“Tell you later.”
“O.K.” You learn quickly in the military culture that there are things people can’t talk about, either because of OPSEC, or because it’s classified. Things like that are need to know, and by the fact that you are having a conversation you already know the most important thing you need.
By then we were getting ready for the arrival day. There were two major events to plan, at the airport and at home. A lot would depend on the time of day she arrived, but we had no idea when that would be. So, stay flexible. We made a trip to the party store and stocked up on balloons and streamers. I asked if they had anything with a “welcome home” theme.
“Welcome home?” the young lady said, sounding like it was the first time anyone had asked it.
“We have a solider returning from Iraq.”
“Oh!” she said. “Not really. Just a ‘welcome home’ banner in aisle four.”
O.K., aisle four. We picked up the banner and decorations in red, white and blue. Our au pair Polly wanted to get a purple mylar balloon shaped like a heart. Purple heart? Hmm, better make it red.
Tasks for D-1: final house prep, all the last minute things, of which there were many, yet somehow they were getting done. Imagine always being able to harness the awesome power of the last minute. I got ahead of some things at work then went by the florist. He’s a middle aged guy with a pony tail and a big picture of President Bush in the shop, and he does amazing work. I told him why I was there and he made me two very nice arrangements. “My best to your wife,” he said. “Anyone in uniform gets my respect.”
Meanwhile Jacob made some big poster board signs, “Welcome home!” and “Yay Mom!” He also made cupcakes, but it was after bedtime when we discovered we didn’t have the ingredients for icing. Fog of war. We bundled up Rachel and headed for the market.
Then the day arrived. We got a call confirming the arrival time. Polly was in charge of the baby, her outfit, her hair. We made sure the camera batteries were charged, and that the memory card was empty. We picked up Jacob from school and drove to the airport. We stood around the gate area with signs and balloons. People went by, a few taking note. We peered down the passageway trying to spot the familiar green of the ACU. We chatted excitedly as the sense of anticipation grew. Finally, a flash of color, a familiar gait, seeing our solider walking towards us. Signs waving, cameras flashing; Beth was home, the first half was done. Then smiles, hugs, tears, and thanks.
– James S. Robbins is the director of the Intelligence Center at Trinity Washington University , senior fellow for national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, and author of Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point. Robbins is also an NRO contributor.