I'm trying to recall all the things I've been up to of late, but the last couple of months are blurred into one long half-remembered dream; unfortunately, most of what I do remember has been less than pleasant. I've spent most of this spring in the field, taking a week to go down to Camp Pendleton to attend the Combined Anti-Armor Team/Light Armored Reconnaissance raid course and another week to shoot out to the wasteland around Yuma for a Tactical Air Control Party exercise (translation: we blew stuff up for five days). Nothing wrong with all that training, it's what we do and it was certainly interesting, though with some long days thrown in. The unpleasant part was that it coincided, in what can only be described as cosmically bad timing, with the very difficult decision on the part of my wife to quit her job and pull our son out of day care so that the family could have more time together in the short window before deployment. No sooner had she cleaned out her desk than our Forward Air Controllers were suddenly in high demand and launched out to the four corners of California. So we've ended up right where we started, with weekend visitations, only now my wife doesn't have the job she enjoyed for the last year and my son no longer sees the twenty friends he's known by name since we moved.
I'd have been in the field for a third straight week except for a late night phone call that pulled me back into the Headquarters and Service Company, which had been turned over to another in mid-March. My replacement, who by all accounts was doing a fantastic job in H&S and had truly embraced the "Beast" that it is, made the unfortunate decision to imbibe a little too heavily at a local watering hole one Saturday night, and then climb into his vehicle and plow into a tree. He was relieved of command on the spot, and I got that late-night call telling me I was back in. On the one hand, it's not really a bad thing for me, since it means more time as a commander on my resume which is something no one else in my peer group will have when promotion time rolls around. I'm also pretty flattered that an infantry battalion commander would immediately tap a pilot to resume command of one of his companies after such an incident. On the flip side, however, it's never a good thing when a Marine gets himself a DUI, especially an officer. His career is over; and this was truly a lost opportunity for H&S, because I'm certain he would have had a great deployment with them. This also means that I'm now dual-hatting my duties again, playing the FAC on certain days and the CO on others, and whenever one picks up, the other suffers. I now also have to scramble to get up to speed on a two-week long field exercise that's just around the corner, the planning for which pressed on without me during the three weeks I wasn't in command.
Those are only the highlights of the last two months; like I said, everything else is a blur. The only other thing that really stands out is the constant burning in my gut which is the simmering knowledge that, all professional opportunities on my part aside, this year is time with my family that I will never get back. My wife went out on a limb and tried to buy us some more time together; the Corps had other plans. I'd already wandered off on this train of thought toward the end of my last deployment, but that was well before I knew I was heading out on a FAC tour, and certainly I never imagined just how difficult this 'geographic bachelor' life would be. I've known three other pilots who did the same thing, and they all said yeah, it sucked but you just pressed through it. Right now, I'm amazed they all did it and came through okay with their families. This posting is, essentially, a year-long deployment, six months of which you get the weekends off. I'm not entirely convinced that's much better than not seeing one's family at all. I'm only home long enough to do my laundry, go to the park and do a couple of puzzles with my son, and then I'm back on the road 48 hours later. It's not long enough to do any meaningful work on the house, or give my wife a break, or get into any kind of routine with my son. Indeed, my whirlwind tours sometimes feel like they do more harm than good; Aaron will go to bed fine all week, then I show up and he turns into a screaming banshee. And this is all before I vanish for six straight months where even that little time together is gone. Not gonna lie: this f'ing blows and I'm rapidly losing my conviction to stick around for much more of it. Come 2011, when we get back, I will have missed exactly one half of my son's life, and only a little less of my marriage. Someone please tell me what's worth that, because I'm running out of answers. I'm hoping to get back to a squadron, fly some more, actually enjoy my house in SoCal, and maybe knock out one more deployment (well after this one); by then, my time should be up, and something earth-shattering will need to happen between now and then to make me stick around. If not, it's peace out and back to the East Coast.
Well, that's all I have for now. Not terribly uplifting, I know. But life isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Occasionally the flying unicorns get sucked into jet intakes.