No Pet Left Behind

For humans, it can be exciting when the Army transfers you to Germany. It can be less than a thrill for fur-covered family members. The Army doesn’t move your pets. You do. Which is usually not a problem. However Meg, an Army wife, didn’t count on Unhelpful Airlines (not its real name) and the “catsicle” opportunity when she tried to fly with Tike and Cheshire.

Tike, exhausted from travel.  Or maybe just being a cat.

This is Tike exhausted from travel. Or not. With cats, it’s hard to tell exhaustion from relaxation.

Cheshire, just before the packing began.

This is Cheshire just before the movers came. I think she senses something’s up.

Unhelpful Air

Meg made sure Tike and Cheshire got the required shots, microchips, and paperwork (5 copies, just in case.) Then she called Unhelpful Air to find out what size crate she needed for this trip to Germany. They asked her how big the plane was. They said different planes had different requirements.

MEG:  Umm….I was hoping you could tell me that.

Eventually she got the info. Then Meg and her husband (and the cats) drove from Ft. Knox, Kentucky to St. Louis, Missouri. They shipped their car and went to a hotel. The next morning, they would fly from St. Louis to Atlanta to Frankfurt.

There were a lot of storms that winter and normally warm locales were cold. Flight delays were massive. Meg was hoping things would go smoothly. She called the airline the night before her flight, one last check that she had everything needed for her pets to fly. That’s when she found out that Tike and Cheshire couldn’t ride in the cabin as she had been told. The agent said the cats had to travel in the cargo area.

MEG:  Is it heated?

UNHELPFUL AIR:  No.

MEG:  Unheated?!  I would have catsicles!!

UNHELPFUL AIR:  Then you’ll have to leave them in St. Louis.

Meg told me, “You have to understand, I was seven months pregnant with my first child, about to move far from home….and now, after I did everything required, this agent tells me that I have to leave them behind? We had them since they were born. They are part of our family. At that point, I was a little emotional.”

At that point, Meg’s husband called a travel contact at the Army for help. They were able to switch airlines to Delta and yes, the cargo area was heated. But Tike and Cheshire would have to wait on the tarmac beforehand. It was stormy and below freezing outside. Meg was upset. Then the Delta agent took the extra step and called the Luggage Loading Manager to see if he could do anything. He agreed to keep the cats in his office until it was time to bring them on the plane. Meg said, “At that moment, Delta got a customer for life!”

This is how they traveled when in their crate on the way to Germany.

This is how they traveled when in their crate on the way to Germany.

Searching for home

Meg and family (furred and un-furred) lived in a hotel while trying to find a home to rent. It had to be good for the soon-to-arrive baby and allow pets. This took a while and in the meantime, they became close friends with a waiter at the hotel named Ralf. Ralf helped them look and acted as a translator when needed.

Meg searched the Automated Housing Referral Network (AHR). She found a place in Olsbrücken that seemed perfect. Ralf informed her that it was located at “the end of the world.” It was a bit of a drive to this very small town. When Meg went to view the home, she saw that beyond the backyard were hills…hills possibly alive with the sound of music. They moved in.

Olsbrücken, Germany

Now I have that song in my head.

What pets bring

Traveling and house-hunting with pets can be extra work, but think of all they bring with them. Such as unconditional love and the ability to reduce stress with their mere presence. That’s good for anyone, but I think it’s especially good for those in military life. Even when not deployed to a combat zone, troops will be separated from their families for weeks and months at a time for training. In their first year of marriage, Meg saw her husband for all of two weeks because of boot camp and training. It can be isolating for all involved. Pets are a positive force against some of those feelings. Meg knew that. She also knew she didn’t want to leave behind the chance to have moments like this:

Tike and baby Maximus.

Tike and baby Maximus.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

My Soldier’s Wife

Friends. Family. Total strangers. “My adopted soldier’s wife” doesn’t fall neatly into the usual categories. My situation also wasn’t the norm. The Taliban kept attacking my soldier’s base and knocking out their internet. After a while, I had more contact with his wife than him. And along the way, I learned things worth sharing.

The family also serves

My soldier’s wife is amazing. When we “met” she was a new mom (he missed the birth by two weeks). His deployment was difficult and their contact was limited. He could call her once every 3 days for 15 minutes. Unless his mission took him away for…who knows how long. That uncertainty was her everyday normal. But the everyday resiliency and grace she exhibited was impressive.

She went house-hunting solo (from out-of-state no less). Set up the baby’s room. Handled the bills. Handled everything. I wish I were half as buttoned-up.

I’m sure she had her bad days that she shared with those closest to her. But the part I saw was her taking action. Doing all she could to keep her family thriving. That also meant making him feel as connected as possible to home. Including sending updates and pictures to a total stranger in NYC. I think she didn’t want me to mistake his increasing silence as a sign to stop writing.

If I’m worried…

There was a bad attack in his area. The news named his task force and unit. The military has a communication blackout policy when there are KIAs. I was worried for him. But then I tried to imagine how she felt. That’s the moment I figured out that when a soldier raises his hand to serve, the whole family serves as well. Not just in the scary moments. In the ordinary moments too, where we do most of our living. Imagine going months without the help and support of your loved one. That is just part of what we ask of our military families.

Questions

“Doesn’t his wife mind you writing to her husband?”

SFX (sound effects):  NEEDLE SCRATCHING RECORD

I stopped what I was doing. The beef jerky hovering above the flat-rate box I was packing for him. “What??? He sent me pictures of them together. I’m sure she knows and supports his being adopted and um…um….”

That’s when I decided to assume he was not the only one reading my emails. I’d assume his wife and roommate were too. Not that I was planning on writing anything “bad” anyway. I would just keep the potential audiences in mind. It was a long time before I shared that I’m a single mom. I was a little cautious because I wanted to make sure that nothing I wrote came off the wrong way.

“Doesn’t he have a wife to send him care packages?”

“Yes he does. She’s at home with the newborn he hasn’t met. He’s in firefights in Afghanistan. So should we have her shoulder everything? Do we all get to skip to the park with our kids feeling safe and on the way we’ll yell out- hey you two, thanks for handling that freedom and security thing.”

There was a less sarcastic answer to that question. I just didn’t feel like using it.

The power

I sent my soldier some snacks and included four small water guns. I thought they were funny to send to a sniper. My soldier’s wife wrote that they loved them. They used them to “ambush” a guy on his birthday. She said they’re all really big kids at heart and how it was great that I thought to do that. And what she said next is the reason why I’ve wound up doing things for over 800 more troops.

She told me that they felt grateful and lucky that he got me as his adopter. The thought and effort I put in was making a difference for him. She told me that she felt lucky too and how it made a difference for her.

I thought, I have never met any of these people. But being a total stranger did not in any way stop me from having a positive effect in their lives that day. Even if it was a small thing, it was something good in the face of challenges.  How cool is it that we each have that power? Realizing the impact I was making inspired me to step up and expand my efforts.

I don’t think I ever told my soldier’s wife that she was the reason I started doing more. So I’ll tell her here that she made a difference in my life right back.

© Gina left the mall, 2012