Mandy S. McConnell

Mandy is a military wife who experienced her husband’s deployment. Her husband, Gerald Patrick McConnell II, was deployed to Iraq as part of 2-116th Calvary Brigade of Idaho, which sent 2,000 National Guard and Reserve soldiers to fight the war on Iraq. There were many families that go to sleep at night, dreaming of seeing their American Soldier walk upon our mountains again and to feel them safe in our homes. Idaho will not be at comfort until all of our soldiers return to that great state.

She writes: “We pray that God guides them with his hand and walks them in paths of strength, courage, dignity and honor. We pray that our soldiers will be safe and well protected, and our state will see their faces as they all return to their families.”

MY AMERICAN SOLDIER

Mandy S. McConnell: My American Soldier (IWVPA Bronze Helmet Top Poet Award of Excellence - August 2004)I laid there next to my husband, hearing his snoring, and breathing in his scent. I gazed at his figure as he laid in the dark, wanting always to remember that beloved sleeping figure. I gazed up at the ceiling, watching the dark play patterns in the shadows. My eyes filled with tears. I so wanted time to stop and stand still. I pulled images in my mind of the earth stopping it’s forever rotation, the stars stood alone in a silent twinkle and the moon to never to set. I closed my eyes tightly, hoping that this would come true but as I glanced at the clock, time still ticked closer to the departure of my American solider.

I laid there in a quiet sleep. I heard my husband rise stealthy and silently as he made is way to start a new adventure. I knew his mind was swirling with thoughts of a new dawn. It seemed like seconds later we were traveling to begin our separation of love. A sleeping little girl laid in the back seat of the car, and within my womb, our brand new life nudged her presence, all oblivious to what was about to change.

We entered the base. It was quiet and somber; it reminded me of a cemetery – everything so deathly quiet. I watched my husband unload his gear. He was clouded in the form of solider. I then imagined my husband in his most comfortable clothes; a gray t-shirt and tan pair of shorts that showed off his strong, dark legs that as always made me feel so protected and loved.

I sat silently in the darkness of the car, hearing the roar of our nation, hearing my American soldier chant his existence to our nation and our country. Tears silently slide down my face. My heart ached already, pangs so deep that they rocked me to the core. I wanted to run and hide. I didn’t want to feel this pain that I was feeling. It was deep, like the core of the earth.

There was a tap at the window, my husband told me is was time for him to report to the hanger where his departure would take place and my last glimpse of him would happen. I raked my fingertips through the crack in the window; I felt his lips, full and firm, brush across my fingertips. More tears slide down my reddened cheeks and fell across my swollen belly. I just nodded my head. Emotions held my voice.

Arriving at the hangar, I felt dread and knowledge of the upcoming event. I still wish for time to stop and never continue. Even if it that meant, I would forever carry my daughter in my womb. I pulled the sleeping girl from the car. Her eyes were still full of sleep but also of wonder. You could see the plane in the distance. I imagined the roar of the engine and its’ take off. We walked quietly to the hangar. I held on to my stepdaughter’s hand – her hand so small and round. I imagined the changes that would take place within these hands. I knew soon these fingers would lengthen and lose the precious baby shape that my husband knew so much about. When he returned, she will be two years older and wiser to the world. I wanted to protect her from this world, from the reality of separation, the reality of war, and the reality that all things that are not good. I wanted to hang onto her innocence for her.

The hangar was full of people: full of wives, children, babies, pregnant wives, and girlfriends – beloved people. All of these people loved these American soldiers that stood ready to fight and defend our nation. Some had tears in the eyes and others were clouded in a shadow of sleepiness. I guided my stepdaughter to our chairs at the same time maneuvering so my belly could fit around all the crowded people. Being seven months pregnant, my belly announced its existence of our never-ending love. I rubbed it quietly as I watched my stepdaughter looked around. She spotted her father walking towards her. I saw the light jump in her eyes and her lips turn to a smile. Her father and my husband is the light of her life, the hero of her life. She clung to him tightly. I held my husband’s hand, memorizing the shape, size, and the amount of calluses that clung to his palms. I looked into his eyes, wanting to fall deep and drown myself, never wanting to forget the love and passion that exchanges between us. Once more, tears slide down my cheeks; my husband brushed them away with his fingertips. I breathed in the scent of him. I still wanted time to stop. I glanced at the clock that hovered on the wall in a distance. I prayed silently that it would, but I knew that it wouldn’t. I didn’t want to face this reality. I did not want this reality that was about to happened.

Several people rose to speak to this crowded hangar of people. One colonel spoke of our nation being at war and not wanting the war to invade our nation. Thoughts spiraled in my mind; this war as already invaded our nation, our families, our homes and our love. This war is taking our beloved men and women away from us, putting them in distance lands and putting them in harms’ way.

I clung even more tightly to my husband’s hand. It felt his response by the squeeze of his fingers and the shift of his body. I then knew I would never lose the love that my husband and I shared to together, but I would lose the presence of him in my life. I thought of the expected return date, it daunting so far in the future. I then wanted to speed time up and wanted this to be the homecoming event instead of the departure event. But reality wouldn’t take me that far, not yet.

The Chaplin rose to take his part in the ceremony. He announced a prayer for our American soldiers. My eyes drifted downwards and I conjured a prayer of my own. I prayed silently as tears dripped from my eyes. I prayed for my husband’s safe return to my arms, the home that we know so much, to his safe existence in a foreign land and prayed that I would feel my husband again. I prayed to feel his strong arms, strong chest, and to be able to feel my husband next to me in bed, to feel his heartbeat once again next to mind, and to feel his eyes on me, thinking I don’t know that he is looking at me. I prayed that he would see his new daughter, that he would hold her, comfort her, and she would know about our American soldier. I prayed silently to God, asking for one more gift of life, the life of my husband to be returned to me.

The clock struck its’ time. The time had come that I would see the departure of my forever love. I felt his strong arms pull around me and his mouth come close to my ear. I heard the rasp of his voice as told me he loved me with all of his heart and soul. I wrapped my body around his, always wanting to remember how he felt. My arms didn’t want to let go. I felt my stepdaughter clinging on for life. I heard her say, “Daddy, I don’t want you to go, Please Daddy”. I heard my husband response, “I have to Baby. I have to.” Tears flowed steadily down my cheeks and hit the floor in a silently.

I watched my husband turn his back and walk to his group. I knew this had to be breaking his heart. I guided my stepdaughter through the masses of people so we could get a glimpse of my husband boarding the plane. I saw women, children, and men crying as their soldiers boarded the plane. I saw last hugs and hurried kisses as our American Soldiers boarded their flight. In a distance, I saw my husband wave his goodbye before he boarded the plane. I wanted to the cross the line that painted separation on the ground. I wanted to run and feel my husband’s strong arms again. I stood my ground, as I saw him entered the plane. I quietly reached for my stepdaughter, seeing the pain of separation in her eyes, I grabbed her hand and we walked quietly back to our car. Tears still flowed down my cheeks and dropped to my swollen belly of life. I imagined the image of my new daughter, hoping with her birth, I would feel closer to my husband and have a connection between distance lands.

We entered the car. I drove it to a point that was blocked off by orange cones. I heard the roar of the engine as it came to life and watched it turn for its’ take off. I so wanted to tear down that runway, drag my husband out of that plane and take him home, where I knew he would be safe and secure. The plane then took off, way up in the sky; I felt my heart take off with that plane. I felt the emptiness fill my heart to the brim. As the emptiness filled my heart, I knew that this emptiness would not be replaced until the day I see my husband walk off that plane and into my arms, and back into our home. I knew somehow, a part of myself would follow him on his travels to foreign land and to war. I knew my life would never be the same. I knew the days would be forever slow.

I now sit at home in the quiet, feeling my daughter fill my womb. Her birth will be my greatest joy but also my greatest sorrow. I will not see my husband’s face when he sees his new child for the first time. He will not see her walk, crawl, babble, or nurse at my breast. He will not know his child and she will not know him until his return. As the days turn, I live by my husband’s calls. I capture every moment of his voice and every stroke of text that he leaves on my cell phone. I call his voicemail just hear is voice on the other end. I have saved a message on the machine, so I can play it before bed. Everyday, I pray for the gift of my husband’s return. I pray for him to return, safe, sound, and whole. Everyday I hope that my heart will ache less, but each day it aches more with the memories of him. However, one thought remains a constant, I know as each day goes by; it brings me closer to my dream – my dream of holding my American soldier in my arms again.