As we agonizingly inch closer to the day we have to leave our friends and family for a distant, hostile war zone, I struggle with the wide range of emotions I experience from day to day, moment to moment. Monday morning I woke up for what I believed to be my last full week of work at Camp Dodge in Des Moines, planning to return home on Friday and then head to our sendoff on Sunday morning.
As I ran around the house at the last minute, collecting my things, looking for my phone charger, trying to get out the door, I realized that Carolyn was already sitting in my truck in the driveway. Right away, I knew something was wrong. As I hopped in, and with tears in her eyes, she announced “So, where are we going?” It broke my heart. She knew she couldn’t come to Des Moines with me, but she was just trying to delay the inevitable.
So, we sat in the car and talked. And cried. And held hands. Both of us doing our best to make the most of our last days together before I am gone for a full year. About that time, our 2 year old daughter was carried out to the truck by Grandma Julie, as she had just woken up for the day. She wanted to sit on my lap and drive the truck (she loves sitting in the car out in the driveway!). She wanted to honk the horn, turn the wipers on, turn the radio up. She was having fun with Dad in the “big truck.”
But I had to go, so I carried her back to the house, hand-in-hand with Carolyn, and tried to hand her back over to my wife as she started to realize that I was leaving again. She started crying. And that’s when she said something I’ve never heard her say before, and something that will stick with me the rest of my life:
Don’t go Daddy. I need you.
Grace, I need you. And I need your Mom. And I need your baby brother Nick too. I need you all.
And I need you all to understand why I do what I do. I need you to understand that I believe in something bigger than myself. I need you to understand that I believe in an America where you are able to walk down streets or go to the mall with your friends without fear of suicide bombers.
I believe with all my heart that little girls like you should be able to go to school over there and get an education. I believe they should be able to do so without fear of being poisoned by bad men driven by bad ideas. I believe those little girls in Afghanistan deserve the same kind of opportunities you will have as you grow up.
I need you to understand that I believe that my job in Afghanistan is crucial to an American future where 9/11 plots cannot be planned in the rugged mountains of that country. I need you to understand that I don’t want you to be afraid every time you board an airplane, and that I’m willing to do something about it to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
And as I will be gone for the next 12 months, I need you to understand, in your own little way, that Daddy is doing what he thinks is best. And honorable. And noble. And just. And brave.
For us. For them. For you.
And that is why I came home from work early today. I took the rest of the week off, in fact. I need every last minute I can possibly have with you. I need to take you swimming at the pool, like we did tonight. I need to carry you back, wrapped in a towel, shivering in the wind so I can hold you close to my chest. I need to look into your innocent eyes and watch your fascination with the Monarch caterpillar you got at Sunday School last weekend as it makes its chrysalis.
I need to hug your Mom just one more time and hold my son.
Grace, I need you. I need you to understand, too. I will be home soon. I promise.
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