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  • Writer's pictureCaroline

Our Hearts in the Sands of Afghanistan

After your dad deployed to Afghanistan, you two and pink doggy, were my constant companions. Routine was necessary to our survival. I was fortunate to find a welcoming family at the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, where our only time apart was spent, furnishing Marines and Sailors with practical financial assistance. You helped me with the Heroes Vote Initiative, where your sweet smiles incentivized our service members to register to vote.

While at a kickball event for the wives of 3/8, we were out in the field across from the commissary, awkwardly getting to know one another, when five Osprey helicopters came to land 100 yards from us. Marines who had been apparently waiting for their ride, piled in and one by one, the Osprey took off as quickly as they came. This was our first up close experience with the mechanical birds that would soon lull us to sleep and cause us to wake with pride. I grabbed Mariah's hand to encourage her to stay a safe distance only to turn back to find the force from the propellers was so great that Mackenzie and pink doggy were rolling away in her stroller! Fortunately, you were not frightened but amused and we laughed at the new and very unique experiences we were having.

We missed him the most in the evenings, a time we had been once fortunate to share with him on recruiting duty. So we began to take walks, and I forced myself to talk and teach, although to be honest with you now, often I would have preferred to cry in my room, to allow the knot in my neck to give way to heaves of sobs. How could I be so indulgent when so many all around were carrying the same weight? So we walked, every evening down Stone Street and back. Mariah, I was brutal to you when you complained of tired legs. I told you how fortunate you were to have legs, when so many around us had lost their limbs. And you trudged on, under the weight of the guilt I placed on you at your tender five years of age. It was selfish, I needed the routine to eat into the hours when I would busy myself cleaning and hoping for a letter or a call, and rereading the ones I had already received.

On our walks, you learned the alphabet and how to count to 100. When we tired of that, I taught you a cadence, put to song, something that I hoped you would sing for your dad and you soon did. And as I pushed your sister in the stroller and your legs built uncanny strength for your age, the words lingered in the air on Stone Street, where the weight of all those finding their own way through trials was not lost on us.

Around her hair she wore a yellow ribbon. She wore it in the spring time, in the early month of May. And if you asked her why the heck she wore it, she wore it for that young Marine so far, far away.

Far away. Far away. She wore it for that young Marine so far, far away.

Around the block, she pushed a baby carriage. She pushed it in the spring time, in the early month of May. And if you asked her why the heck she wore it, she wore it for that young Marine so far, far away.

Far away. Far away. She pushed it for that young Marine so far, far away.

The letters came! And while love and updates were given, a few months in, your dad began to talk of the dog handlers overseas, and their work with the IED detection dogs. It was not before long that he mentioned that after they serve in the military, the dogs are adopted out. We had been living frugally and extras were not a consideration as we paid off debt and built an emergency fund, but this was a different extra; this was something your dad wanted and that made it all the more special. How could I have known that this would be more of a gift to my you and I, than anyone else?

The process was slow, as we connected the dots on who to speak with and which organization to go through. He was a world away and I had a task that would make his heart glad, and that was more than enough hope to cling to.

Mackenzie, my budding dog lover, your days of intense commitment to pink doggy would soon come to an end when you would give your heart to another four legged companion. It was late summer when we got word from the sometimes cryptic organization, that we were approved for a retired dog. And while the excitement was great, we determined to wait until your dad's return to pick one up. They don't tell you in advance who will come home with you, or their story. While Yeager had already experienced a blast that would kill his handler and injure himself, we were ignorant to the loss of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment. Our union of providence would come at no small price, as the course of our hearts would be determined in the sands of Afghanistan.

Our walks continued and by late August, our steps were lighter with the news of your dad's return being within reach. In the coming months, our quiet routine would be upended as immensely good news would be met with equally heart wrenching news. Our sweet days of routine and peace were gone, only to be recovered years later in a foreign town after much grief and persistence of will. Our trio would be morphed into an unexpected quintet, one that would travel and grieve together, and over time find wholeness in spite of the cracks that threatened to empty if of goodness.

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