I could hardly let him go the first drill weekend after he was home from Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT). I remember being so angry and frustrated that the Army had him all summer and now was taking him for a weekend. Holding back tears, I watched as he drove away in our old, red Civic as I pulled my 22-year-old self together.
I don’t remember exactly what else I did that weekend (I probably got takeout and watched Army Wives with the cat), but I know I made it, and the weekends apart eventually got easier.
After almost 10 years of National Guard and Army Reserve training, I can now reflect and appreciate both the ups and downs of part-time duty.
I’ll never forget the first time he had drill after I had a baby. What am I going to do with this baby for three days?! I thought. I had had a relatively easy pregnancy, crazy birth, really challenging recovery and for more fun, a colicky baby. For a first time parent, who, if we’re being kind is *slightly neurotic, I was freaking out. A few weeks before, I talked to my sister-in-law, a baby lover, who wanted to see my baby before she was 6 weeks old. Apprehensive of the drill weekend approaching, we found her a cheap flight and booked it. During that weekend, she cleaned my apartment, made me cookies, introduced me to my now favorite wild rice soup, and made me sleep while she held my baby.
Drill weekends have never been over major holidays, but when our family wasn’t all together for our daughter’s second Halloween, it was hard not to feel bummed. It seemed sometimes, somehow just by chance, drill was scheduled on the weekend of the county fair, a birthday, or a special day at church. Because of young children’s wonderful lack of calendar awareness, we moved our daughter’s birthday to a better day when Dad could be there. We always wished for an extra imaginary weekend immediately following drill to let my husband catch up on the sleep he missed from being out in the field or let us be together as a family before another long week.
I found, however, that there were ways to have fun even on a drill weekend. As a stay-at-home mom, I sometimes felt exhausted from the week, but found that if I made dedicated plans for the drill weekends, we did better. We explored new places, stayed in our pajamas much too long, ordered pizza delivery, and I can’t tell you how many hours of “Shark Tank” I watched after bedtime. It became a fun weekend for me to connect with my daughter and plan for Daddy to come home. Sometimes we made cards or drew arrows on our sidewalk to welcome him home.
As he would arrive home after final formation, sometimes it was tricky catching up from the weekend. I almost felt guilty describing our weekend with the extra fun things I tried to plan to make up for his absence.
It’s less fun telling someone about the tasty ice cream you ate and movie you watched in a blanket fort when you know he ate MRE’s and slept outside in the rain. I wished we could all be in on the fun together, but we always agreed that “somebody ought to be having fun this weekend,” even if it wasn’t him.
I’m grateful for our time in The National Guard and Army Reserve. Those drill weekends helped pay our rent while we were in multiple graduate schools. It made us appreciate our time together and gave us a once a month reunion. The two-weeks-a-year Annual Training sent my husband to Eastern Europe several times where he had opportunities to train with other militaries and meet new people. During his time as Company Commander, he attended even more training for this “part-time” job. As he left on trips, our daughter gathered an assortment of Army bears in Army Combat Uniform, airport stuffed animals and fairy books found in a hotel gift shop.
Now that we’re an Active Duty family and my husband isn’t gone as much for trips and trainings, my daughter asks when Dad will go on a trip and bring her back a surprise. Drill weekends apart seem so small compared to a deployment or a long assignment, but for nine years, it felt big to us, and it was a challenge we grew through.
How are drill weekends for your family? How do you make it work?