Twenty years, that’s hard to believe. When we first started this journey, we had no idea what was ahead of us. Through the years we’ve celebrated the joys and challenges of this lifestyle.

This was more than just your job. This has been our life for the last 20 years, and it’s strange to think that with your retirement, this lifestyle is coming to an end and a new chapter is beginning.

As I reflect on how the military has shaped and changed us, I suppose my glasses are a little rosier now than when we were younger. I think about those first years in that tiny apartment trying to figure out how to be married and trying to launch our careers and finish school. With no money and only one car at one point, as Charles Dickens once wrote, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

I loved your dedication and commitment to becoming the best pilot. I loved reading my giant stack of novels for school while you practiced chair flying in the other room. I loved cooking in that tiny kitchen and listening to the sound of planes overhead at night and stark silence that would follow knowing you would soon be home. I loved how determined you were to secure a good assignment with the information we had at the time.

That was a good start.

We arrived at our first assignment without a care in the world. You were excited to fly your first operational mission and I was fresh out of college and hopefully searching for my first job. I’m so thankful we met the most amazing friends at the new spouse orientation. What a gift their friendship was when we knew no one. That apartment was a serious upgrade from our first apartment—complete with our own washer and dryer. I remember loving our time on the East Coast and everything there was to do and walking those quiet, shaded streets in the neighborhood. I enjoyed our spontaneous trips to the beach, NYC, and DC.

That was a good year.

I am so thankful we moved on base. That community was the biggest blessing for the difficult road ahead. I started working full-time and you started perfecting recipes in the kitchen on your days off. The trips were long and often lonely with few ways to communicate before cell phones and readily accessible text and email. I hated coming home only to discover I had missed your one call for the next few days…again. I remember how sad I felt about your first deployment. Little did we know it would be the first of many separations.

I think about 9/11 and how I stood outside our tiny bathroom and cried to no one in particular. The first words out of my mouth were simply, “I don’t want to do this.” I knew exactly what it meant for our military lifestyle and the pace of deployments. Despite all that, we brought two beautiful babies home to that row house, and they made it come to life.

I can still picture our oldest climbing up those stairs over and over and us hoping we could tire her out. I think of her playing on the playground out back and sleeping in the front pack. I think of our second daughter smiling in the swing while we were keeping our toddler entertained.

Those were sweet days.

I’ve often pondered our decision to rank our assignment choices despite people telling us we were foolish. I remember you saying the obvious choice just didn’t seem like the right fit, and you were right. I remember answering the phone and learning we were headed to Illinois. Those three years in the first home we owned were crazy, but so good. I loved having you home every night. Hands down it was the best assignment ever! Illinois quickly became familiar, and we had so much fun raising the girls in the Midwest.

That was a good home.

Then the time came to choose again. This time it was staying in or getting out. It was utterly terrifying, but we made the decision together. We’ve taken a lot of crazy detours in our 20 years. We couldn’t have hand-picked a better reserve job for you. What a blessing it was to stay put for the kids and eventually move to a house we built and bring home two more members of the clan.

That was a good move.

I love that the kids would watch for your plane overhead and know that daddy would be home soon. I can still picture their little faces pressed to the windows watching for daddy and listening for the sound of the garage. Those little people just knocked my socks off. I can still picture you holding them as they pulled patches on and off. You were like a life-size busy book. I think of the sun setting while the kids played outside on the cul-de-sac or talking out back while the kids ran through the sprinkler. It sounded like my version of heaven. I loved watching the stars by the light of our fire pit on that back patio.

That was a good patio.

And then the day came when we both realized that we felt like Illinois wasn’t going to be our forever home and that we couldn’t get a vision for the kids in high school there. I was so proud of you the day you got hired by the airlines. I remember flying standby with the kids for the first time and their excited little faces. We are quite the parade of people. I think about the struggle to decide whether or not we should move to Colorado, but ultimately our choice was to take a risk again and move.

That was a good decision.

As you retire after 20 years of service, I hope you know a few things by now. The first is that no one could be more proud of all you’ve accomplished and done. It hasn’t been an easy road, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Maybe we could have done better if we had known better, but nonetheless, we did our best with what we had. The second is that you have left a legacy for our kids and their kids to come. We can’t see it now, but somewhere in the future, they will remember the sacrifice of your service and ours as a family. They will be proud to call themselves part of our family.

There are about a million ways our lives could have played out separately, but I’m very thankful that we were able to take this journey together. Looking back at my decision to leave everything behind and follow you, I’d do it all again. I’d choose you. I’d choose us. When you wear that uniform for the last time, I hope your heart is full of gratitude and your mind is full of peace. That was 20 years well lived.

Love,

Your Wife of 20 Years

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