By Bob Haus
On Sunday, I attended one of the many military “sendoff” ceremonies that took place over the past two weeks in Iowa. It was one of the most emotional experiences of my life.
As you know, Iowa’s Reserve and National Guard units are in the process of the biggest deployment since WWII. In total, over 2,800 soldiers from Iowa and Nebraska have been activated for duty. They have been training in Iowa, Minnesota and Georgia for months. This week, units shipped out to Mississippi for a final month of training, then they will deploy active duty to Afghanistan.
One of the soldiers being deployed is a close friend of mine, Gabriel Haugland. I was first introduced to Gabe by his wife, Carolyn, who worked with me on a presidential campaign. Gabe was in his last year of law school at Drake. Carolyn, also a lawyer, had just found out they were expecting their first child. Anyone who spent several short minutes with Gabe and Carolyn could immediately recognize these were two wonderful people. There is an aura around some couples…and Gabe and Carolyn have an aura that simply beams.
Gabe is a man’s man. He hunts, he fishes, he drives a truck and played baseball for the Hawkeyes. He is a man of deep faith and of even deeper patriotism. He is a man of great pride but amazing humility. He came from a rock solid Iowa family, and now has his own. It is pretty easy to see why I so quickly valued my friendship with Gabe.
Gabe invited me to come to the Sendoff Ceremony, which was being held for his unit in Shenandoah. I expected the ceremony to be an emotional one, but I was unprepared for what I witnessed. The town was decked out in yellow ribbons. Those entering the high school walked passed the Freedom Riders, each proudly holding an American flag. As the members of the “Wolfpack” marched past (1st Battalion, 168th Infantry), bagpipes played “America the Beautiful”. The eyes of the soldiers showed confidence, strength and emotion for having to leave their loved ones.
After the ceremony was over, the soldiers had time to talk to their families before departing. The orderly gym quickly devolved into a sea of mothers and fathers hugging their sons, wives hugging their husbands, and children clinging to their fathers’ legs. As I waited to talk to Gabe, one of his fellow soldiers was next to me with his young daughter and wife. He had his face literally buried in his daughter’s neck and her stuffed animal. He looked up at his wife, his eyes streaming, and he told her that he was trying “to never forget how beautiful she smells.”
And that’s when I lost all sense of my composure. As I approached Gabe, I went to shake his hand. He grabbed my hand and then wrapped me up in a Class A Bearhug. In the School of Manliness that I attended in New Hampton, Iowa, you learned two unwritten rules: Men Never Cry, and Men Never Tell Other Men ‘I Love You.’
In that bearhug, I violated both of those rules. In fact, I violated the rules a couple of times.
I had every intention of writing a long story about my friend Gabe. I wanted it to be a tribute to him, and how proud I am to call him my friend. And as I started writing, I realized that everything I wanted to write had already been said.
Gabe and Carolyn have a blog post that shares their experiences as a young family going through a deployment. It’s called “Our Army Life”, and please check it out here. Bookmark it, check it closely over the next year. When he can, Gabe will write. When he can’t, Carolyn will write in his absence.
One of Gabe’s last posts prior to departure was entitled “I Need You.” You can read it by clicking here. Once you read it, you will understand Gabe, and the thousands of other soldiers who voluntarily join the Armed Forces, leave their families, and walk into harm’s way for our benefit.
There’s just not much more than can be said, even for me.
Gabe also promised to come home when his work is done and help me coach my son’s Little League team. I can’t wait to throw that first pitch.
Godpeed, Gabe. Trust your training, trust your instincts, and trust your soldiers.
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