Every time we leave a duty assignment, part of my closure involves writing a sentimental blogpost where I pour out my heart. I do this primarily as an act of healthy reflection and also for posterity so I can remember those details that are sure to fade with time and distance.
For the longest, I called these posts, “Some Thoughts on Why Fort _________ is the Army’s Best Kept Secret.” Fort Bliss was a best kept secret because most people aren’t especially thrilled to be so far west, way out in the desert. Fort Gordon was a best kept secret because it was a tiny, sleepy post– a hidden gem. Fort Jackson (C4) was a short, but very sweet time. Fort Polk was a best kept secret because NO ONE expects Fort Polk to endear itself to you. My post there was a series of letters I wrote to myself telling Claire what I wish she’d known before she got there.
In truth, it’s really disingenuous to call Fort Campbell a “best kept secret,” because it is no secret that Fort Campbell is a premier Army installation. It’s huge, it’s well loved, well respected, and Home of the 101st Screaming Eagles. You can sometimes hear the cries of actual eagles and feel the breeze of their wings on this hallowed ground. (JK)
If you want to know how great Fort Campbell is, just ask. Fort Campbell loves Fort Campbell. It is not a hardship to be stationed there. In that spirit, I decided to switch things up a bit and use my now-regular format of a Top Ten List of why it was a good place for our family for the 22 months we lived there.
A Place of Proximity
When news of our orders to Fort Campbell finally materialized in the spring of 2020, we were so very happy and relieved. By mileage, Fort Campbell is the closest army installation to either of our families in the Chattanooga/Cleveland area. We were thrilled to be only a three and a half hour drive from “home.”
We felt so blessed to be able to make shorter, but much more frequent trips to see family. No more two days or driving or buying airline tickets. We were just a short hop, skip, and a jump down I-24… a drive so short we often didn’t even require a bathroom break on the trip. (More later, but this close proximity would also be a huge blessing less than a year after our arrival when my dad would pass away suddenly and I would need to make many trips home in a short span of time.)
A Place of Geographical Familiarity
Another plus for Fort Campbell is that it felt and looked like home to us. The rolling hills, the green grass, the four seasons… all of it so familiar. It was nice to ride the line between the cornfields of Kentucky and small town life in Clarksville. The roadway to Nashville was familiar. The hospitality of Tennesseans was appreciated. We felt like we were back with our people. I know Ryan especially enjoyed this season of all of his outdoor hobbies in this area. I enjoyed a robust public library, proximity to Publix, Chick-Fil-A, and a decent (but not too good) Target.
A Place of Ministry Opportunities
From a ministry and chaplaincy perspective it was SO NICE to be at an assignment where the harvest was plentiful but so were the workers. Coming off of a fulfilling but tiring season at Fort Polk where the needs were many but the workers were few, it was refreshing to know that our family had a place to invest but that there was SO MUCH support, SO MUCH health in the leadership, and SO MANY rowing the boat in the same direction. What joy!
During our time at Fort Campbell, we served as the sponsors of Officers’ Christian Fellowship (OCF), where we were not only nominally involved, but also attended weekly Bible study and fellowship. We made some of our deepest friendships and connections at OCF. For the first time in our ministry journey, Ryan and I were able to sit down together, every week, and share in deeply rooted study of the Bible together. Not him on stage and me in the pew. Not him leading at work and me serving in women’s ministry. TOGETHER. It was needed and we loved it. We also highly benefitted from mentorship from the OCF lay leaders, Greg and Lucy Lane. They truly challenged us and spurred us on.
Our first year when a greater contingent of units were deployed, I served weekly at a Deployed Spouses group sponsored by the chapel. Our MP unit didn’t have an official coffee group, but most months I made it a priority to attend the UMT Spouses coffees. We also attended the Crossroads worship service and as time went on, Ryan became more heavily involved, first as a regular member of the Preaching Team, then as the XO of the service, and finally as the Senior Pastor.
Our kids were a part of a very vibrant youth group at Crossroads, and I periodically volunteered in kids ministry, helped with hospitality after the service, and coordinated the monthly “Mom meals” for the youth group. We served here with an AMAZING bunch of fellow called and committed families. What an honor and joy!
A Place of Friendships
I am a person who needs deep friendship. That is part of what makes moving around so often particularly challenging. Sure, I can get by for a short time with casual acquaintances, but over time, I just need to be mutually invested in the lives of other women. At our previous assignment I had one really close friend. We did everything together. Our families were close. But on the whole, the best way to describe my friendships were that they were an inch deep but a mile wide. I found myself in a role of mentor, organizer, leader and while it was certainly fulfilling, I was truly feeling ready for a season of slower, deeper, and more meaningful connection.
Over time, I developed several VERY close friendships at Fort Campbell. I won’t name names here but I had at least six to eight friends who were SOLID. These are the kinds of friends who call out the good but also aren’t afraid to tell you the truth. Friends to cut to the chase and be REAL with. Friends who are older than you, younger than you, further along in their spiritual journeys that you, friends with whom you share similar interests. Friends who come through when you’re in a bind. Friends you will remain close with though the miles and distance separate you.
I also think that going into this assignment and being aware of some of my own emotional and relational needs better, I was able to focus and invest the time and energy needed to be a friend and receive as a friend too.
A Place of Transitions
Every PCS move is a transition, but our time at Fort Campbell had some additional transitions built in. For starters, the kids and I ended our homeschooling journey of eight years here. They were ready. I was ready. I am so happy to have invested these years but I was also very happy to see that the shift to public school was positive for all of us.
Thomas got his first car here and graduated from high school. Mae got her drivers’ license here. Kate got her braces off here. Ryan and I celebrated 20 years of marriage here. I let my natural hair color grow out here. Trust me when I say it has been more than just a physical transformation.
Fort Campbell was also a time of transition for Ryan in his career. No sooner than he signed into his unit, it was almost time for his promotion board to meet. During our time he promoted to Major and then promptly had orders to Fort Eustis for his first O-4 role. Meanwhile, the kids and I stayed at Fort Campbell without him from March until May of 2022 to allow them to finish up the school year.
A Place of Professional Development
There are times when I feel like my professional journey is laughable and then there are other times where I feel really proud of how determined I am to keep up my pursuit of reaching goals and seeking professional passions and fulfillment.
During the 22 months we were at Fort Campbell, I benefitted from a Workforce Essentials grant which paid for my Tennessee Teaching Licensure retesting and credentialing. I haven’t officially used that license since the fall of 2003 but I am very happy that it’s current active again.
From there I applied to about 20 jobs, and was first hired as a substitute teacher in the DODEA schools on post. That process was lengthy and nearly inscrutable, but I got hired! From the time I applied (October) until my first day subbing at Lucas Elementary (March), a lot changed in my life. My dad passed away that February so by the time the job finally came to fruition, I was dealing with immediate loss and deeply acute grief. My heart was no longer in the job of being an elementary sub. Thankfully, during this time (and following) I have continued to have reliable, regular, paid freelance writing work that I love and enjoy.
By the end of that school year, however, I finally heard back from Austin Peay and ended up teaching three sections of English on the main campus during the fall semester and two sections of English at the APSU Fort Campbell Ed Center. I loved it so much and it felt amazing to be back to one of my favorite teaching roles. However, due to the demands of the job, Ryan’s move ahead of us, and the level of involvement I wanted to have in helping Thomas seek out scholarships for college, I knew it was best to forego teaching in the spring semester. It was so fun while it lasted.
A Place of Scholastic Success
When I think back on the two school years we were stationed at Fort Campbell, I HAVE to include our kids’ school experience as one of the highlights. As I mentioned above, after eight years of homeschooling with one year of a tiny, private Christian school mixed in, I think we were all curious to see how Thomas, Mae, and Kate’s previous schooling would translate into a traditional, public school.
I have never been more proud. It’s my blog so I’m going to brag on my kids here a minute.
Not only did they just KILL IT with their grades. Like, nearly straight As all quarters, for all kids, just slaying in the classroom. They also were super successful with every other endeavor they sought out. From sports to clubs, to class office, to other social involvements they just SOARED as Fort Campbell Falcons. The many ways our kids were involved are nearly too many to list, but they tried a lot of new things and enjoyed every minute of it.
As a (now) former homeschooling mom who would ***of course*** tell you her kids are exceptional, it feels rewarding to see others (teachers, administrators, peers) see it too. Sometimes you worry that all of the field trips, around the table morning basket hours, self-paced, mom-assigned, mom-graded efforts might be in vain. NOT TRUE.
Honestly, though, the two things I am most proud of with our kids transitioning to “real” school are 1. staying true to themselves and their convictions, and 2. being self-motivated and self-disciplined.
Our kids were a part of a very diverse mix of kids with various backgrounds, beliefs, and they successfully navigated integrating into the crowd while also maintaining their own identities. They very rarely, if ever, needed my assistance in any school related matter. They advocated for themselves, they communicated their needs, and they resolved any issues that came up independently. #proudmama
A Place of Pandemic Living
I would be remiss to leave out anything in this post that overlooks the fact that our time at Fort Campbell overlapped with the GLOBAL PANDEMIC that has shaken our world. The pandemic is credited with “hitting the US” in March of 2020. We had many delays and glitches with orders and Ryan having permission to leave Fort Polk that spring. By July, he was granted access to leave and our things were finally scheduled for pick up and drop off. We were only a few months into the pandemic when we arrived at Fort Campbell.
I want to remember that when we arrived, the movers had to be masked to enter our house, church services were not meeting in person, and when they did, it was every other row and masked, all of the restaurants on the Kentucky side of post were still closed to indoor dining, and a presidential election in the fall was an added layer of all kinds of hatred, division, and stress on top of the pandemic.
The fall of 2020, Covid cases were surging again and we were all weighing plans for holidays, staying home, and trying to be mindful of safety for those we love. At the semester break from school, our kids’ schools all went virtual for three weeks to give students and families who may have traveled over the holidays a chance to deal with any lingering sickness before returning to school.
At the tail end of January 2021 both of my parents got Covid. My mom had a very light case and my dad, who kept receiving multiple negative tests despite growing symptoms, ended up dying on February 16 of that year from Covid pneumonia.
From his positive test on a Sunday, to one night hospitalized that eventing, to the release from the hospital the next day, followed by a 911 call and ambulance ride in the wee hours of the morning Tuesday, my dad was intubated on Tuesday, February 2 and died 14 days later in ICU with waning oxygen levels and no further medical interventions available. #stilltraumatized
By the end of March, we were able to receive the Covid vaccine. Ryan and I got the jabs first and then by summer, our kids were also vaccinated. This, just like masks, social distancing, and sheltering in place, was another layer of division and strong opinion among friends and family alike. This, like the other issues felt political and difficult to navigate.
By the spring and summer of 2021 things seemed to be opening back up and feeling a bit normal. That is, until school started again and the highly contagious Delta variant kicked things into high gear. Our kids all missed school for various lengths of quarantine due to exposure from classmates and peers until their own vaccine cycles were complete and considered effective. The 2021-2022 school year required constant masking but some sports and extracurricular activities like homecoming were re-instated.
Just when we were starting feel a bit of hope and normalcy, the Omicron variant busted on the scene shortly after the holidays. By this point, we could no longer outrun this virus. Mae was our patient zero from exposure from a classmate. Our family basically spent the entire month of January 2022 snowed in and/or quarantined with various family members falling victim one right after the other.
This spring and summer, it seems that Covid is becoming just another part of life. Restrictions and rules are languishing and while you still hear of folks getting Covid, thankfully, you are no longer hearing of as many people dying from it. It’s crazy to me to think about the fact that two years ago this thing had just started and now I am on my second PCS during a pandemic and I’m down a parent with the current Covid death toll in the US hovering around a million people.
A Place of Remembrance
Losing my dad to illness is as good a place as any to segue into the fact that Fort Campbell will forever be held in my heart as a sacred place of remembrance. It will always signify the “before” time. The time before I knew of such deep and soul-wrenching grief. It was the time before I was fatherless. It was the time before such pain and heartache had settled in on my heart, that I’d never be the same. There’s a sense of life’s innocence and naivety that’s been lost for good. I guess this is all part of life and growing older and experiencing the rhythms of life and death but it has come at a cost at times I haven’t felt willing to pay.
Fort Campbell will also serve as a place of remembrance that God had a hand in stationing us in the closest possible place for me to get to Chattanooga in a hurry. A roadway I’d travel multiple times in a panic and travel home multiple times in a flurry of worry, sadness, and hopelessness. It was the place we needed to be as a family “for such a time as this.” I can’t imagine navigating a family crisis and death from overseas, from Washington state, or from a post with a 10-12 hour drive home.
Death was certainly not part of how I envisioned this chapter of my life going, but I can say in all truthfulness, God showed up for me through his goodness and through his people during this time. I just had to look for it and try to recognize him there in those moments.
A Place of God’s Faithfulness
Finally, a familiar refrain that seems to be not only a theme of every single duty station, but also an ongoing theme of my life: no matter what transpires in the time we are at a specific location, God is always faithful to walk alongside us in our joy, in our wins, in our sadness, in our losses, in our fun, in our despair, in our seasons full of rewarding school experiences, jobs, and promotions, and in our seasons of waiting, worrying, and wondering what he might be up to.
God continues to be faithful to place us in the right house (even if it’s a standard issue duplex), in the right neighborhood (where there’s an existing weekly teen Bible study where your kids will find their core friend group), in the right church/chapel community, surrounded by the best friends and fellow service families, in the right city, state, and location for what life will bring us in a specific season.
I tend to cycle through seasons in my own life where I am full of faith and trust in what is both seen and unseen among God’s plans for my days. There are other seasons where I doubt, can hardly muster the spiritual courage to attend church and sing a worship song without emotionally imploding, and I find myself wanting to frantically search for an exit out of this military ministry we have been called to do.
Some days I love it so much. Am so proud of Ryan and all of us for this commitment. Am so thankful for the richness and diversity of experience. Am filled to overflowing with gratitude for God’s constant provision. Other days I find myself dreaming about what size U-haul I’d need to pack up my most prized possessions and move back near my mom and in-laws. We contain multitudes, friends.
What I think I am learning, more and more, with each passing year and each time we complete the cycle of arriving at a new place, feeling our way around the places and people we are called to serve, investing personally and professionally, and then going through the endless waiting and submission of leaving important decisions about next assignments, moves, houses, schools up to the army or chaplain corps, (which, let’s be honest, doesn’t always feel worthy of so much trust)… is that it’s just all a part of this crazy, adventure-filled life.
I relate this to advice I was given my first year of teaching. A seasoned teacher said that the bad days feel like they outweigh the good because you don’t have enough total days on the job to balance them out. The further along you get, the bad days will pale in comparison to all of the good. You’ve got to put in the time; you’ve got to get your reps in.
It kind of feels like now, eleven years in, I am just barely starting to realize that my bad days and negative feelings about military life, the difficult aspects of frequent relocation that it demands of us, and the inevitable hardships that come along are all just part of normal life. Just like in a good book or story, there has to be conflict, disappointment, hard-scrabble times to fully enjoy the beauty of the happy ending. Ebbs and flows. Ebbs and flows. Fort Campbell has afforded lots of ebbs. And lots of flows.
As God continues to write this “Story of My Life,” I pray that I would be a character in it that realizes the goodness despite the challenges as my narrative as a Christ-follower, a military wife, a mom of quickly growing up teenagers, a daughter, a sister, and a friend continues rolling along, ebbing and flowing.
I’m grateful for the chapter called Fort Campbell and eagerly anticipate the good things that await us in Williamsburg, Virginia at Fort Eustis.