Some Thoughts On Columbia and Why Fort Jackson Is The Army’s Best Kept Secret

Well, it’s almost time to load up the moving truck again and head down the road to the next place that the Army has decided our family will serve. Just as I did when it was time to leave Fort Bliss (El Paso) and Fort Gordon (Augusta), I can’t let this time pass without taking  a moment to process and reflect upon this season at Fort Jackson (Columbia) despite its brevity.

The other two posts were much longer due to the time on station and the depth of investment of our lives. This post will be shorter but the joys and lessons during our time here are just as meaningful to me and I find that recording them gives me a way-post to return to when I want to see evidence of God’s hand on our lives.

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What our time at Fort Jackson has meant to me…” 

This was one of those assignments we knew was coming…one that for over a year’s time we knew what was next–an uncommon circumstance in military life– timeline and location known nearly 12 months in advance.

The closer it came, the more resolved I was to the idea of it Fort Jackson. It’s just a fact of life in the Chaplaincy Corps, Fort Jackson is where you get your start and where you’ll be back before your time as a Captain comes to an end.

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The (less than) six month C4 (Chaplain Captain Career Course) experience is a time for the Chaplain to be a student in preparation for brigade level leadership and a time for the family to … well… continue being the silent bystanders, the support, the dependents.

Knowing so much about this experience from many friends who had gone before us, I felt no fear or anxiety about this assignment. I felt no dread of deployment or long separation. I felt no angst about my soldier keeping crazy early or crazy late hours.

Thanks to a visit to a friend who was at C4 ahead of me, I knew what our house would look like, where I’d place furniture, and exactly how long it would take to travel to Tennessee and the beach. I knew that there would be little to involve myself with personally or professionally for half a year. I also knew that extra-curriculars for our kids would take a back seat. Life would come at a slower pace.

For the first time in our Army career, we’d be living on post in the oldest house to date; living in a capital city at the crux of many busy interstates; living in a situation where Ryan, who has faithfully served as a soldier, chaplain, and pastor would now be a full-time student with homework, lectures, and papers to write. These were some of the things I knew for sure.

It’s a wonderful thing for a person like me–who so often feels the dizzying, disorienting effects of a such a transitional life– to finally hold a few stabilizing pieces of the puzzle at the outset of an assignment.

I cling tightly to information and hold in the highest esteem those hard facts of what I can count on and what I knew to be true, sure and reliable. The C4 experience promised such predictability.

What if we all go through life clinging only to those things that we can predict and know fully? What if we were to hold back and reserve our involvement in an adventure simply because we lack clarity and certainty of its outcomes?

I’ve been there– most days I am STILL there– I like to know what’s ahead. I like control. I especially like to feel prepared for the possibilities. But that’s not how our lives work. And during this unique season at Fort Jackson in Columbia, life has surprised me with the richest possibilities and opportunities I could have never imagined on my own.

Some of those unexpected joys include:

This Old House:

To the standards of any home decor expert, our house doesn’t make the cut. On the outside it’s ugly; gutters are sagging, there’s mismatched siding on the enclosed back porch addition, and we have a sloping roof over our carport.

On the inside there is paint literally chipping off the walls, I’ve seen larger refrigerators in apartments, the kitchen counters and cabinets are ancient and nondescript, each window is covered with ugly, plastic mini-blinds, and our bathroom is SO tiny that I’ve kept my few toiletries hanging on the hook inside my LL Bean toiletry bag.

However, outside our house have given me a front row seat to watching a loving community of neighbors (kids, moms, dads, and even pets!) form a bond that resembles a tight knit family–we all look out for each other as our own.

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We have hosted birthday parities, science labs, playdates, dessert + coffee get togethers, game nights, movie nights, and a night of prayer. And these are just the official events we have invited folks to attend. Unofficially, there have been hundreds of hours of mom-talks at the gazebo, dads passing football or playing H-O-R-S-E on the neighborhood hoop, birthday wishes out in the circle, walks to the tennis courts and pool, games of “Groundsy,” Capture the Flag, and hours fort building.

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It has been amazing to watch over two dozen kids (ages baby through 16) naturally socialize and govern themselves without any input or insertion of parental force. These kids have fought their own battles, settled their own arguments, and learned kindness and inclusion of everyone no matter their age or mood. #custerloopforlife

You’ll never convince me that this on-post neighborhood living (friends who serve our nation and have a common bond of sacrifice and patriotism) isn’t an uncommon, throw-back-to-simpler-times and WONDERFUL way to live.

Family Rhythm:

Our family is one that runs on regularity and routine. We don’t do much on a whim or on the spur of the moment. Being spontaneous has never been our strong suit. That’s just not who we are and we are okay with that. We like to make plans and prepare.

Our routines here have been wonderful.

Throughout the summer and early fall months of this assignment, Ryan was at his busiest acclimating to his school expectations and workload. The kids and I spent countless hours enjoying Palmetto Falls water park with various friends and once our own school year began, we enjoyed a paired down workload with productive mornings, outdoor afternoons, and field trip Fridays.

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Most afternoons Ryan would come home from class, and he and Thomas would run to the gym for their weight lifting workouts. I’d head outside to chat with the other neighborhood moms while the girls play at the playground with their friends.

Nearly every night we’d have dinner here at home and tune in to our nightly episode of King of the Hill reruns on the DVR before bed. No later afternoon commitments–no sports or scouts– nothing really to call us away from the sanctuary of family togetherness. It. Has. Been. A. Dream. (Even if only short-lived…)

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Speaking of sanctuaries– as far as family worship, we’ve been a little like Goldilocks in finding our fit. For the first few months, we attended a very large, MEGA church but soon realized that when you’re just passing through, you are kind of just a number and invisible.

We have also attended the Chapel Next service on post a few times– but then again– that has felt off as we’re so used to serving and playing an active role in chapel services that it felt strange to simply sit on the pews each week as congregants.

And the truth of the matter is that there have been a dozen Sundays when we’ve been traveling so we’ve missed a worship service altogether. I’ve been equally as sporadic in my PWOC/Bible study involvement. ‘Tis the season.

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I am very grateful for the time to have some modicum of sabbath rest and a short sabbatical from our weekly church or chapel ministry. I feel like God has allowed us the “Sabbath sabbath” in preparation for our next assignment where we will jump right back in with both feet serving regularly.

Adventures to Experience:

My word for this year as been “Adventure” and every month has lived up to that word.

June: we moved in and brought home Hank, our beloved-didn’t-know-what-we-were-missing-Boykin Spaniel

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July: my parents and Ryan’s parents visited, Ryan’s schoolwork began in earnest, we celebrated the Chaplain anniversary ball, and the kids and I made the annual Roberson Fort Myers trip

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August: signaled the start of year seven for W.A.C.K., golf camp for Thomas, CPR and babysitter class for Mae, and Kate turning 10. We became regulars at the SCSM Friday lecture series, visited Historic Columbia, Congaree National Forest, and who could forget the Solar Eclipse of 2017?

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September: the girls took a STEM class at EdVenture, Ryan had a staff ride to Charleston, we enjoyed a C4 family day at the zoo, more lectures at the Relic Room, the start of college football, and barely survived the hoopla of Hurricane Irma. I officially launched Dependent Diaries

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October: barely felt like we were home– the kids and I spent a few days in Charleston, we spent over a week enjoying family time in Tennessee and Georgia, and even unexpectedly traveled back for Ryan’s grandfather’s funeral. The kids rocked out their Napoleon Dynamite costumes for Halloween

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November: has been equally as full. Thomas and Mae celebrated birthdays, Ryan and Thomas enjoyed a fishing weekend near the OBX of North Carolina, and a Saturday in Athens watching their Bulldogs get a win. My parents came for a visit, we had a quiet Thanksgiving at home, and the month ended with Thomas getting his braces off and the end of our Fall W.A.C.K. semester

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Our time here is dwindling down to precious days and hours. The movers come this week to pack up and drive our belongings to Louisiana and Ryan’s final graduation ceremony is only days later. We will leave town that same afternoon.

Following the C4 graduation, there will be nothing holding us here in Columbia any longer.

No assignment.

No duty.

No responsibilities.

No life.

That’s just how military life works– the wheels on the transportation truck go ’round and ’round, ’round and ’round, ’round and ’round.

You’d think by now I’d be used to that–accustomed to rolling into town and rolling back out–without emotion–without my heart feeling like it’s being ripped into pieces– without feeling the simultaneous sadness of saying goodbye + excitement for the new opportunity; the fun of having had such a wonderful adventure + the confusion about how to tell my brain “relish it all” and “quiet down and get on with it.”

 

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…all while trying to grasp more new input for the new assignment, the new place, the new people, and the expanded heart…

Maybe I’ll never have that part figured out–maybe that is just how God created the human heart with its many chambers and forms and functions and fragility.

This time here in Columbia has truly been unique and wonderful in its own way. Sure, it hasn’t been without its challenges and frustrations, but I’ll choose to remember it just as I have our time in El Paso and Augusta– with gratitude and fondness.

 

 

 

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