Through all the training my husband has had - every course, every class, every airplane he has jumped out of - there is one that was the most difficult. Not all soldiers receive it - very few do actually. No one asks for it. There is no patch or tab or pin that you can add to your uniform for it. There is nothing that signals to those who see your uniform that you know how to perform this task. There is nothing that you "earn" through it. I know that my husband would give anything to not know what he learned from this class.
My husband has been trained as a CNO and a CAO. For those who don't know what those horrible letters stand for they are: Casualty Notification Officer and Casualty Assistance Officer. He is trained to both inform a family of the death of their soldier and to help them through everything that follows. I cannot imagine the load those who have to do this carry.
My husband has never had to perform this duty. I thank God for that.
"I need you to talk me down," my 1 a.m. text message read. "If you are awake that is." I needed my best friend to tell me what I already knew - but didn't know.
This was only the second time I had this feeling. But it wasn't making it hard to breathe this time around - it was making me physically sick. I felt like I had been punched in my gut and had regained my breathe but couldn't quite stand up yet. I felt ill. I felt weak. I felt like I couldn't stand.
It was a course of events that made me feel that way - not JUST that I hadn't heard from him. But it was what he has said the only time I had talked to him since he returned to Afghanistan. "Things are strange here. I don't know quite what is going on ... I'll call you when I wake up."
He said other things that made me uneasy but that I won't go into here. I could handle eight or so hours until he woke up to fill me in if he could. Just 8 hours of this confusion. 8 hours.
He didn't call.
I emailed ... and emailed ... and emailed.
"Babe, you cannot say things like that on the phone and then not contact me. You just can't. I just need those two words. Let me know you're okay."
And then I let it happen - my mind wandered. I forgot how to reason - or my reasoning was just the worst kind. "If something would happen I would know. I know how this works. I know the process to a T. I know this. No, if something drastic happened no one could know for hours, maybe days. They are alone. Its different where they are. Something could have happened and I wouldn't know yet. It's possible that No One knows yet."
I took the boys and got out of the house. I didn't want to be there if my doorbell rang. I didn't want to know. I ran my errands, I went to a Starbucks completely out of the way. I circled the block before mine so that I didn't have to pull up and see a government vehicle in front of my house. I did anything to not be here. And when I was home I went upstairs, closed my door, and turned on the TV - anything that would make me not hear a doorbell. I fell asleep when the boys took naps. I hadn't slept at night and this seemed like a good time. I still felt sick.
"He's okay," I told myself. And then I decided to finally ask someone. I felt silly, I felt helpless, I didn't want to be the one who looked weak but I needed to gain a little sanity. I couldn't live like this. What if she answered no? What would happen then? I took a deep breath.
"Have you talked to your husband?" A simple message that to anyone else would seem innocent. To Army Wives we know why one asks.
Her reply was quick, thank God, I had forgotten to exhale, "Yep. No need to worry. He's okay. I'll tell mine to tell yours you want him to call." I could have averted all of this had I asked sooner. But I couldn't ask because I couldn't handle the other response.
Instead I wasted a day and a half avoiding the doorbell.
When my husband was on CNO/CAO duty I would pray that he would not receive a call. I prayed that he never had to be that person - that he never had to ring a doorbell. That no soldier would lose his life - as I always pray. That he never had to be the image that we all have nightmares about. I prayed the entire week(s) he was on the rotation. I didn't want him to carry that. How could he carry that? How does anyone carry that?
We dread the doorbell - more than anyone else will ever understand.
"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.