It seems like a lifetime has passed, as I hold a random blousing strap and name tape I found on the kitchen counter. Yet it has been almost four months that those items have been worn. Dustin retired from the Air Force after twenty-two years, two months, and twenty-nine days of active duty service to this country.
Part of the reason I’ve been silent and my writing hasn’t been posted much is because I’ve been trying to understand what life is right now. For fifteen years, there’s always been a constant in my life, and that is the military, specifically the men of JFAC-IN-DET 1 at Camp Atterbury. From the moment I met Dustin, he always talked of his forty-minute commute to work and another forty minutes home. Camp Atterbury is one reason as to why he drives the clanking Volkswagen Golf TDI, it was the determining factor for the house he bought so many years before even knowing he’d marry up to the most astonishing woman ever. Dustin’s life, my life, and thus our children’s lives all revolved around the missions of JFAC-IN-DET 1.
In fact, I was married on Camp Atterbury, in the World War II POW chapel. The people who showed up to our wedding were are the people who are still there for us today. The same men. There are some new guys now, of course, and some old guys retired or moved on, but it is mostly the same men. They’ve been in my life for fifteen years. The good. The bad. The ugly. True family.
When I was pregnant with each child, the guys gathered around and somehow managed to let Dustin have time off to help me get to doctor’s appointments or to stay home with the kids so I could get to my nonstress tests. They even let him work different hours or from the house when needed. Those men, they weren’t serving Dustin in those times. No, they were serving me.
Our military life was nothing like the typical active duty life. We got the privilege of being part of a range community. All that really means is my husband was home nearly every day, never deployed, and never PCSed. Dustin did all this on his own before he met me. He worked full time and also worked drill weekends for the Air National Guard’s needs. Early on in our marriage there were times when Dustin would be TDY for a week or so every few months at Range conferences. Oftentimes, I got to go with and enjoy a new city. When the government shut down the first time those trips stopped. We did not get hazardous duty pay. We did not get the perks of an MWR or family support center. We were pretty much on our own. We didn’t even live within a reasonable mileage of Dustin’s co-workers. So the community aspect of the military was absent. The nearest Air Force base is Wright Patterson and that’s about an hour and a half away. This was our life. It’s all I knew.
About four years out from the twenty years we felt in limbo, though. I’d be lying if I said those years were all sunshine and roses. We kept getting offers of more money. We knew Dustin could make more money outside of the military doing exactly what he did daily. We got frustrated with our house. We still live in the three-bedroom, one-bathroom bachelor pad he bought so many years back. Except it is filled with (now) three kids, a wife, two dogs, and (now) a cat. We felt suffocated, yet the thought of leaving the military didn’t cross our minds. I remember a time when we even asked each other, “How will we know when the time is right?”
It seemed Dustin was working longer hours as more modern types of missions came, requiring his skill-set and knowledge. These missions were a logistical nightmare at times for our family’s schedules, let alone for Dustin actually trying to manage his piece of the puzzle at work and home. It got to the point where I never scheduled anything around his availability because it usually ended up changed anyway. The kids and I lived life. If Dustin was able to participate with us, so be it. If not, we did it anyway.
Then came the summer of 2016. Dustin was closing in on twenty-one years of active duty service. Together we knew the time was right to start looking into what retirement entailed. It was scary. Surreal. Dustin started to put his name and resume out there and was getting calls after calls. Somehow each job closed down and the companies never hired anyone. All the jobs we applied for were local.
In December 2016, a contact at the FAA in Indianapolis called to have Dustin send in his resume because a man was retiring and Dustin was a shoo-in for this job, too. It was honestly the job position we’d assume he’d take once the time was right. How crazy to think our dreams could be come reality? Then Trump put a freeze on government hiring. That meant all the government jobs he was applying to at the time, were no longer in the cards.
I remember what happened next so vividly because it only happened two times prior to this instance. I went straight to God feeling defeated and almost oppressed or imprisoned after knowing and seeing what else was out there and all doors had shut. My prayer was very vulnerable and honest. It was humble and it was not self-seeking. I asked specifically for direction for our future. Specifically, where we should live and what our lives should look like. I prayed over my husband in preparation that he would find a job that would make his transition to the civilian world a breeze.
Then something happened in the middle of that prayer. God pressed upon my heart, “What if you’re not to live in Indianapolis?” I responded, “Okay, God. Whatever. I’ll move where you ask me to move. I trust you and surrender whatever that would entail to you,” not thinking God would really uproot this gun-toting, Hoosier-conservative from her comfort zone of tenderloins, corn fields, farm animals, and the like.
I kid you not, I confessed all I talked to God about to my friend on a Monday night. She told me to shut up and not talk about moving again. Friday of the same week, Dustin came home with a job offer… a great job offer… not in Indianapolis. My first response as he walked through the door was, “Take it.”
We didn’t hear much from that job for a while. More companies were calling Dustin so we started to give up thinking maybe it was a test to see if we’d really be open to God moving us across the country.
Then it came. The numbers. The opportunity. The family atmosphere.
The place where Dustin could transition easily into the civilian world.
The place where he’d feel worthy, known, and appreciated.
Where he’d be paid for his actual contribution and not because a stripe on his shoulder defined his worth.
He started his new job on June 5th with Ball Aerospace. He’s gone much of the week from our house in Indianapolis and travels to many other military instillations across the country and soon to be internationally. We get to spend more quality time with him when he’s home. He isn’t part of the day-to-day, but he is part of the fun. He’s part of the family bonding time. He’s relaxed. He physically looks happier. He seems free.
Last week my prayer was answered. He was told he was a valuable piece of the Ball Aerospace team he’s on and that he fits in well.
For many years I never thought I had a village. Looking back, I realize my village wasn’t what I thought it should be. My village was a group of men, who happened to all wear the same uniform, sit around a break room table drinking their coffee, farting, making up nick names, poking fun at one another, maybe a few dances on tables, and much more. They were brothers. They were Dustin’s brothers, but also mine. They were part of my identity and DNA of my whole adulthood. Those men went above and beyond serving my husband, my marriage, and my family.
That’s why it was so hard to separate from the military, because that village isn’t a part of our daily lives now. Finding that blousing strap and nametape bring about so many emotions. But once we made the decision to separate from the military, anytime someone asks me how I’m doing after the transition, I can’t help but smile. Dustin smiles. We are flying still. Flying into the unknown instead of the wild blue yonder, but flying. The military was good to us; the guys of JFAC-IN-DET 1 were good to us. All good things must come to an end, and for us, in this moment, the good turned into great.
Photos courtesy of: Jamie Nicole Scott Photography
My makeup & hair courtesy of: Brandon Owen (Contact me if you’d like his info.)