Retiring Together

Julia Gibbs // Homefront Heroes Ministries

 

My dad was a soldier, and somehow, he was old all of my life. When they pinned those

eagles onto his uniform and then a few years later, saluted him for the last time at his retirement ceremony, I remember vividly feeling that I would never be as old as the Old Faithful Colonel. And yet, here I am, standing with my soldier, looking at retirement after twenty years of service and I still can’t figure out how I got here.



Time is funny like that and minutes have a way of blending into years without notice. Especially years of war.

When I think of the beginning of those twenty years, I am brought back to the day that

changed the trajectory of our entire lives. We were college kids, renting houses on the same

street, getting ready for Statistics class, and infatuated with young love when the world changed

in a moment of time. To be honest, we didn’t even have cable, we were poor college kids on a

budget, but on that day, my roommate and I watched on a blurry screen as the Twin Towers in

New York came crashing down.

I can imagine myself back then. Young, naive, and clueless. Don’t get me wrong, I was a

soldier’s daughter, I knew that this was big, and honestly, I knew somewhere in me, that this

meant war…but after almost twenty years as a soldier’s wife, I now realize that I had no clue

what I was watching. My soldier, who was just my boyfriend then, came driving up to the

house. He rushed in asking, “Have you heard from your Dad?”

My Dad was still active duty, stationed at Redstone Arsenal. Just then, my cell phone

rang. It was big and bulky, looking more like a WWII radio than a cellphone today, and my mom

was crying on the other end, “He’s safe!” She was crying so hard that I only caught bits and

pieces as she explained through sobs and tears, “His meeting was moved. He never went to the

Pentagon this morning. Your Dad. He’s safe. His secretary called me. He got out. He got out…he

got out…”

I still have the email my Dad sent out on his blackberry that day. It’s simple, sweet, and

to the point, just like my Dad.

“I am Ok and will get back when things settle down! North side of Pentagon hit. Love

you, Dad.”

This was proof of life. My Dad made it home a week later by finding different rides.

When I saw him, I realized that God has spared his life. He had left the Pentagon just in time

and he had served his county with honor for almost thirty years. What I didn’t realize was that

the boy who had pulled up in my drive that morning in his old, green, pick-up truck, rushing in

to ask about my Dad who was active duty, would actually be the one who would be on a plane,

giving years of his life to fight that war. My soldier was the young one, the age of a fighting

soldier. The next year, my soldier joined the military, and well, through deployments,

separation, promotions, failures, and 14 moves, we had two children and adopted our third.

The years were hard and good. After my soldier returned from a year in Afghanistan, we moved

overseas immediately and tried to figure out what family looked like after more than a year of

separation. It was hard, awkward, and wonderful…so to solve the problem, my husband got us

a puppy. I had a 3-year-old, a 1.5-year-old, living in a foreign country…and now, a puppy named

Herman.

It may seem odd that Herman is a part of this storyline of our twenty years in the

military. But to be honest, that dog stayed with me through trainings, deployments, kids, and the days that blended together into memories. Herman was a watchdog, a protector. I remember one night; it was snowing in Germany and we were watching TV. My older daughter asked, “Where’s Bubba?” Panic flooded me as I felt cool air on my skin and I knew immediately

that the front door was open. I ran to the hallway to find snow pouring in and the cold night air rushing through the house. My 2-year-old was gone. Quickly I realized, so was Herman.

Barefoot I ran out into the snow. Looking for tiny footprints, I ran wildly into the night,

searching the streets for my baby. Jeremy was not there yet, and I remember thinking, “Where

is he? Why isn’t he helping?” I suddenly realized my feet were getting too cold. Just then,

Jeremy came running past me…in shoes calling, “Herman!?” over and over again. Later he told

me, “You have to be prepared and protect your feet.” Spoken like a true soldier.

The dog barked loudly. “Herman!” I screamed, and my soldier ran past me, into the

neighbor’s yard,dd or better stated, construction zone where a huge hole had been dug and they

were tossing old metal, glass, nails and other building materials.

My soldier ran, in his warm shoes, to the spot where the dog was circling my son. In the

dark Herman was circling Bubba, pushing him away from the hole, and calling to us like Lassie.

Bubba’s feet were frozen, and he was crying tears of fear, but he was safe. I ran to him, covered

him in my arms, and cried. Herman sat obediently beside me, knowing he had earned his dinner

on that night.

Honestly, I have more stories about Herman that pretty much show my stellar parenting

skills when my kids would get away from me or run down the street while I am taking in the

groceries, and Herman would find them and lead them back to me. He was with me for all of

those years. Obediently serving. Faithfully remaining loyal. Laying at my feet as I wrote books,

read Scripture with my children, waited for the phone calls to come from my soldier, or just

being a warm body to fill the empty place in the bed.

When we transitioned out of the Army to the Coast Guard, it was my first time ever being

in the civilian world. All of my life I had been with the Army. Then, one day, we are living in the

middle of South Florida and the military life, that I had always known…was gone. The transition

was a slow, long, goodbye. I realize that was God’s plan now. We were still military, being in the

Coast Guard, but everything I had ever known was now different. I didn’t have PWOC, or the

Chapel, or my FRG, or on-base neighbors running over to have coffee and sign my kids,

“emergency pick-up form.” I felt isolated and alone in this new world of civilian life though I

knew it was a good change, a needed change, from the years of up-tempo and deployments.

My soldier was home now, more than he had ever been before, and that was good. Herman stayed loyally by my side and continued to love his long runs through the neighborhoods.


One morning Herman couldn’t get up. I knew he would not make it through the rest of

the day, and I called my soldier to tell him to come home. I sat with Herman that day, laying on

the floor, listening to him struggling to breathe, and petting his warm-golden fur. I told him that

he had done a good job. He had loved us well. He had rescued my children and been a great

friend to me for years.


“You can go now,” I whispered to him as his eyes glazed over, “It’s

alright. Thank you for everything. Thank you for being my friend. You can go now, you can rest.”


By the time my soldier got home, Herman was gone. Together, we wrapped him in a

sheet and dug a hole in the back of our new house. My soldier was visibly upset and struggled

hard to get through the rocky, coral, ground. Sweat poured from his face, and yet, he dug with

fervor. As we covered Herman, tears began to fall down my soldier’s face. My husband is what

you would call, “low-emotive.” I can count on one hand the amount of times in 23 years, I have

seen him cry. But as he stood with the shovel, looking down at the mound of dirt, he began to

cry. He bent down and with dirt in his hand said these words, “Thank you for watching over my

family while I was gone. You did a good job while I was away, but now I’m home. I’ll watch over

them now.” Then he let the dirt fall from his hand as a promise both to the memory of a good

friend, and to the family who stood faithfully around him.


It’s odd how that moment solidified our retirement in my heart. Those next few days, I mourned for Herman, but in my heart, I was mourning even deeper, the passing of twenty years…the passing of friends, bases, assignments, pain and love that would soon be gone. What started in college with the Twin Towers falling is now coming to an end for us. My soldier went around the world and came back home to us. I realize the weight of that. The gift of that. I know that some never come home and for them, I will always be grateful. I will never forget.


I know what it takes to be married to the Army, to have induced labor so that his Daddy can see his son before leaving, to be in active labor and have him rush in and whisper, “I’m deploying,” to drive myself home from the hospital with a new baby, and to wait by the phone with a desperate hope to hear his voice on a lonely night. I know that my children are warriors of their own kind for attending 10 schools in 11 years, and I know that a family dog is a protector and friend who God gives at just the right time.


Those words that my soldier spoke when our dog died have stuck with me as we come

to retirement, to this new part of life. “I’m home now. I’ll watch over them now.” It’s hard

saying goodbye to the military, and I will always love her, but I’m grateful to hold his hand as

we walk away, together.


 

Julia J. Gibbs has been teaching the Bible for more than twenty years. First, as a daughter and then as a spouse of a soldier, Julia has moved 24 times nationally and internationally. She is the author of the Simulacrum Series; an allegorical, biblical, fantasy-fiction series which seeks to examine and comprehend Scripture through the life of Veralee Harper. The fourth book of the series, The Final Beginning is due early next year. Julia writes and teaches through books of the Bible. She is a homeschool teacher, mother, and military wife, who holds degrees in Philosophy and Psychology with a M.S. in Counseling Psychology. Currently, she is counseling through Emet Counseling in Spanish Fort, Alabama. To learn more or to follow along with her in-depth Bible Studies, find her on FB or YouTube at Julia J. Gibbs.

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