the commanding officer of a Navy Reserve unit in Fort Worth, TX and that is why I had been recalled through that NOSC.). A quick call to the Raleigh NOSC set up an appointment for the next day to start the process of going on Active Duty.
Although I had been a reservist for years and most of my acquaintances were was used to me being gone on Navy duty, I think many of my friends, family, colleagues and employees viewed my service much like a hobby. Something along the lines of Joe is a golfer, Mary is a bowler, and Jimmy is a reservist. Before I left work, I called my team together and fired a broadside into them. To say they were stunned is an understatement. I sent dozens of emails to family and friends to let them know that I was headed to the Global War on Terror (GWOT).
This is when I first encountered a civilian perspective that being recalled was the equivalent to being diagnosed with a terminal disease. I found this view astonishing, but very common – but I had a very different view. Somehow they had missed the idea that I saw being recalled a privilege. I clearly did not want to experience the bad things in war and had zero illusions about the horrors of war. I did fully understand that my country was fighting terrorists, anarchists, and enemies of freedom in multiple countries. I also knew that I could die, be wounded and would likely experience those horrors far too closely in the coming year. I could have resigned my commission after the 2001 attacks, but hadn’t. I had long ago fulfilled the voluntary commitments I had made for the privilege of holding a commission. I and most reservists are patriots. We are the minute-men, the citizen-soldiers that defend our country from tyranny. I was glad to be called and will be glad to be called again. I serve because it is my duty and serving a noble cause is its own reward. It is hard and full of sacrifice, but it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. My only regret was my inability to effectively communicate my feelings to my friends. I was too busy to worry about what my friends thought and I made sure that my family understood exactly what I thought about being recalled. Once I was on my way within the comforting arms of my beloved Navy, I seldom heard any serving Sailor, Soldier, or Airman say anything negative about fulfilling their obligation or the Nation’s need. Our regrets were for friends lost, time away from loved ones and the effect that being away would have on our families. I may have been with an unusual group, but as a lot we believed in our country’s mission and tried our best to support it. I suspect that that opinion was held by the vast majority of our armed forces in theater. We wanted to win the war and were willing to do anything within our power to achieve it. Moral cowardice and defeatism are rare things on the battlefield. It is a pity that they are so commonplace in the country we fought to defend.
The rest of the week whirled by in a swirl of preparations, hugs, and last looks at North Carolina. My wife and I bought books on Afghanistan; both started journals, and prepared for a long separation. My orders indicated that I was to be in theater by the 22nd of February and would attend Navy Combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina once I mobilized. Checking out the map indicated it was only 4 hours away so I anticipated a short reunion before I left for war.
I went back to work on Friday wearing my uniform and signed all the papers which “terminated” my employment marked up in numerous places to indicate I was taking military leave, not a permanent separation. It was a bit heart wrenching to fully leave the civilian life that my job entailed. The company had a hail and farewell in my honor fortunately focused on joy and happiness rather than anxiety or sadness.
We went to church on Sunday morning and I told my Sunday School class that I had been recalled. I also said, believed, and still believe that God had prepared me for that journey and he had work for me to do in a far away land. At the end of the worship service, my pastor, Dr. David Hailey, announced that I had been recalled. I will forever remember his sermon about taking the next step on your spiritual journey through hardship and trepidation. He closed with the traditional Gaelic benediction so oft uttered in my church:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
I felt at peace. I was ready to leave. On Monday, I put on my uniform and my family drove me to the airport. With me I took my dreams, my faith, my aspirations, my courage, my family’s love, and most of all I took hope. I left my inspirations and most precious possessions at the gate and headed into the great unknown. A long journey had begun in earnest that would end with an even longer journey back.