Is Every Homecoming Cause for Celebration?

When my husband came home last week, I didn’t go to the trouble to hang up the “Welcome Home Our Hero!” banner that I’d lovingly acquired several years before. I didn’t have a freshly decorated red-white-and-blue commissary cake with star spangled sprinkles.

He’d only been gone for three weeks. We weren’t really sure of the return date and it was supposed to be a short trip. A trip to Afghanistan, yes, but a short trip to Afghanistan.

“The shorter the trip, the less the risk, right?” I told myself, eager to minimize the frantic uncertainty a changing war can bring.

During the trip, there was a crash in Afghanistan with fatalities. For the moments before I realized that it wasn’t – couldn’t – be him, my heart froze. No, it wasn’t my airman. But it was someone else’s.

In a war where there’s just as much risk on an Army convoy on rural roads as in a military hospital, which moments do you choose to be more concerned?

We can’t possibly spend all day, every day, in a heightened state of concerned tension. I mean, we could, but then how would we  do things like drive to the grocery store and tie our shoes?

No, there must be some compartmentalization. Even the most gung ho, hoo-rah among us don’t sport the military swag every day. Everyone leads diverse and important lives.

Inevitably, the longer the deployment, the greater the celebration upon return. So it should be.

Yet, there’s so many service members and their families who have many, many deployments and side trips annually, shorter stints away and shorter stints home. For them, there’s no grand finish line with rainbows and fire truck water arches.

We can journey down the rabbit hole of “who’s got it harder” and “who’s in more danger” another day. Today, I simply want to know, which homecomings matter more?

The homecoming from a war zone? The evacuation from a leaky ship? The bailout from an aircraft making an emergency landing? The drive home on a particularly dangerous commute with awful traffic?

Because if the answer is “all of them!” I will simply quit. I do not have the energy – or cake frosting ability – or budget for streamers – to make a giant show every time my loved one comes home from harm’s way.

If harm is everywhere, how do we pick and choose?

If we miss him equally every time he’s gone through a holiday weekend, how do we approach it?

On some days, our service member’s jobs are not much more dangerous than many civilian jobs. On other days, there’s no comparison. Some streets and neighborhoods in Chicago and Detroit have higher homicide rates than contentions battlegrounds abroad.

Our family will find a way to make our service member feel appreciated and special whenever the occasion calls for it. We will learn how to scale up or scale down based on our perception of the situation.

Yet, the most important lesson I take away from the many homecomings we’ve had is simple: never, ever take them for granted.

 Sarah writes about life in the US Air Force, raising a Jewish family and interfaith marriage. She lives in Tucson with her husband, son and daughter. Her idea of perfection is walking her dog, reading in a hammock and eating breakfast tacos. She has a BA in Political Science and Chinese and a Masters in Public Affairs.
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