At Home Between Patrols

A vet reflects on the importance of home: that place you carry with you for strength and motivation when you are away.
At Home Between Patrols
Sailors and Marines stand on the deck of the USS Bataan (LHD 5) as it arrives at Pier 88 during the 'Parade of Ships' ceremony to kick off Fleet Week in New York on May 25, 2016. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
Battlefields Staff


I think back on this memory, and I am reminded of the importance of being at home when you are there. If you know your career is going to take you away from what you cherish, for weeks or months at a time, make it a point to stop and appreciate what you have. Lay your hands on it, learn to truly KNOW it, and own that knowledge. Carry it with you for strength and motivation when you are away. Carry it as a line in the sand to mark where you were as you improve your life or a place to get back to when you are at a low point.

2016 03 10 Wednesday

It was early in the morning and dark. I'd taken the week off from work, and as usual, my sleep schedule was the first thing to go sideways. The sullen red numbers on my bedside clock told me that dawn was only a few hours away; 0352. Were it July, I would have been able to read by sunlight in about half an hour. It was still March, however, and the early spring winds were blowing off the Pacific to cross the northern face of the Olympic Mountain range. The moisture they carried from the sea took on a glacial chill before it rolled back down the mountains. The whistling hiss of its passage through the hardwoods and evergreens rose and fell like the breath of a restless giant. It was strange to hear that sound without the lurching motion of a deck beneath me or the rattle of wind-driven sea spray against the hull of the cutter.

Instead, I lay quite still in my motionless bed. The sound of the wind was accompanied by the gentle, rhythmic breathing of my wife. Our two medium-sized dogs had efficiently taken up every last square inch of space and pinned my legs under the comforter. Their snoring was soft and slow. I would complain, but they kept us warm and made me smile—something, I am told I don’t do enough of. The wind rose sharply again, and a new sound accompanied it. It was enough to make me sit up and focus on it; it was unsettlingly familiar.

I went from restlessly sleepy to alert enough to fight, hovering in that strange nebulous region of consciousness between being fully awake and dreaming. My instincts drove my body forward with one hand while ruthlessly trying to bludgeon my higher brain functions into operability with the other. I glanced at my nightstand where the three glowing green dots of the night sights on my pistol offered me their silent reassurance. A .45 caliber round would have easily punched through the walls of the double-wide trailer we were renting but in the low-ceiling home, it would have left me functionally blind and deaf after a few rounds.

Rain began to fall. More accurately, it was driving down against the house walls. It sounded as though hail may be mixed in as well. With a great deal of effort, I flexed my legs and twisted my hips to free them from the 90 or so pounds of canine that was holding them down. All I really managed was to get one of them to scoot over a bit. Rolling onto my stomach, I fumbled at the window latch slightly above my head. The dim glow from our alarm clocks and the hood lamp over the stove in the kitchen was just enough light for me to make out the barest of details. My fingers located the frigid metal tab, and I slid the glass over a few inches. The wind noise and rattle of rain on gravel increased. The dogs stirred at the volume change. One of them rolled over and eased the pressure on a calf. Pins and needles added to my sensory awareness as circulation returned to the limb.

(Grisha Bruev/Shutterstock)
(Grisha Bruev/Shutterstock)

I stared out into the darkness through the gap between the bottom edge of the blinds and the windowsill. The only illumination was the porch light from my landlady’s house. The noise came again. It sounded too metallic for thunder. It is too irregular and somehow hollow-sounding to be gunfire. I can usually tell if I’m hearing a rifle, pistol, or shotgun if the echo isn’t too bad. Rifles have a distinct crack-boom, while pistols have more abrupt sounds like a wham or sharp pop. Shotguns have a much deeper echoing note.

This sound wasn’t any of those. The white noise of the wind and rain, as well as the dense woods surrounding the property, muffled and warped the sound. Heavy gusts increased its intensity. This set off the four-month-old German shepherd puppy living next door. His high-pitched barks echoed off the barn, and I felt both our mutts go alert. Their heads came up, and growls that belonged to animals 100 pounds heavier resonated through the darkness. It stood up every last hair on my neck. I turned around and stroked them both on the chest and heads, talking softly and firmly, praising them. I'd rather they not bark and wake my wife. Barron, the male, can bark like a Mastiff or Great Dane. It can be terrifying to wake up to.

The warbling metallic sound came again, and suddenly a long-forgotten memory came to mind. Every structure on the hill where I grew up had tin roofs. Almost everyone I knew with any kind of barn or outbuilding on their land also had one. Occasionally when tornado season got into full swing, the older sections of tin would start to flex under their roofing screws. Eventually, they would come loose and bang up and down on their rafters, repeatedly slamming like a screen door with no spring. After multiple storms, if no one returned to secure the tin, it would tear off entirely and go skipping across the yard. Dad was almost scalped one year by a half-sheet of tin after it tore free of my great-grandmother’s roof.

I smiled as years and years of spring and summertime thunderstorms came flooding back to me: the Carolinas, all across South Georgia, Central Louisiana, Florida, and Texas. There is nothing quite like a raging thunderstorm in the South. As I got older and started volunteer firefighting, I would stay in town at Station 1 during stormy weather, waiting on the call for a wreck or lightning fire. The driving rain would almost drown out the thunder in the warehouse where we parked the firetrucks and ambulances.

Sadly, no thunder or lightning accompanies the rain up here in the Pacific Northwest. Closing the window, I slid back down under the covers and repositioned the dogs. The compact female hound, Dixie, crawled under my chin and put her near-freezing nose in my armpit. I yelped and rolled her over, tucking her into my arm like an oversized football. Barron was already asleep again and snoring with his chin across my ankles. Listening to the rain, wind, and flopping tin on my neighbor’s roof, I drifted off to a dreamless sleep.

The Battlefields Staff is a diverse collective of military veterans, first responders, and their supporters, who share their thoughts and experiences on the front lines and the home front through The Epoch Times.