Guncrank Diaries: Light Amidst the Chaos


We were deployed to the arctic reaches of Alaska. Winter was the primary training time for the Army in the frozen north, and we were immersed in a full-bore combat exercise. The TOC (Tactical Operations Center) was a bustling hive of frenetic activity. Under such circumstances, the radios are all slaved to speakers. That way, the free flow of information proceeds unimpeded and combat leaders have instant access to the big picture. The scene this day was one of unfettered chaos.

These were the days before cell phones, so being deployed meant being truly cut off from your families. Such isolation was one of the toughest parts of military service for me. However, in the event of a true emergency, there was one way to get a critical message to a soldier operating in the field. If it was truly epically important, a family member could contact the post headquarters and have a landline phone call tapped into the military radio net. I have no idea how they did that. It occurred only very seldomly.

The TOC was crowded with husky armed men, steely eyed killers all. We were neck-deep in war and all had our game faces on. Threat forces were active in our area, and we were running half a dozen different tactical operations simultaneously. Cutting through the chaos, the net control guy came over and said he had an emergency message for my friend Dave from his wife Lisa.

Our collective blood ran cold. A combat unit is a family, and a tight one at that. There is an implicit intimacy that really has no parallel in the civilian world. When one hurts, we all hurt. If you got a civilian on the tactical net, it invariably meant somebody had died back in the World.

Dave and Lisa were in their mid-30s and had no children. They had recently transferred up from Fort Hood in Texas and grafted onto our merry mob. They were both likable, committed and cool.

The TOC fell silent as the net control guy worked his magic. In a few moments, Lisa’s voice came over the net. It was clear she had been crying. Dave addressed his wife in this most regrettably public of circumstances and asked what was the matter. She sobbed in reply, “Dave, we got a baby!”

The Adoption Option

As a physician, I have been privileged to touch any number of profoundly moving adoption stories. Children who are outcast or unwanted are grafted into a home to create a family, arguably the most powerful of God’s many extraordinary creations. However, ask anyone who has endured the process; adoption is an intentionally grueling thing. Parenthood is the loftiest of human responsibilities, and the system ensures one does not simply wander into adoption without sober preparation.

In the military, adoption is doubly difficult. When my wife and I hit our 10th anniversary, we were at our 10th address. As adoption is typically managed by the state, it can be extremely difficult for a service family to complete the process successfully before being shipped off some place else. Such a nomadic life is just yet another daunting aspect of the military experience.

In Dave and Lisa’s case, they had initiated the process in Texas only to be transferred to Alaska before it was complete. They had essentially given up, presuming this to be yet another dry hole. Lisa’s call from the adoption agency had been wholly unexpected.

Back At The War …

You could have heard a pin drop. Dave stammered and asked his wife to clarify. She explained she had gotten a call from the agency and they had an infant ready to be picked up back in Texas. She was going to make the arrangements so they could leave as soon as we redeployed back to home station.

The entire TOC erupted in cheers. There was a lot of back slapping and congratulations, enough to smother poor Dave in his lamentably sordid state. There were also not a lot of dry eyes among all those hard-core professional warriors. It was honestly one of the most powerful moments I have ever experienced.

Dave and Lisa went from zero to 60 in an instant. They hadn’t planned on becoming parents, so they had literally none of the gear they needed to embark up this most arduous of missions. As soon as we redeployed, Dave jumped on a plane with his wife headed for Texas. Those of us left behind, then made a few phone calls.

When this new family returned, all the car seats, highchairs, changing tables, diaper genies and nitnoid baby crap they needed was waiting for them. A combat unit is a family. We did what families do.

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