We’ve all seen them: the picture-perfect military homecoming videos that get passed around Facebook, the photos that have tons of shares on Pinterest, the footage taken and aired on news programs and used in USAA commercials.
Those 30 seconds are wonderful…but they don’t tell the whole story of a military homecoming. In fact, they tell just 30 seconds (or less) of the story that may have taken more than a year.
Here’s what military homecomings on TV are missing:
1. Getting Ready
Homecoming videos never show the hours before homecoming. The scattered, hurried feeling. It’s the time when the hair straightener doesn’t heat up fast enough. When, by some dark magic, the 3 outfits that were perfect yesterday don’t work today, you want to yell (or actually do) that you have NOTHING-TO-WEAR-AND-WHY-DO-I-LOOK-SO-AWFUL-TODAY-AND-WHAT’S-UP-WITH-THAT-ZIT-ON-MY-FACE. When you can’t find your other shoe when it was just there a minute ago. When you double-check to make sure you have your ID to get on base no fewer than 20 times and then you misplace your purse. And while you’re looking for your purse, you misplace your keys. But don’t worry–you have your phone because it’s been your lifeline for the months leading up to this day. But the battery is nearly dead and you’re trying to find the charger too.
2. The Endless Changing Times and Dates
And then there’s the musical chair game of times and dates: the excitement, disappointment, the waiting, the frustration of never really knowing quite when it will actually happen, the excitement, again. It’s for a good reason, but, man—it’s tough to have patience when you’re in the final leg of deployment.
3. Nerves, Nerves, Nerves!
Standing in the MAC terminal, I bounced up on my toes to try to see the sailors rounding the corner from Customs. I was sweaty. Nervous. The humidity had made my tamed-by-the-straightener hair a fuzzy mess. I couldn’t stop shaking.
One thought kept running through my head, “What if I didn’t recognize John right away?” Or worse, what if I thought it was him from the side or from behind and hugged someone else’s guy?
And then when I actually did find John, I couldn’t stop laugh-crying. I was shaking so much that John pulled away from our hug and said, “Are you OK?”
I’m definitely not the kind of woman usually featured in homecoming videos—quiet, resolute, patient. The one who holds a flag and cheers at the right time. Maybe I’m the only one who has a mini-nervous breakdown during homecoming. (But I’m guessing I’m not alone.)
4. The Drama Before
The kids have been fighting. The FRG is being stingy with details or out-right ignoring you. The car broke down. Your mother-in-law wants to stay for a week. Or maybe you drove for 9 hours, never received the call that homecoming was moved up by 5 hours and then when you did find out, you ended up driving toward base at speeds that are way, way over the posted limit while praying that there were no cameras or state police on your route. (Not that that’s my homecoming story…) Whatever it is, drama seems to erupt around homecoming for one reason: it’s an emotional time that involves a lot of people.
5. Homecomings Are Not Perfect
In those short videos, every homecoming looks absolutely perfect. But the truth is, they’re not. They’re messy. So many spouses have battled the elements, met buses at midnight or had to miss them entirely from the other side of the country.
And sadly, some homecomings aren’t happy, for a myriad of reasons. But we never see those more subdued, quieter homecomings. They happen too, and it’s important to remember that.
6. What Do We Do Now?
After the embrace, kiss, and triumphant feeling of completing deployment, there’s the celebration, right? Right? At least, in your head, you’ve imagined going to a nice restaurant, grabbing drinks, being romantic… you get the picture.
Instead, that celebration ends up much more muted and it usually involves your spouse sacked out on the couch or bed and sleeping for what feels like days with the detritus of a deployment scattered everywhere in the house. (“Seriously, how did that get there?” you say to yourself more often than not when you come across another discarded, issued item in the most illogical place you can think of.)
7. The Reintegration
Many military couples find reintegration to be the toughest part of the deployment cycle. The excitement from homecoming is gone. Now it’s all about trying to find a rhythm again and remembering who you were (and are) as a couple. It’s a much, much longer process than the fleeting minutes of homecoming, yet it’s arguably the most important part.
Of course, a short video can’t show all of the aspects– the ups, the downs, the frustrations, the boredom. It would be unfair to expect that from a clip on the news. But it’s still part of our collective story.