Veteran’s Day 2011: A Reflection of Why I Deployed

This picture was taken on January 6, 2009. About a minute later, the boys were out of my sight for 100 days. Photo: Dave Vollmer

Happy Veteran’s Day!

As it’s been mentioned many times before, I am a Major in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.  I have been serving as a meteorologist for the Air Force since Spring 1995, where I joined the active duty ranks right out of college.  In January 2005, when my 2nd son was born, I had an opportunity to accept a Reserve job in Norfolk, Virginia and I made the transition out of active service.  This afforded my husband the chance to take an Air Force PhD program assignment in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Something he wouldn’t have been able to do easily if I had remained on active duty.

It was a whole new world for me.  Except for one-weekend-per-month, I was a stay-home-Mom!  Little-to-no adult interaction most of the days, weekly playgroups, preschool drop-off and pick-up lines, etc.

My friend and colleague Paul. This is the Reserve weather officer I "shared" my deployment with. Here we are during our overlap at Al Udeid AB, Qatar, April 2009. Photo used with permission by Patricia Vollmer.

One weekend per month, I’d travel to Norfolk and perform my reserve duty, and every fall (usually around peak hurricane season) I’d perform my two week tour.  In 2007, my job in Norfolk was cut and I transferred to a new position at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, this time with the Air Force weather unit that provides “reach-back” forecast support to the Global War on Terror: both Operation IRAQI FREEDOM and Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

It was tough to fit in with a group of Airmen who were constantly rotating in and out of the Middle East.  They would bring their forward-deployed expertise back to South Carolina and constantly make our forecasting processes better.  I had never taken a Middle East deployment — the cards had never fallen such that I had to go.

I still didn’t have to go.

But my credibility was at stake.  Not to others.  To me.  I had plenty of managerial experience.  I knew who to talk to to get things done.  I would fix countless issues in my job, but in terms of forecasting for the Middle East, I still lacked that hands-on experience.

The commander of the weather unit offered some of us a chance to take a non-Iraq/Afghanistan deployment opportunity, and Air Force Reserve Command took the opportunity a step further and said that if two reservists wanted to “share” a single 179-day deployment, we could do that.  So my friend/colleague Paul and I did exactly that.  We volunteered to serve in the Middle East.

I was given a spot in a required training class on the Florida Panhandle in mid-December 2008, then had orders to go “downrange” in early January 2008.  This was awesome in that I’d at least get the holidays with my boys before I had to leave.  The kids would be back in school by then, too…

I was ready for this — I got my training, I got all the child care arranged for the kids, my husband’s job (at the time) supported a standard work week so he could play single dad.  What I wasn’t ready for was the reaction from many of my friends, neighbors and extended family about this.  We were living in a non-military community at the time, and most of our neighbors and friends weren’t accustomed to someone they knew having to take a deployment.

  • “The kids are so young!  It’s a shame they’re making you go with such young children.”
  • “Couldn’t you get out of it?”
  • “Are you sure you have to do this?”
  • “I can’t believe you have to do this!”
  • “Can’t you call your Congressman?”

Then I say that I volunteered and it was as if I shot a puppy.  I can imagine the thoughts going through those fellow Moms’ heads, “She must hate her family…” or “How could she traumatize her children like that?”

I had not-so-nice thoughts in my head too: “I’m doing this so you don’t have to!”

Most of my friends were more understanding after a short conversation about it.  I’d merely explain that most other Americans who do what I’m trained to do had been already (such as my husband, who deployed to Baghdad in mid-2003), and that it was time for me to do my part in the Global War on Terror.  I’m sort of idealizing/glorifying the explanation here, but you get the gist of it.

My sons wrote me many letters and cards. This is my oldest son's first letter to me. He was in Kindergarten when I deployed in 2009. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

On January 6, 2009, I made the journey “across the pond” and had a very busy, educational, and rewarding experiencing serving “downrange”.  The forecasting was among the most challenging in my entire life (Afghanistan weather in the winter is NOT for the faint of heart).  I met hundreds of outstanding fellow military professionals and got to do full time work for the first time in 4 years.  It felt good.

My only negative about the entire experience was how much I missed my family.  I won’t beat around the bush, it sucked royally.  Because of my strange work schedule, I could Skype with my husband and the boys once a week.  This got a bit frustrating because I’d want the boys to talk to me, but they were more interested in the Skype software itself.  They’d constantly ask me to change webcam backgrounds and they’d goof off and be silly.  But upon thinking about it, I’m sure they took comfort in seeing my image on the screen once a week…and the rest of it was gravy.  They knew I was okay.

I came home at about 2am on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009.  I was waiting with my sons’ Easter baskets that morning…homecomings are rather tricky, so we didn’t tell the boys about it ahead of time, in case my flight was delayed.

I blogged about what deployment items I could while I was over there.  Don’t get the wrong impression, I did a TON of work, which I wasn’t allowed to discuss in detail.  But I could openly discuss the trips I made into Doha, Qatar five or six times, along with some pictures of the base I was living on.  I had some laundry service issues, and I did a step-by-step journey through growing a Chia Homer in my dorm room.  About 2 weeks after I came home, I wrote a big “Thank You!” note on my blog and it offers more perspective on why I chose to voluntarily make this trip.

I don’t regret it, and I thank my husband and children even to this day for giving me the chance to do it.  A trip to Disneyworld for Christmas 2009 with some of my deployment money softened the blow some too!

I also never forget that I had it easy relative to the thousands of servicemembers who have deployed and continue to deploy into the more dangerous locations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And I also never forget those who never made it home.

Happy Veteran’s Day!

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14 thoughts on “Veteran’s Day 2011: A Reflection of Why I Deployed

    1. The pleasure was all mine! At the time I graduated college, the armed services were the only ones hiring — I’m so glad I ventured this route! It’s been so much fun!

  1. Patricia, thank you for sharing your experience of deployment. How long did it take your boys to re-adjust to the new routine? Lol on Skyping. That’s exactly what my son is doing whenever speaking with his dad (who’s deployed). And yes, it is frustrating, but surprisingly, while it doesn’t seem they pay any attention to you and what you say, they really do.

    1. Hello Yelena! I think my older son was pretty resilient about things. His school and behavior didn’t really suffer. He was the one who experienced ages 6 weeks – 2 years in a Child Development Center on an Air Force base, though. My tough kid.

      My younger son had some behavior issues at his child care and preschool, but it all seemed to correct itself. His biggest issue was the potty training. He was squared away by mid-2008 (age 3 1/2) but then by the time I came home (a little over age 4), he was back to bed wetting every night. That lasted for nearly a year.

      My youngest is the “Momma’s boy”. The one who clung to me like Velcro. The one who got to experience stay-home-Mom Patricia 🙂 So he had a much different reaction.

      My husband only had to deal with a couple complete “I MISS MOMMY” breakdowns. Not bad, but then again, I was only gone 100 days. I guess the numbers would ramp up if I were gone longer….

  2. Patricial, some time ago, I wrote a 6 word memoir on that I now dedicate to you.

    Overwhelming desire: hug someone in uniform.

    Please consider yourself hugged, Patricia. I ache for all the men and women “over there” who are so far from their families, and wish I could do more than send care packages and prayers and say “thank you.” It’s nowhere NEAR enough. Thank you for being a GeekMom and sharing this with us!

    1. Christina, you just made my day/week/month!!!

      {{{{HUGS}}}} back to you!

      My husband’s unit is working with helping all those folks and their supplies come home from Iraq right now and it’s such a comfort to us. I’m about to start on my cookies in the next week or so to send to a friend who’ll be over there through the holidays helping to button things up. But once she comes home she gets to lock the office door behind her!

    1. I bought those ears for ME! The kids even thought I deserved some mouse ears of my own 🙂

      But I was pleased to see so many other adults wearing them too (It was one of the Star Wars weekends at WDW this past June — if you ever want to do Star Wars weekends, go as early as you can, it’s less crowded before Memorial Day!)

  3. First of all, thank you for your service! I think there are many who don’t grok what volunteer military service is about, or why anyone would do it. It’s always something somebody else does! Not someone you know. Until it is someone you know!

    And WOOT for the internet and technology making it easier to stay in touch with your family! It isn’t the same as actually being there, but it helps.

    You are awesome. Totally.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Jo. I have known military family life all my life. My Dad was gone 6-8 months per year every time he was stationed on a ship. Most of my friends were from military families (Pearl Harbor, HI and Norfolk, VA) and it was just the way things were for us growing up. I’d miss my Dad and all, but I was brought up in the mindset that it’s simply what parents had to do.

      It was going away to college, meeting folks (such as the man I married) whose parents never had a reason to spend more than a long weekend apart in over 40 years that made my realize that my upbringing is NOT necessarily normal, ha ha! My husband’s family reacts to our military lifestyle much differently than my family.

      I’m considering writing another essay about celebrating holidays. Probably around back-to-school time. In the military family world, you learn in a hurry that a holiday is just a day on the calendar. You can celebrate birthdays, Christmases, and anniversaries whenever you choose. I took that 2009 deployment very shortly after my oldest son started Kindergarten. I’m so happy I didn’t miss that. There’d always be other birthdays, Christmases and Halloweens. There was just one first day of Kindergarten.

  4. Great post, Patricia! I would also like to thank you for your service and apologize for all of those thoughtless people who didn’t ‘get it’.

    You are amazing, my geekmom friend! You have all my respect!


  5. Respectfully:

    Duty, service, volunteerism, self-sacrifice–these are all laudable things. I respect that you sacrificed for what you believe is right.

    But… “I’m doing this so you don’t have to!”

    Nobody HAD to. Not every agrees that our post-9/11 approach was the right one or has had net positive consequences. That statement takes as a given that unilaterally declaring war on and invading another country was a good thing.

    I realize that debating the war isn’t the thrust of this post, but that sentiment always, always rubs me the wrong way. It demands that the hearer unquestioningly aligns their value system with the person saying it, it leaves no room for thought and it shuts down debate, which is the foundation of our way of life.

    “I’m doing this because I think it’s vital to maintain our freedom.”
    “I’m doing this because I want to fight terror and I think this is the best way.”
    “I’m doing this because I think it’s the best way to stop Osama bin Laden.”
    “I’m doing this because I can’t sit idly by and watch the plight of women in Afghanistan.”

    All of these would be better answers, in my opinion.

    1. Ron, thank you for your comment. Those would all have been better answers — but as I was hearing more and more folks suggest that I try to get out of taking a deployment, like I said in the post, I had some not-so-nice thoughts. That wasn’t a nice thought and not how I really feel about my service.

      You are correct that this is an all-volunteer force right now — I didn’t have to do ANY of this. I wasn’t forced to sign on the dotted line 18 years ago. But I’m very proud to have been trained to perform the missions I did, and glad to be among those who are okay with doing it.

      The brunt of why I chose to go was because just about every Air Force weather officer with my flavor of specialized training had been over there multiple times, yet 7 years after 9/11 I hadn’t been called over there. I had a chance to go, it was certainly long overdue for me to do my part.

      I have my opinions about our approach to answering for 9/11 also, but that’s for another discussion. Suffice it to say that no war should ever be fought without clear and concise objectives in mind. Yet here we are.

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