350 days ago, I watched my wife disappear in the rearview mirror of my car at a hotel in Oxnard, California. The hotel was next to the naval base where she began, what was for me, an unimaginable life that would take her to a war 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan. Her journey would be difficult in ways that I will never fully understand.
It’s been 350 days of constant underlying stress all military families endure. Katie was perhaps less threatened than the soldiers that patrol the battlefields, given her location. But in the back of my mind I had the nagging question: was anywhere in that country safe? It’s really all a matter of degree, a matter of probabilities. Layered on top of this apprehension were the added responsibilities of pets, vehicles, bills and work. When friends ask, “How are you doing?” It’s hard to put this complex set of circumstances into a few short words that you can utter when passing someone in a hallway.
In 350 days, I have adapted. I’ve improvised, learned from trial and error and created a functioning life routine that, while very different from 350 days ago, works. I have been fortunate to have others who have contributed to my success. They helped fill in the gaps of time and effort that Katie had occupied, dinners out, helping me drop a vehicle off for repair and a trip to the emergency room in the middle of the night (Thanks Kevan!).
My co-workers all supported me during a year where I made them as uncomfortable as they have probably ever been. A remodeling project moved nearly every one of our 150 people. I packed 79 of them into an area less than half the size of the previous space. Another 30 were sandwiched into three small rooms, one of them a kitchen. We had a video editing suite next to a sink and one desk so close to a refrigerator that you could almost reach out and grab your lunch without leaving your chair. Few of us have escaped the smells, dust and noise of the remodel project.
Their situation was eerily similar to Katie’s minus the constant threat of harm and bad chicken. Their environment had shrunk like the walled compound and tiny rooms Katie worked and slept in. Like her, they had to share space and give up privacy. They went through training and were given new tools; just as Katie learned to roll over in a Humvee, shoot, and now carry an automatic weapon. They both had to endure this while being asked to give more than ever before to their mission. They’ve both had their own 350 days.
In a few long weeks, both Katie and my co-workers will come to the end of their long night. They’ll return to a better, literally brighter remodeled workplace. And, for Katie, a living room with windows, two dogs, a cat and a Lazy Boy recliner.
I will dismantle the command center I built in the living room with its horseshoe of six foot folding tables strategically close to the TV and the kitchen. I’ll remove the phone, files and computer and return to the garage – the “man cave” where I spent the previous ten years. I will again spend my time in the company of the washer, dryer and hot water heater. And Katie will be on the other side of the garage wall again, no longer digital and pixilated wearing a headset and microphone. She’ll be here with me and the boys safe at home.