All of the Marines, including me, were ready to go. We had spent enough time at Camp Lejeune, and were eager to begin our deployment. The day of our flight finally arrived. We each focused in on last minute logistics – checking out of hotel or barracks rooms, cleaning out office spaces and returning rental vehicles. We consolidated at the battalion Maintenance Bay, where a small farewell reception had been set up for family and friends.
Farewell receptions seem to have become common in the past decade. I’m not sure when the military started doing them regularly. The last time I deployed (which seems eons ago), there were no farewells such as this. We just got dropped off at a central point and boarded buses for the airfield. How times have changed!
The Family Readiness Officer (FRO) had cookies and drinks out for everyone, and some small essentials for the Marines (hygiene gear for the long hours of flight time). The Marines and their families were enjoying their last minutes together before the long separation began.
As the acting company commander, I forced my internal introvert out of her comfort zone, and made my way around to as many families and friends as I could. It was the first time I actually met some of my Marines individually. I had stood in front of unit formations numerous times, but with 160 in the unit, I had not yet made my way around to shake everyone’s hand. What fun! I learned about their jobs in the Marine Corps, what family and friends had joined them, how mom/wife was handling the deployment (especially if it was a first deployment) and how they felt about the deployment. We have a lot of new babies in the unit – I saw at least 4 ranging from 6-10 weeks old. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to leave your child, no matter what age, for seven months. This time with the families was a great experience for me.
Our Public Affairs Officer (PAO) had spoken with me the day before about a possible day of departure interview. The local newspapers and television shows were always interested in departing units, he said, and our mission was so unique and important to the drawdown in Afghanistan that it might attract some attention.
Oh dear, he wanted me to do an interview?? What would I say? Did I have any answers to his questions, since I was just leaving and wasn’t completely comfortable talking about our unit and miss (at least not for the official record!)
He assured me that I would do fine, and that I already knew all the answers. Keep it simple; stay confident and don’t fidget were his words of advice.
* It may be worth noting here that I think I got myself into this little predicament. When we had our Media Awareness class – all part of our pre-deployment training – I had spoken with this PAO about my blog. I wanted to get his perspective on what I was writing, to ensure I wasn’t compromising operational security, misrepresenting the Marine Corps or anything else. He was enthusiastic about the blog, and enjoyed reading it.
Back to the interview – I think I did as well as I could have done. No make-up (gasp), and it was rather warm in the maintenance bay, so I’m sure I look the part of a Marine just about to deploy. I tried to follow some old officer training advice from long ago – stay confident, speak only about what you know and know when to stop talking! But check it out for yourself. I’d love to know what you think.
As the buses approached, the tears began afresh.
We waved goodbye to everyone and headed to the armory. There, we drew our weapons and got accountability, then headed for the airfield. The Aerial Port of Embarkation (APOE) was only about an hour away. I felt like we were on our way now. Weapons in hand, families behind us and nothing but a short few days of travel to our destination all contributed to my excitement.