I called a member of the Family Readiness Group, or FRG, last Tuesday night before dinner. This group, based outside Atlanta near the headquarters of the National Guard battalion with which Matt has served this year, is made up primarily of military wives. Like thousands of similar organizations across the country, its purpose is to keep those here informed about those far away, or “downrange,” as Matt tells me to say.
I called because Matt is coming home soon and I plan to be there when he arrives. I wanted to make sure I am in the right place at the right time to welcome him back. But between the acronyms and Army speak, I had absolutely no idea how to make that happen.
It was the first time I’ve ever made a call to Georgia, actually. Physically, I’ve only been to the state once, when I traveled to Atlanta to report on a high school robotics competition. Then, I was ferried back and forth from a nondescript hotel to the Georgia Dome for three consecutive days. We ate at McDonalds and Starbucks. I don’t think it counts.
On Tuesday, while a pot of tomato sauce simmered on my stove, I threw my questions at an almost uncomfortably friendly Army wife, who spoke with a lilting southern accent. She spouted esoteric Armyisms that have become moderately familiar thanks to Matt, terms like HHC and ADVON, yellow ribbons and redeployment and IRR. I tried to follow along, though Army is ultimately a language I do not speak. I smiled when she called me ma’am.
On the phone, we covered a range of unintelligible details: The timetables and phone trees, abbreviations and organization of the days to come. She told me told me about the FRG’s use of Twitter and Facebook to get messages to members of the group. I wrote some things down, though remained relatively confused.
But not everything we talked about was unfamiliar. Some things made total sense: The macaroni and cheese at Paula Deen’s restaurant in Savannah, for one—a dish, she said with a charming giggle, that is so creamy that strings of melted cheddar can be pulled from plate to mouth a mile long. She told me about her husband, and about the hordes of women and children who would be waiting outside the gates of the base, raring with excitement, when their soldiers arrived home.
I eventually ran out of questions to ask. But I didn’t want to hang up.
I’ve felt very isolated this year, something I’ve written about here many times before. I didn’t anticipate the loneliness of loving someone deployed, of having a long-distance relationship to Afghanistan until it became a defining feature of my day-to-day life. Here, family and friends have surrounded me with unflagging support. But there is hardly anyone I know who has experience with this war. How could they understand?
As the days of Matt’s deployment dwindle, however, I have begun to realize the good that has come out of something so difficult. Knowing Matt has widened the aperture of my worldview, and that of every member of my family. The newspaper headlines, the ones that have always been disturbing but never tingling with fear, no longer exist on a different plane. The disparity between here and far, them and us, together and apart has taken on a greater significance.
But none of that has made me fluent in military-speak. It hasn’t made the logistics of being at an Army base in rural Georgia at an unknown hour on an undetermined day any less daunting. It was refreshing to have a cheerful woman from the FRG kindly try to explain what has been so incomprehensible this year. It was surprising to be understood, even if it wasn’t mutual. After all, as an Army wife, she is living it, too.
“So how long have y’all been together?” she asked before we hung up.
“About two and a half years.”
“Wow,” she said. “And he’s been gone for almost a whole one of those…”
“I’ll bet you’re ready for him to come home.”
“You have no idea.”
“Oh,” she said. “But I do.”