Afghanistan To Manhattan

My adopted soldier “K” got home from Afghanistan and one week later he, his wife and 1-year-old son were on their way to visit me in NYC. It would be their first time in the Big Apple.  Before they arrived, I seriously considered learning to cook. My food strategy up to that point had always been: date men who can cook. But then I remembered that pretty much every restaurant delivers so, I was saved.

As we planned the trip, both their friends and mine had concerns. My favorite was a half-kidding query from his wife’s Mom:

WIFE’S MOM:  You’re visiting this lady in New York City? A stranger? Are you sure that’s safe? What if she murders you in your sleep and steals my grandchild?

WIFE:  Mom, Gina asked me how much baby-proofing I want. She got outlet covers and wants to know about furniture bumpers.  I think we’re okay.

FYI, her Mom and I are friends now.

Crowd Control

Before K came home, I had no idea that troops had to “transition” back from deployment. I thought, you get off the plane….hugs, tears, hurray and we’re good. Nope. There are a whole lot of things they need to get used to again. From simple things like color to feeling at ease in crowds. They’ve just spent a long time in a heightened state of alert where crowds often mean danger.  When K’s wife mentioned this, I was a little worried.  I have over 8 million neighbors.

MySoldierInAfghanistan

From here….

New York City skyline

to here.

So going to the Statue of Liberty (long crowded lines) was scrapped in favor of a harbor cruise around Liberty Island. We’d skip Times Square. Dinners with my friends would be small groups. And we’d take a break from the city and spend 2 days in a suburb near the beach. I also enlisted many wonderful friends to help me carry out this plan. Some of them were the same people who had helped me with postcards and packages.

Meeting K & family at the airport

My adopted soldier + son at LGA

K & his son at LGA

This part is hard to describe. I was “with” them during one of the most difficult times of their lives, yet we were strangers. I had worried for both of them. I had cried when he lost friends and prayed for the families. After all that, we were about to say “hello.”

I saw a family approach and my first thought was shock. K had lost 50 pounds during his deployment (hiking in the mountains in 120 degree heat with 100 pounds of gear will do that to you.) But the baby and wife looked just like their pictures so…it had to be them.

I felt like crying but I felt shy too. After some polite hugs we headed back to my place. We went up to the roof of my apartment building, had a few beers and snacks and started to relax. After dinner, we stayed up till 1:00 a.m. talking.

Three faves

We did site-seeing and had great meals with awesome people. I can’t thank my friends enough for creating such a warm welcome. There were a lot of terrific moments but I’ll share three of my favorites:

1. My friend AB and his lovely wife Sarah hosted a b-b-que for them (among many other kind things they did.)  K was playing “monkey in the middle” with some of the kids. This stood out to me because the previous week was Kyle’s 1st birthday. K had spent most of it in the house alone. He wasn’t ready yet to be around so many people. Yet here he was, relaxed and engaged with the group. He was just another Dad in the backyard having fun, but I felt it was a big step in his real journey home.

2.  The nightly late-night talks. Besides sharing family stories, I got the details, good and bad, on different events when he was deployed. And I learned things like the toy I sent him once was technically a weapon. In my defense, “wrist rocket sling shot” sounded to me like something Opie Taylor would play with in Mayberry. At some point, we talked about 9/11. I told him about my day here and he told me that was the day he decided to join the Army.

3. USS Intrepid Museum. The random event that put me on this path occurred on this ship. So from being inspired to taking action to being there with them…I felt like I had come full circle. That I had truly honored the service of the WWII Vet that put this all in motion.

Big hugs

At the end of this amazing visit, I said good-bye to his wife with a big hug and a promise to visit them so they could “repay the kindness.” Then she started to strap baby Kyle into the car seat. K and I stood there a moment in silence. Then I said simply, “welcome home.” K replied warmly, “thank you for everything you have done for me and my family.” He gave me a big hug and when I looked in his eyes I understood that all the silly letters and crazy projects truly meant a great deal to him. And I realized in that moment that my family had just grown by three people.

Epilogue

Yes I have visited them. And last week I found out he will be deploying again. We’re hoping to get together before he leaves.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

26 thoughts on “Afghanistan To Manhattan

  1. Gina – I have enjoyed following your journey – seeing it from your eyes (and your soldier and his family’s eyes),.. thanks for sharing.

  2. Gina this is so inspiring and proves we can all make a differnce in another’s life by simply being a friend. W ehave no idea how hard it is for others to go about their daily lives. We have day to day triumphs, tragedies and struggles that are not nearly as insurmountable if we feel we have support. You are a precious soul and I can see why K was so blessed having you on his “Six”.

  3. Gina, you have impacted our family more than you will ever realize. Your kind heart and generous soul have shown this “Wife’s Mom” what an incredible person you are. Our family has been increased by two, you and Sofia and we truly love and appreciate you both.

    • Ginger,
      Thank you for this beautiful note, it means a lot to me! Sofia and I are so happy and grateful to have you all in our lives. And for the record, I would’ve said the same thing if it were my daughter, son-in-law and grandchild 🙂

  4. When you touch someone’s heart, they touch someone’s heart, and so on, and so on, and so on…true love does not have boundaries of any kind. I pray for you and Sofia and the “army of beloved people” you manage to fit into your home!

  5. I love your ongoing story of humans touching humans. It hurts to hear K will be going back. I know he’s a soldier and that’s what he has chosen. But I so wish the human race were overall more kind to itself.

    • Thank you so much for reading! I’m sad too that he’s going back. I wish the only time our troops had to deploy was for things like natural disasters. Maybe one day kindness will win out and that would be a win for us all.

  6. Tell K, his wife and mother-in-law that there are even more people who will be praying for his safety and their well-being. What a great day it will be when all our soldiers come home to stay!

  7. Gina,
    Thank you for sharing this ongoing adventure. Doesn’t it feel wonderful to make a difference, not just in K’s life, but also in the lives of his family, and those of the service-members stationed with him? I am constantly amazed at all that you do. When I was first sent overseas (peacetime; Germany;1977), I was so lonely. I longed for anything that reminded me of home. My mom sent me pictures of Mardi Gras floats (guess my home town!) she cut out from the newspaper, and that helped some. We had mail call, and HAM radio. We LIVED for mail call. Bless you and your daughter, and bless K and his family.

    • Susan,
      It does feel wonderful. It’s been humbling to see the positive ripple effect that started with K and now has reached so many others.

      You know, most of the things I do are very small–a cup of coffee or a note. But what has amazed me most is that a small kindness could be so meaningful. Even if it’s for a stranger. And every day we walk around with this power.

      I can only imagine how isolating military service was pre-internet and pre-skype. But even today, soldiers tell me that mail call is like Christmas morning. I think there’s something about literally holding a piece of home in your hands. Or a piece of madri gras 🙂 Thank you for reading. Thank you for thinking of K and his family. And thank you for your service!

  8. Miss Gina,

    I use Miss out of respect. You truly have come full circle. There is a proverb from India that I think is revelent to your journey. It is also the basis I believe for the movie “Pay it Forward”. It goes something like this.:

    A young man , who is down on his luck and in dire need is helped by an older man. Years go by without the two meeting again. Until one day the younger man hears of his saviors need. He goes to see the oder man, who by now is in his elder years. The older man asked what he is doing here. The younger man replies that he is here to help by repaying the favor from years back. The older man stops him. He explains that when a favor is given it is like a gift. If it is repaid then it stops being a favor and becomes a service. In order for the young man to truly come full circle then he must pass the favor on to someone else.

    That is not the exact wording , it has been many years since I have read it, however it does get the point across. I feel that you have been lucky in your life before your journey and even luckier because of it. I haven’t read everything that you have written about it, but from where I started to here I can see how much you appreciate what K has gone through because in your own way you have watched it, experienced it and learned from it. All too often most Americans refuse to hang in there while we have troops deployed. During major events like 9/11 you see them waving their flags and spouting off but they soon tire of it and go back to their normal lives. You are different. Maybe because of the chance encounter on a grand old lady that has been turned into a museum. You are certainly different now from your journey into a world that you could not have imagined prior to sending a cup of coffee.

    I am proud of you for what you have accomplished and how far you have come. I am also proud to know that you are not alone because there are many who have had a similiar journey though I doubt theirs were as public as yours. I doubt most keep a journal yet alone a blog. I am glad that K and others like him have people like you in their corner to help them during and after difficult deployments.

    As a veteran I thank you for what you do.

    Michael S. Goldsmith

    ( formally Sergeant Goldsmith U.S. Army 1985 – 1996)

    • Dear Michael,

      You honor me with your thoughtful and very kind comments. It means so much to me to have your perspective and support. As a Veteran, you are in a position to understand all of this in ways that I am still learning about. Your words make me feel like I’m getting some things right.

      I am very glad that I am not on this journey alone. There are lots of people out there who care about our troops. If I’m lucky, maybe this blog will help increase our numbers.

      Thank you for the lovely story. And for being in my corner. 🙂

      Gina

  9. Gina you are an amazing person for opening your heart and home to Soldiers and their families, it sounds like you really took into consideration the issues we face on our return. Sounds like he not only has battle buddies in the military but you are making truth to the patriotic words people say as they pass buy. You don’t just say – you do. I’m so glad you found me through my blog…

    • JennyO,
      I think what’s amazing is what you, your husband and family do every day. Before I got to know K, I never knew what that everyday impact was. Or how our troops and families “soldier on” whether or not there are parades or thank you’s.
      My part in all this is small. But it makes me happy to “do something.” I thank you for you kind words.

      And I’m happy I found you too! I’ve enjoyed reading about your and your husband’s current deployment together. Kudos on getting real silverware the other day…lol. I hear so many times it’s the little things 🙂

  10. I think most people probably have no idea that soliders returning from long deployments go through some type of deprogramming. It makes sense, though, because that heightened state of alert impacts every aspect of one’s perceptions. It sounds like a wonderful, relaxing meet up. Why is K having to be re-deployed so soon?

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