Update: After speaking with my wife, she said that I actually never got in touch with her on Valentine’s Day. She wasn’t able to answer her phone, so I just left her a voice message. Even more romantic than I remembered!
Once upon a time on Ardennes Street…
Another morning like any other in the 82d Airborne Division. A company run at a nice, easy pace. A run designed to build esprit de corps and unit cohesion.
I had been in the Army for almost two years. The entire division had deployed to Afghanistan since 9/11 with the exception of the 325th AIR, the Falcons. War with Iraq seemed more likely with each passing day and each week brought news reports of units being tapped for deployment to Kuwait. At the time, the rumor was that we were being held back to serve as a strategic response to any worldwide contingencies. Paratroopers from the 504th and the 505th were cycling back to Bragg, chests puffed out at the Airborne PX, showing off their new CIBs. Our fear was that this whole thing would pass before we got our chance in the show.
As we beat feet, singing cadence, the company I was running in started rumbling loudly. I looked up and saw that we were passing a company from the 504th who had just returned from Afghanistan.
“Three Two Jive!” someone shouted from the passing formation.
“No war Oh-Four” someone responded from our formation.
“We got ours! You guys missed it” we heard.
A junior NCO from our formation got out the last word “They’re saving us for Iraq” which was said with more hope than fact.
We passed the formation and continued running, wondering if we would ever get our shot.
14 February 2003
Worst. Valentine’s. Ever.
Wearing my brand new desert uniform and maroon beret, I stood outside on a browning grass field, worn down from sweat and mountain climbers. Hundreds of paratroopers were busy all around me checking and double checking serial numbers, burning 550 cord, loading trucks, and making sure duffel bags and rucksacks were nicely lined up in formation. I called my girlfriend to tell her that I was leaving to deploy “somewhere” and that I didn’t know when I would talk to her again.
For weeks prior, we trained and prepared for a deployment to Iraq, although no one told us that is where we were actually going. We all suspected it was Iraq, and I am sure our command new that was where we were going, but that word didn’t filter down to my level. The war hadn’t started yet and everything was a secret.
Instead of finalizing romantic plans for the evening, I made sure she knew where she could find my will. I tried to sound as confident and reassuring as I could as I finished up the call like it was any other night. “All right, I’ll talk to you later. I love you. Bye!”
I powered down my phone and turned it over to my squad leader who placed a piece of white tape on it with my name and date. I let out a deep breath of air and turned my attention to the best Valentine I could get – my team, my squad, my platoon. We would spend the entire year together in a hot, exotic locale. Romantic for all the wrong reasons.
I wouldn’t hear her voice again for three months.