The hardest part of the deployment was saying goodbye to my wife and 15-month-old son. The emotions I felt the morning I left were not of pride and excitement but of dread, regret, and overwhelming heartache. It took several weeks to get the entire brigade out of Hawaii and into Afghanistan. We left in groups called “chalks” at all hours of the day. Thankfully I had some family there to see and help me off.
My parents had flown in to say goodbye and my mother in law was there to help ensure my wife and son got back home safely. We had decided that since we had no family on the island, it was in our best interest to put our belongings in storage and fly my wife and son back home to spend the year with friends and family on the East Coast.
So on top of saying good-bye, we had to pack all of our stuff up and move out of a house. According to my wife, the hardest part of that was the days after I left, when she had to accomplish the final tasks of that without my help…
We had rented a beach house on the north shore the week before I left to allow us a place to rest and relax after making the final arrangements for our departure. No one really knew when their chalk was leaving until a few hours before. When my number was up, I wound up having to report for accountability formation at 0200 – 2 a.m.
The night before I left I spent the evening with my little boy playing in the yard and in the hot tub. I didn’t sleep well at all that night. I knew I needed rest so I tried to force myself to bed around 8 p.m. We just lay there all night. I tossed and turned until my alarm went off around midnight.
I woke up, showered, and put on my uniform.
I went into my son’s bedroom and picked him up and held him for a few minutes. I kissed him goodbye, not knowing for sure if I would ever see him again. Up to that point in my life, that was the hardest thing I had ever done.
I was overwhelmed with nausea, fear, and anxiety. I felt like throwing up. My family woke up with me and I said goodbye to my mom and mother-in-law there at the house. We all teared up, but it was short and sweet.
Dad helped me load my gear into my car and my wife, my dad, and I drove in almost complete silence the 30 minutes to Schofield Barracks. I held my wife’s hand the entire way.
We stood there for about an hour talking. After a point, I realized we should say our goodbyes while we had the privacy. I hugged my dad, said goodbye, and asked him to give me a few minutes alone with my wife. We hugged and cried for several minutes together. We kissed good-bye for the last time until an R&R visit, halfway through my year-long tour.
And then they were gone.
And I was all alone with the other guys from my unit. Guns, gear, and sadness everywhere. The reality of the separation was quickly becoming real and the six months in front of me before I would be home again seemed like an eternity.
Mike Barno is an Army Captain and dentist. He recently returned from a 12-month deployment to eastern Afghanistan with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division, based at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad. He served as the Brigade Dentist from 2009-2012.