Redeployments are strange. I've been married to my soldier for five years, but even so, whenever he comes home from deployments, I am a nervous wreck.
It's as though the months of waiting, worrying and praying have built up to the moment of his arrival. The anticipation is enough to knock a girl sideways.
My husband, Sgt. Franco Young, left with the 29th Signal Battalion for his second tour in Iraq last November. I clearly remember the moment last spring when he told me he was going to war again. I was in denial for several months.
But time is a funny thing. The slower I wanted it to go, the faster the moments seemed to slip away. Before we knew it, November had arrived and Franco was gone again.
Keeping busy was the only way that I knew I would survive another deployment. There were times when I thought the constant worry would be my undoing. Every time the news reported casualties or deaths on the battlefield , all I could do was pray that it wasn't my soldier.
Phone calls and e-mails from Iraq are sporadic, so the worry just worsened with each passing day that there was no word. The best thing to do was adopt a "no news is good news" policy. And soldier on.
The worst part of the deployment was the loneliness, so heavy it took my breath away some days. At the beginning, when months of alone time yawned before me, I wondered if I would be able to do it again. I could not remember how I had survived the first time.
I just remembered that during the first deployment, I had thought I would not be able to handle another tour in Iraq. Another Christmas alone. Another Thanksgiving without my husband, my heart. Anniversary, Valentine's day and no one to kiss on New Year's.
But it is surprising what a person can handle. And it got easier as the year trudged on, but for every two or three good days, there was at least one bad; days where getting out of bed seemed impossible and all I wanted to do was cry.
If I have learned one thing from these deployments, it is how to be independent. A military wife has to learn to do everything for herself, whether she wants to or not. I am grateful for that, even if I wish there had been an easier way to achieve it.
When I got the call that Franco was coming home nearly a month early, I wasn't sure if I should believe it. If there is one thing that I have learned from being a military spouse it is that everything is subject to change.
But as the day drew closer, it seemed more and more likely that the unit would be home in mid-October.
The hard parts
There are two points in every deployment that are the absolute hardest: The four weeks before the soldiers leave, and the four weeks before they come home. The last four weeks before the unit redeploys is hard because, after waiting for so long, I feel like I just can't wait another four weeks. But, of course, I could. And I did.
So when Oct. 16 finally came, my nerves were stretched taut. My stomach was full of butterflies and I couldn't stop tapping my foot and wringing my hands. I waited in Sheridan Gym on Fort Lewis with all the other wives, friends and family members. The walls were plastered with homemade welcome home signs and the army band played lively, patriotic tunes. When the soldiers marched into the gym, the excitement was palpable. The crowd cheered and I looked for Franco in the sea of green and gray uniforms.
Once the soldiers were released from formation and allowed to search out their family members, I picked him out of the crowd. Surrounded by embracing couples, I got to wrap my arms around my husband, at last.
No more worry, no more loneliness.
He's home. Finally. Thank God.
Rachel Young is a reporting intern at The Olympian and a student at Pacific Lutheran University.