What I’m about to write isn’t part of my trip, but it is part of my story.
Today I went with Gene and kissed him goodbye as he departed for his 8-month deployment. There is no planning or conversation that can prepare you for that. Trust me – we tried. He was strong for my sake. I was as strong as I could be for him.
I’m still feeling the pain of our last few minutes together, and expect to be for some time, but we left each other with the promise to find ways to be present in each others' lives while he’s away and to look forward to the wonderful lives we’ll continue to build together when he comes home.
In the two hours we waited between arriving at the base and Gene boarding the bus, I had the opportunity to see dozens of families and hundreds of Marines. 800 Marines, actually. That’s how many men and women were boarding buses and deploying today.
It was obviously the first deployment for so many of these young men. They were visibly anxious, excited, and eager. They hugged their fathers and mothers, brothers, friends, young wives, and children. Most of them still look like children themselves. But they've shown themselves through their dedication and training to be hard-working, brave men.
I also watched as long-time Marines with several deployments under their belts hugged their children, kissed their wives, and struggled to fight back tears. These men are strong, brave, masculine combat veterans, and I was moved to see the love and softness they showed to their families in their final minutes together.
The majority of the Marines, however, had no one there to send them off. Maybe their families live too far to travel. Maybe they had already said their goodbyes. But it was clear to me that these men still felt like they had family present - in the brotherhood with their fellow Marines. They laughed, joked, kissed their friend’s babies, and supported one another. Of everyone that I observed today, I was most comforted by these men, who reminded me that Marines are a support-system who protect and serve each other so that they all come home safe on the other side.
I can’t think of a single reason that I would want to be apart from Gene for so long, but circumstances being what they are – I’m glad it’s him. I’m glad for the sake of these men and woman that they have Gene on their team. I wouldn’t trust my life to anyone more than him, and I know the many young Marines are in good company and hands with him around.
I was overwhelmed this afternoon both by the sadness and emotion of saying goodbye-for-now to my fiancé, but also by the display of strength and love by the many Marines and families. These men and woman give so much of themselves, and I am honored and grateful to them for their service and sacrifice. It is a huge sacrifice, indeed.
So to those of you reading this – please keep the sacrifices and safety of these men and women in your thoughts. Keep the airmen and coastguardsmen, keep the soldiers and the sailors. And keep the Marines. Especially Gene.