Fact: Since my brother joined the military, I have cried a lot.
Joseph joined the Army Reserves in October 2001 because he wanted to help fight the war on terrorism. I wasn't quite as gung-ho as he was. It seems that for the past 4 1/2 years, I have cried more tears that I ever had before. Joseph has been deployed onto American soil 2 times, and even then, while he wasn't running off into downtown Iraq, it was still hard. He was doing a lot of heavy work, and being at forts near the coast made them a target by terrorists. So I was scared because I didn't know what was going to happen...would he stay there for his deployment or would he be sent on to continue his job overseas. And I was sad. After all, my baby brother was leaving. I was still living at home at the time, and I wouldn't get to see him (and argue with him!) when I wanted to. It was heart-breaking.
Then, on February 12th 2005, he left for Fort Bragg. This deployment was a 2 month training for a year's service in Afghanistan. Not that is was easy the other times, but this time was way harder than I ever expected, and it lasted for what seemed like forever. Every time he called from Bragg, it was nothing but a cry fest for 30 minutes while we both tried to get out what we wanted to say. Then, came the final visit before Afghanistan. It's so hard to look someone in the face and not know if it's the last time you will ever see them.
For the past year, since the 391st actually left for Afghanistan, it's not been anything like I expect. One thing, for sure, it that it's been an emotional rollercoaster. It's always good to hear from Joseph, but it's never easy. It's a constant reminder that he's not here with us, and there's always the possibility of him not making it home. This week has been especially hard dealing with the deaths of those four soldiers who were killed by a roadside bomb on March 12th. I had never even met these guys, and it seems that at the very thought of them, I can't stop crying. I don't understand it. I guess that's what happens when someone close to you is in the Army. Everyone immediately becomes a family member. Sgt. Akins' funeral was very emotional. It was so hard to watch his family mourn for him. He was only 29. They thought they would see him at the end of April. It was hard to hear his fellow military buddies get up and tell stories of their time together in Afghanistan amidst a sea of tears. It was hard to see the medal ceremony. Each medal that he received was given to his parents. It was hard to hear as they read the letter from the President that accompanied the Purple Heart. It was even harder to watch that officer hand his mother and father his dog tags. What a heart-breaker. That represented the finality of it all, and it wasn't easy. There wasn't a dry eye in the entire place. The most amazing part of the day was when the funeral procession made it's way through the little town of Burnsville and for 6 straight miles the roads were lined with people honoring this fallen soldier. Some had flags. Some held their hands over their hearts. Some teared up. Local business shut down so that their employees could stand on the streets in honor as well. The Jr. ROTC stood at attention saluting the entire mile long procession. It was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. Knowing that an entire town stood still for just a short time to honor this man. And yes, everyone in our car was crying.
I would like to think that the crying is over. But it's not. The 391st is scheduled to come home at the end of April, and there will be more tears. These will be happy tears-for the overjoyed feeling we will have to be hugging our soldier-and sad tears-for those guys who will have to embrace their families when they know there are 6 families who won't ever get to embrace their soldier again.
Joseph signed a contract with the Army Reserves for 6 years. 4 1/2 years are finished. I am sure that the next year and a half will hold more tears. But, I guess that if these guys can make sacrifice upon sacrifice, upon ultimate sacrifice, the least I can do is shed a few tears.