Thursday, May 7, 2009

Same as it Ever Was

Deployments are a part of military life, and Navy life in particular. My father flew the P-3 Orion, land-based patrol aircraft. When he was in a flying billet, he was deployed pretty much half of the time. 6 months home, 6 months away, in a never-ending rotation. It was only during a "shore duty" command that he was home more often than that.

At the time, the Army and Air Force were different. Although they didn't deploy per se, those families tended to move a lot more often, and lived in way more exotic places (back then) like Korea and Germany. I knew Air Force brats that moved pretty much every 18 to 24 months for years on end.

Me, I liked the Navy way better. Sure it sucked dad being gone, but abode stability was a small price to pay for having a dad with the coolest job in the world short of astronaut or secret agent. And those involve significantly more travel, from what I hear.

In any case, I was recently going through some old pictures that my parents converted from slides (remember them?) into the much more robust format of the digital image, and I came across this one:

Patuxent River Naval Air Station, July 1971. VP-49 is leaving for a deployment to Keflavik Iceland, a base where I would serve (if ever so briefly) some 30-odd years later.

The young LT walking across the ramp is my father, and the woman holding the infant is my mother. I'm the infant, in case you hadn't gotten that far. This scene is replayed across the Navy every day of the year. Always has been, always will be. Sailors walk away from their families to an airplane, ship or sub, or even a commercial airliner for folks that do what I do.

As a kid, what did I know? It was a part of life. Didn't all dads do that? I can't recall ever thinking, "gosh, it sucks that my daddy has to do that". I thought they all did.

I don't think it was until I had to leave my own daughter that I understood what it must have been even remotely like. And his deployments were pre email and international phone calls for less than $10 per minute. We got letters, most of which I have kept. Yes dad, I'm being a good boy for mommy and I have cleaned my room.

Have you ever watched one of those History Channel-esque documentaries on the military? And how they have the obligatory scene of the return from the deployment? Yeah, still kinda chokes me up.

But you know what? It makes me truly appreciate my family. My wife, my loving parents, and my absolutely perfect daughter.

But do you know what I thought was really interesting about this picture?

See that number on the tail? 156529?

That plane is still flying. Converted to an EP-3 and assigned to VQ-2, according to the latest information.

That means that sometime in the next 12 months or so, there will probably be another young LT walking on a ramp, towards that same plane, with his wife and infant son waiving goodbye.