Saying goodbye is, unfortunately, a big part of military life. As callous as it sounds, I chuckled when I saw celebrities on ‘Get Me Out Of Here’ crying because they missed their families after one week apart; I found it amusing when I saw ordinary folk so desperate to see their friends and family after 48 hours of escape and evasion on ‘Hunted’ that they risked capture and losing the £100,000 prize money. I should empathise, but I simply can’t.
Saying goodbye, for me, is something that I accept as part of my job. Every two years or so, I have to move me and my family to anywhere in the world that the Army needs me. Of course I can cite preferences, but the Army is very clear that “…the needs of the Army come first, but the aspirations of the individual and their family come a very close second.” That means new friends for my children; new teachers and school friends every two years; new friends for my wife every two years; new boss for my wife, new colleagues for my wife and an entirely new community to get to be part of every two years.
It’s not just us saying goodbye to them, it’s them saying goodbye to us as well. My wife made a very good friend in Biscuit Lady, and she’s just found out that she’s moving in January. It’s fair to say that she’s my wife’s only real friend here, and now she’s moving. We expected it, it’s our life. As we move every two, or so, years, so too do our military friends. My daughter is losing her BFF, my wife is losing her BFF, and I’m losing the only person outside of work that I felt comfortable talking about life with.
I’ve also recently said goodbye to my family and I didn’t see them again for about 7 months. Despite the ability to FaceTime and see their faces on a computer screen on an ad-hoc basis, for almost 200 days I didn’t get to tuck my kids in at night, help them with their homework, calm them when they’re scared, or cuddle them when they’re upset. About half way through this time period, I got a period of “rest and recuperation” but it did the absolute opposite for me. The family got into a routine without me, they developed a system that did not involve me, then I came home and disrupted it in order that I could relax and clear my head ready to go away all over again. But I accept this, I chose this. My wife didn’t; my kids didn’t.
Me saying goodbye to the family, and being apart from them, is something that hurts me but I can take it. Like I said, I chose this life and see it as a necessary evil to afford the quality of life we have. The level of comfort my family can enjoy, comes at this price. But they were thrown into it, they had no choice, and saying goodbye to me is something they’ve had to learn to accept. In order to prepare for my time away, I’ve had to go on course after course after course. This is on top of my already demanding work routine that drags me away from home for days at a time.
We measure our time apart from friends and family by measuring our ‘Nights out of Bed’. Every 24 hour period that we are away in the last 30 months, gets recorded on our personal file. I’m currently at about 380 nights out of bed. In the last two and a half years, I’ve spent over a year away from my family, and I’m rewarding them by going away for another six months. This may seem like a lot, but you’re not considered extreme until you’ve hit somewhere over 520 nights out of bed. That’s quite a few times for your family to have to say goodbye to you, and have absolutely no control over it at all. I chose this, not them.
So when I see celebrities or people on social media getting upset because they haven’t seen their families for a weekend, or a whole week, I should feel sorry for them; I should know what they’re feeling and respect it, but I just can’t seem to do it – well I can, but it’s only brief.
What’s the longest you’ve been away from your family? Do you have a family member who’s away all the time with work, how do you cope? Is the job worth it do you think?