It all Happens so Fast
Memorial Day weekend, 1990. Driving almost halfway across the country in our little 1979 Accord, Tracy and I are moving from southern California to Manhattan, Kansas. He has received orders to report to his first “permanent” duty station- Ft Riley. Finally, this is really happening. We have been married for over a year and have been parents for almost as long. We are looking forward to finally being on our own and all the firsts that are to come. Our first place, our first real time together since we got married, our first Christmas as a family; just the three of us. Little do we know that our world is about to be turned upside down. I don’t know if I am prepared to be a soldiers’ wife. I have no idea what that even really means. Before I know it, it isn’t at all how I thought it would be. I never thought for a second we would be going to war.
August 2, 1990. The T.V. is buzzing on every channel, which is only a few since we only have basic cable. Breaking News: Saddam Hussein is the President of Iraq and his Republican Guard have invaded Kuwait. I am instantly sick to my stomach, terrified at what this might mean... can this really be happening? I try to call Tracy’s unit but I can’t get through, I probably won’t be able to get his name out through my shaking voice and tears anyways; I can hardly breath. I keep dialing and every time I get a most God-awful busy signal; it hums and dashes harshly in my ear. I must have tried a hundred times when finally, Tracy gets home. Our daughter squeals and he grabs her up, both of them smiling, her saying Da da da da, da, over and over and him calling out “Hey, baby girl”. I can’t read him, there seems to be no concern on his face or he is hiding it really well. I, on the other hand, unleash what is probably a thousand questions to which he has no answers.
Truth of it all, he has no idea what is going to happen because the news is only hours old and no one knows what is going to come of this invasion. It all happens so fast. Within a week the U.S. is sending intimidation to Saudi Arabia by way of thousands of troops. As the weeks pass the only answer Tracy has for me is “if they call my unit I’ll have to go but for now it doesn’t seem like that will happen”. I’m not sure if he is being truthful to save me the stress and worry or if he really doesn’t have any information- either way I’m terrified. Sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving it changes: “I have to go but I don’t know when, they have called the whole division; the whole post is going to have to go”.
1st Infantry Division, the “BIG RED ONE”! Tracy is assigned to Charlie company 1-1 Aviation Battalion. He flies an OH-58 helicopter- the littlest one the Army has and it has no weapons on it. For some crazy reason that I don’t understand, it’s the first out to “scout” the area for the Apache gunships, find the enemy, and report back. So with no weapons, except a 9mm handgun and a not so fast helicopter, my husband is going to war. The life expectancy for Tracy in his helicopter is said to be very short: 13 whole seconds in the air. I think we both believe he is not coming home.
With the sobering likeliness that he isn’t returning home, Tracy jumps into planning and a protecting; he goes into a “man of the house” and “provider” mode. Planning for the worst; we have appointments galore. We have to make sure the beneficiaries on his life insurance are correct, make sure our ID cards are going to be valid for at least a year, and the hardest appointment of them all- drawing up his will. The thought of having a will terrifies me. Next up, he wants me to have a reliable car- something that isn’t 11 years old and puffing out thick grey dying breaths of smoke every few seconds, and something with a warranty that has a war clause grandfathered in. You know, the one that says something like “no payments due/loan paid in full if service member dies”. He wants something brand new. Surprisingly, it only takes a couple hours for the salesman to secure and finalize a ridiculously high interest rate car loan for us. We drive away in our brand new, shiny, red, 1991 Nissan Sentra with all the bells and whistles- the top of the bottom of the line. We both feel pretty grown up right now, we just bought our first NEW car! I feel a bit relieved and heavy at the same time.
I don’t really like being “grown-up”, but this is my new reality; this is really happening. Tracy gets all kinds of new gear and the evenings are filled with him packing everything the army has ever issued him, new and old. When everything's said and done we have two duffel bags, a rucksack, a MOPP suit, and gas mask (because Iraq has chemical weapons) along with his flight bag and helmet all sitting by the front door. January 5th, 1991- we are less than 24 hours from being separated for what could be forever. He loads up the car and we drive to the airfield where he and the rest of his unit have to report. I think it’s around 5 o’clock but I’m not sure because time has been blurring away from me ever since he told me he has to go. I can’t stay. They are making everyone leave and they will let me know when I can come back. It’s a long a way back home which means it will be a long way back to the post when I get the call to come say goodbye to Tracy.
Finally, the call comes. It’s late, close to 10 o’clock at night, and I have to wake up the baby to get her in the car. I’m driving way too fast but I’m scared I will miss him and they will leave before I get to say good bye. I get to the hanger and nervously jog inside; the freezing Kansas winter air is thick with the smell of jet fuel and fear. The mass amounts of conversations are deafening; from what I can see, the sarcasm and cockiness aren’t fooling me or anyone else. There are what seems like hundreds of soldiers. I am having a hard time finding Tracy, all the uniforms blend together. It’s so loud in here; there are crying women holding tired crying babies and children, officers barking out who knows what, but I’m not really listening. I’m a little dazed, I think in shock. My husband is deploying to Saudi Arabia. I just want to spend more time with him, I don’t want him to go, he can’t go. So many tears are being shed. Tracy is crying, our little girl is crying, and me, a little girl in my own right; I am just 18 years old. Those ugly light green Army busses are parking right outside. This is crazy, oh God, this is really happening!