The Commissary was closed and only a small playground was in sight. “I can do this!” I remember thinking to myself. My husband arrived later that afternoon and the many errands that come with a PCS began.
And so did my love for New Orleans.
When we first got orders there I was shocked. “NEW ORLEANS?!” My heart sank. All I could think of was bad schools, crime and a city still recovering from the country’s worst hurricane in decades.
“Look, the detailer said he would send us anywhere we want but this is best for my career.” My husband said to me.
“Yea, he said that about Japan, too and we see how that turned out.” I replied.
“Kate, do you want me to tell him no and send us somewhere else?”
“Does it have a Walmart or Target?”!
Chuckling, my husband replied yes he was sure they did. “OK. Let’s do it. If we survived this place we can survive that one, too.” I told him.
With reservation I called my mother to tell her the news. We were all hoping for a duty station closer to family but when I told her she about leaped through the phone with excitement and told me to call and tell my grandfather. How could I not know my family would be thrilled? They are from New Orleans. Generations of my family dating back to the Civil War and before called it home, so of course they all couldn’t wait for their first trip south.
After a long difficult trip back to the states from Japan solo with my boys and the dog we arrived very late at night. My husband had flown to Norfolk to pick up our car. I felt stranded, tired and worried about this new adventure. The crime scared me as our sponsor drove us through the dark streets to the base. He assured me the school was great, housing was new and it wasn’t as bad as everyone says.
As the day dawned the base seemed so barren compared to Yokosuka, Japan, which is like a small city.
But without warning I was surprised to find that all of the negatives I had first noticed didn't matter anymore.
I don’t know whether it was the warm feeling Southerners give you or the beauty of St. Charles’ Oak lined street, or the fact that kids don’t have school for Mardi Gras.
The city grew on me fast. From almost the get go it felt like home – a place I wanted to stay forever.
Like all new duty stations it came with the usual struggles until you get your footing in a strange, new city. Lucky for me I found a great friend who been there before and knew all the ins and outs of the city. They showed us the best restaurants, the best place to enjoy Mardi Gras and taught us how to live “local”.
My grandfather was also the perfect resource -- he was like a little kid when he came that first Thanksgiving (he came back twice more). Seeing him enjoy New Orleans only strengthen my growing love and connection to my roots.
Fast forward three and half years when the dreaded call came that we had orders. I called my mom and sobbed and then I called my friend and sobbed with her. In those years it just felt like moving wasn’t going to happen.
We had found “home” and felt there to stay but Mother Navy had other ideas.
Being at a duty station we loved and didn’t want to leave just never seemed like a possibility.
Yet, here we were, in love and broken hearted we had to go.
Those last few months were hard for us. On the day we went to the airport to leave seeing it all decorate for Mardi Gras felt like a cruel joke. We couldn’t possibly be leaving but we were.
A year has passed and it’s still hard. There are great days. But there are also terrible days where I long to walk the streets of Uptown or wonder through the vendors in the French Market. In those moments I try to remind myself we will be back someday and to be happy right where I am. It works for a while until the next wave of grief hits me.
And that’s what it is – grief for a loss of the place I had surprised myself by calling “home.”
Each duty station is what you make of it. Even if you think you will hate a place, it may sneak up on you and surprise you by being the place you meant for all along.
Kate authors the blog Tips From The Homefront where she shares tips and resources on all things related to military life. She and her husband have been married for over 10 years and have two boys. Together they have been to four duty stations and survived multiple deployments and TDYs. She continues to serve command families as an Ombudsman as well as being a Chapter Coordinator for Stroller Warriors. Kate’s life mission is to ensure that all military families are empowered to live the best life possible while serving in the military through connecting them with the resources and entitlements they need and deserve.