My alarm goes off. Time to start another day after another night of too little sleep. After a quick breakfast–usually just a large cup of coffee–it’s time to get to work. I’m an aviator by training, but now I work for the admiral in command of the Stennis battle group.
While I begin preparing the admiral’s daily operations brief, the ship is also getting to work. Aircrews are preparing for the day’s first missions, flight deck crews are preparing for another day of launching and recovering aircraft, and maintenance crews are making sure the jets are ready to go.
Immediately after September 11, two carrier battle groups stationed themselves in the North Arabian Sea, just south of Pakistan, ready to take action against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces. In order to provide 24/7 air strike support, one carrier takes the day shift while the other takes the night shift.
Now the Stennis is on-station conducting air strikes on Tora Bora. We’ve taken the night shift, effectively flip-flopping our entire schedule. Breakfast is at 7 pm, lunch at midnight, and dinner at 6 am. It is definitely bizarre and takes some serious getting used to.
Throughout my busy "day," there was comfort in knowing that when I was eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner so was my family. When I was going to bed or waking up, so was my family. I miss them so much. And, because this is a time of war, I don’t know when I will see them again. The fact that it’s the Christmas season doesn’t help.
It’s 6:45 am and my daughter lets me know it’s time to get up. She’s only six months old and I’m already exhausted just thinking about the day. Not that our schedule is tremendously busy. But, it’s just the two of us, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for at least the next six months.
The only support I can expect from my husband is emailed words of encouragement and an occasional phone call to say how much he misses us. The next thought that goes through my mind as I’m walking down to Jacqueline’s room is "I can’t wait until the holiday season is over." It’s so hard being apart, especially during this time of the year.
Other thoughts fill my head that make me choke up almost every morning. What part of Jacqueline’s "growing up" is he missing? The first time she rolled over, the first tooth–or in her case, the first six teeth–and what about the first crawl across the family room floor? Why should he have to miss all of these milestones?
I go downstairs and turn on the "Today" show. Katie Couric is interviewing Todd Beamer’s pregnant wife, Lisa. Todd was one of the heroes who helped stop a hijacked plane from hitting a target in Washington, D.C., on September 11. His plane crashed, and his last words "Let’s roll" became a rallying cry for the war on terrorism.
I begin to sob as I feel for her loss and start to feel guilty for the thoughts that I had earlier that morning. How dare I feel sorry for myself? Being separated from Jon is the least our family can do after the tragedy that Lisa Beamer and thousands of other families suffered.
After two months on the night shift, we switch to the day schedule. The war continues as we now launch air strikes in support of Operation Anaconda. The war and the work never stop. Today I take a brief reprieve and spend some time with my family–a video from my wife arrived in today’s mail.
Vicki has been so good about taping Jackie for me. My baby is growing up so fast. When I left, she couldn’t even sit up. Now she’s almost crawling. To see her play and to hear her laugh–wow. I am so thankful for the video, but that only scratches the surface of the things I am thankful for from my wife.
May 28–entering San Diego harbor. I’m up in the Flag Bridge, high in the tower of the carrier watching as we pass Point Loma and round the bend toward the pier at NAS North Island. It is an overcast morning, but San Diego never looked more beautiful.
After being gone almost seven months, I can hardly wait to see Vicki and Jackie. My only hope is that Jackie remembers me. Vicki has a picture of me that she shows Jackie every day, but I’m realistic. She was only 5 months old when I left, now she’s nearly a year old.
As I walk off the ship and see my wife and baby girl, the excitement builds. Vicki is holding Jacqueline. As we come together on the pier, she hands her to me. She’s gotten so big. Jackie is staring at me. Then she smiles, leans forward, and gives me a kiss. Wow.