Wednesday, July 03, 2013

TOP STORY >> The burden of service

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Lugging his bags to the curb, contemplating innumerable what ifs, Tech. Sgt. Aaron Drain pauses for a moment and reassures his wife, Heather, that everything will be all right. Holding back her tears, she whispers softly that she loves him.

As midnight approaches, one of the military’s oldest rituals is renewed as Drain kisses his wife and their two sons goodbye and leaves for war.

“Saying goodbye is a hard emotion to capture,” said Drain, “especially because there is always the chance that it could be your last one. That goodbye hurts for at least a month. The first time I deployed, once Heather was gone, I cried for at least 15 minutes. I hid that emotion from her, I guess to try to be the strong one, but I think it might have hurt more than anything.”

For this rotation, Drain widened his outlook on preparation, making a concerted effort to provide every resource available to his recently expanded family.

Just three weeks before his departure, the couple celebrated the arrival of their second child, Everett.

“She just had a baby; she’s still healing,” said Drain. “If I put myself in her shoes, I’m basically abandoning her. I’m still here financially, but what good is that sometimes?”
Situations like Drain’s present a clear illustration of the resiliency that airmen at Little Rock Air Force Base exhibit every day in service to the nation. Regardless of length or location, the men and women fulfilling these deployment obligations have given up some measure of normalcy to do so.

“The hardest part about deploying is most definitely leaving your family,” said Drain. “Everett, my newest son, is three weeks old; he’ll never remember this, but leaving her with that responsibility, by herself, should not be like that. I’m going to potentially miss his first smile, probably, him sitting up, things like that. Possibly crawling, those are big milestones in a young child’s life, and I’m going to miss probably all of them. Ayden, he’s 4, so he gets that I’m leaving, but he doesn’t get exactly what’s going on or where I’m going. We try to explain it to him, war. It might be a little much for him at 4 years old, but what else do you tell him, work? You just do the best you can to explain it to him, war. It might be a little much for him at 4 years old, but what else do you tell him, work? You just do the best you can to explain it to him.”

For Drain, a flight engineer with the 53rd Airlift Squadron, this deployment represented an opportunity to improve on several missteps made during his first deployment.
Early in the life of his eldest son, Ayden, Drain was tapped for a deployment to Iraq.

“The first time I went, I had maybe a month’s notice,” said Drain. “I said, ‘Hey honey, I’ve got to deploy.’ It was good for my career, but I failed to see where it was good for my family, or make it good for my family by discussing it with her. I failed big time. That was one thing I knew I would not let happen this time.”

He attributes undue stress on the relationship during the deployment to a lack of communication. 

“One of the biggest things is communication,” Drain said. “The first time, in Iraq, we just didn’t talk about anything. I went over there, and it all just blew up because we never talked about it. We got it solved, we figured it out, but some couples don’t, and they never recover. Communication is number one; everything will fall apart otherwise.”

Another focal point for Drain was the comfort of his family during his absence.

“During this deployment, my preparations started much earlier,” Drain said. “It really started at the first hint of the possibility of deploying. The first step was talking with Heather. We knew the baby was coming, so making sure she could handle it was important.”

He continued, “After that, we started looking around the house to see what needed to be fixed or could potentially go bad. We replaced some appliances, made some repairs and took care of finances. I wanted her to be happy. The last thing you want on the road is to worry about their comfort.”

As dawn approached, the airmen sat quietly. Crammed into the darkest corners of the base passenger terminal, the fatigue of preparation had set in.  Some made small talk, but most spent their final moments on station in muted meditation. Some had embraced the expedition at hand; while others were adrift, transfixed by familiar reflections.

For Drain it was both.

“There are so many things that could go wrong,” he said. “All I could think about is how I could have prepared my wife and family better. There comes a point, though, where you have to focus energy on what is in front of you and what you are doing. For me it was that point. I was sad for leaving my family. They are the most important thing to me, but if you can’t or don’t shift gears to the task in front of you, you could really get people hurt, or worse.”
To see a video clip of this story, visit the Little Rock Air Force Base YouTube page.