Editor’s note: If you’re new to the Military Mama blog, Jade is sharing details from her tumultuous childhood as an Army brat. Today we’ll read about what it was like for Jade’s family to move back to the states from Belgium to Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. (Read Part I here , Part II here and Part III here.)
By Jade Stone, wife to National Guardsman Jay and mama to one
I believe the last time we met, my family had just moved back to the states from Belgium and was now stationed in Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri.
At the time, it was affectionately known as Fort Lost in the Woods, because there was literally nothing on post except the PX, the commissary, a Class Six, a bowling alley, a hospital, and the barracks, all of which were completely surrounded by woods. Lynn worked as a nurse at the hospital and always had stories about what bored GI’s do for fun, which usually translated into a trip to visit him in the ER.
At any rate, we were placed on post in a row of duplexes just down the hill from what would become the place where I attended kindergarten. The duplex had a small, square, concrete front porch that became mine and mom’s hang out when we got bored or were waiting for Lynn to come home, or when my little brother slept. It seems as though we hung out there a lot! We would sit on the porch floor with a bag of sunflower seeds and a TAB cola watching the population go by.
When it was warm, everyone was outside, dads washing vehicles or grilling steaks and drinking beer, kids playing in the streets, and moms mowing the lawn or hanging cloths on those strangely shaped clothes lines which looked to me more like umbrella skeletons that had been blown up by the wind than what I knew to be a clothesline. Folks on post were required to maintain a certain appearance about their quarters or they would be fined. In the Army, it’s all about appearances. Everything was “dress right dress” and “squared away”.
Every once in a while we would run to the PX or the Hospital to meet Lynn for lunch and I would find myself mesmerized by the cadence that came from the little groups of “green men” marching along the road side. Traffic had to stop or slow at all times for them to pass no matter where it was. I grew to really enjoy watching different battalions and their respective companies go by.
Then, if we stayed late enough we could watch a major tradition which occurred at 5 o’clock each morning and night. The post flag would be raised and taken down according to strict procedure complete with Taps at night. I remember there was always that feeling of sadness that covered me as I watched the lowering of the flag and heard the ghostly notes of the song, as its sound wafted through the air, as if to comfort the dead and bring peace to the living. Those who sacrificed all were honored nightly in this tradition and it was revered as sacred.
On Post, tradition and patriotism exist with every breath each individual takes. There is no stopping to consider the reason why something is done, and absolutely no disloyalty to the Commander and Chief, no matter who he was at the time. He was to be regarded with the highest respect and authority, because personal opinion was a luxury that is not afforded to the armed forces. Integrity, honor, and sense of duty are things I learned at a very early age. This sense of patriotism is what pulled all the families together.
The bonds formed among soldiers and their families who laugh together, go through crisis and celebration together and support each other are like no other in the world. My mom still talks to friends that she met on an Army post. There is a program on Lifetime called “Army Wives” that does a great job of displaying the dynamics that exist among the wives as well as the soldiers. (and yes, I am addicted to that show! I can’t wait till the season opener on April 11th at 9:00!)
Everything had its place, even kids, at least in our household. Lynn had proven to be quite the disciplinarian and being a former Drill Sergeant, he came by it naturally. We were meant to be seen and not heard. “Playing and Toys” were confined to our rooms, and we were expected to greet him at the door and then retreat to our rooms to play. At the time I couldn’t stand it. My Grandma didn’t approve of his strict demeanor either. But, he was here to stay so we might as well get used to it. Needless to say, life in this house was a bit rocky at first and I didn’t do a very good job of accepting it.
Lynn spent a lot of time in the field doing jumps (he was airborne) and other training activities which meant he wasn’t home much at all. I remember going to an open field with lots of other moms and their kids to watch the C-17s fly over when, all of a sudden, the door opened and things started falling out of it! And then, the things turned out to be little green men with parachutes! When I asked mom why they jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, she told me it was to meet us…Lynn was one of them! I’m not sure what the occasion was but I do remember running across an open field to meet Lynn who made the jump with a small stuffed Giraffe just for me. That was a big day.
I was not the easiest to get along with since it seems as though I harbored a lot of anger and distrust towards Lynn, no matter how hard he tried. He just wasn’t my dad. Funny how children always cling to things they love, no matter how bad the thing hurts them. However, something about someone jumping out of an airplane just to deliver a package and see you can really make an impact…at least, that’s how I saw it. This day was a turning point for me. It was the beginning of a relationship that would become strong over the next several years. I still didn’t trust him because he was gone so much, but I did begin to cut him some slack after that day.
Somehow, Mom managed to deal with the stresses of running a household alone and put up with my grumpy butt all with a smile on her face. Regardless of whether it was forced at times or not, she loved us and believed no matter how she really felt about our current situation, it was better than where we sat less than two years prior. No matter how tired she got or how lonely she seemed, mom did her best to be mom and dad, a cook, maid, and chauffeur for us both, without as much as a peep of a complaint.
She worked hard to keep both my brother and I busy with something. I will never forget the day I was enrolled in a new activity and found myself in a strange place where all the other little girls were twirling their little flimsy, pink skirts and hopping and dancing to music and before I knew it, I was donning a horrific pink tutu and being asked to walk across a very thin wooden board of some sort acting like a circus bear and singing some goofy song! As I’m sure you’ve guessed, that just wasn’t my thing and pink simply was not my color so we tried gymnastics which I enjoyed but was not very good at.
Things seemed to be getting back on track finally. I attended preschool down the street and was nearly finished with Kindergarten when we got the news that Lynn would be retiring! I don’t think I fully understood what this meant except that we had to leave all of a sudden and that we would be moving back (again) to Springfield.
My poor little brother who was finally learning how to talk told everyone he met that “my daddy’s retarded”! I guess “retired” was just too hard to say! Lynn always laughed and said “well, the military does have that effect on people!” As it turns out, after 20 years of honorable service, Lynn was giving up his military lifestyle and exchanging it for a big bad dose of civilian reality! While I was ecstatic, as was my mom, about returning to my Grandma’s town, Civilian life was a little tricky.
Let’s just say the transition was not exactly smooth. They always say, you can take the man out of the military but you can’t take the military out of the man! Could Lynn really survive without the rigidity? For that matter, could we? See you next time!
Jade welcomes your comments here as well as any suggestions you may have for her future posts. You may also e-mail her at akajadestone [AT] yahoo [DOT] com. To read previous Military Mama posts, CLICK HERE.