All the stories I heard during my time in the military started out like this, “No shit there I was…” So in keeping with this tradition, I’ll try to set the scene.
No shit there I was… Full desert camo, bundled up with my knees to my chest, my head rested on my rucksack, just trying to get some sleep. We had just landed somewhere north of Erbil, Iraq, and as we deplaned the military aircraft, a Staff Sergeant met us and led my team a few hundred yards away from the flight line. He told us to grab some real estate and that we would be heading out by convoy first thing in the morning.
For some reason, we thought we were going to have a nice cozy bed to sleep in and access to our gear. Heck, most of us had packed away our sleeping bags just to shed a few pounds. Now all we had access to was what we had carried onboard and for me, it was my woobie.
Off the flight line, it was dark and cold. The thoughts of some desert snake or spider crawling up next to me kept me up wide awake. And let’s not forget we were in a combat zone.
I rolled over to see my battle buddy curled up in a ball, trying to keep warm.
“Smitty, you good?” I asked.
“Nope, not at all. My crap is in our truck and I’m freezing my ass off,” he responded.
I shifted my ruck closer, “There’s enough woobie here for both of us, dude.” I said as I threw half of my woobie his way.
There was no hesitation as he moved over to get some warmth.
“Alright dude, but don’t grab my ass.” We laughed as we tried to get some sleep.
Growing up apart from my siblings, I always managed to gather with like-minded guys that I would call my brothers. The military hinges on this type of behavior. The guys on your right and left watch out for you, and you, in turn, watch out for them.
This attitude doesn’t end in the field. We watch over each other’s families when someone is on a deployment. We coach our buddy’s kid’s teams when they are away. Finding you and your teammates gathered at your sergeant's house for “Friendsgiving” is commonplace. This brotherhood really gives you that back home feeling when you don’t have anyone around.
When I wrapped up my military career in 2011, I struggled to find these kinds of relationships in the civilian world. I chalked it up to “This is how life is once you lose the uniform and hang up the boots.”
Part of me feared that my family would never experience the type of relationships I had relied on during my ten-year career.
Relationships that had walked me through the suicide of my first line supervisor months before deployment.
Relationships that came to help when I took guardianship of my younger brother.
Relationships that introduced me to the love of my life and relationships that introduced me to my Heavenly Father.
It wouldn’t be until seven years later when I sent a text to one of the guys in my Sunday small group.
I told him how I was feeling empty and lost. I asked if he knew of any men’s groups with men my age that I could live life with.
His response has completely changed my life and in turn my family's life since then.
I found a community that I thought could only be found in the military.
I found friends that I call brothers, friends that my boys call uncle, and friends that I know will be there to provide warmth in the coldest of times.
So with all that I want to say a simple thank you.
Thank you, Jon, Tom, Zach, Alex, AJ, TJ, and Shawn.
Thank you for being my tribe.
Thank you for setting the example for my boys to follow.
Thank you for keeping me laser-focused on being the best dad I can be, and thank you for calling me on my crap.
I’m looking forward to the next year and to where we go.
I know it’s not exactly the same thing, but we’re committed to making Strong Towers a place where guys can start to connect. Where they can start to feel like someone’s got their back. If you’re still looking for your community, come find us at our private facebook group.
We want to invite you into our conversation when you’re ready. More importantly, we want guys to find those that they can share their woobie with, because let’s be honest, if you can share a woobie with a guy, you’ve got someone who’s going to stick with you to the end.