Tomorrow is our final day of uniformed Naval Service. I say "our" because the Navy, in some way or another, has been a part of our relationship since that day (which I remember as clearly as I do yesterday) on which I first saw the man of my dreams. Justin and I met the first semester of college, and he was in Navy ROTC. On that first day, he was wearing the characteristic khakis of the Navy, and since then, the uniform and the great institution it represents, has been a formative part of our lives. Sometimes nurturing, sometimes aggravating, but always, always present.
Until tomorrow when my husband will no longer be a serviceman, an officer; he will be a veteran.
My mind can hardly get a grasp on it. Though we've never been the people who define themselves by their rank, and I've never been the type of woman who is, first and foremost, a "Navy Wife", I am, nonetheless, fully aware that our service has given us incredible opportunities that many of my peers are not afforded. I am also acutely aware - and tremendously thankful - that it has challenged us and demanded that we overcome enormous hurdles that, likewise, my peers might not ever experience.
I will never assume that all military service is created equal; there are far more people who have far more trials and tribulations associated with the lifestyle and there are people who have a much easier time with it. But that in and of itself makes me appreciate our 9 years even more. I was blessed that my husband was never under fire, and as such, I am that much more grateful for those whose lives are at risk every day - for those who have sacrificed so much for our liberty and safety. I can commiserate with those who spend months and months away from their loved ones because we have, ourselves, endured the achingly long nights of deployments. And I can proudly say that I am strong enough to do whatever it is I need to for our family.
But we did not do it alone.
And even though we are taking off our rank and hanging up the ribbons, we will walk away with so much more - the friendships we've gained along the way and the lessons we've learned have enriched our lives to such an extent that, though we are no longer a part of the Navy, the Navy will always be a part of us. It has enriched our marriage, our relationships, and ourselves as individuals. We appreciate one another more than I would have ever thought possible because we know how awful it is to be alone. Our friendships are forged with the understanding of how difficult the life can be, and those bonds we share with our Navy friends are deep and profound thanks to our shared journeys.
We are part of a proud heritage. My own grandfather, my Papa, is a veteran of many wars. Wounded, weathered, and holder of many secrets, I am proud that we were able to fight in the same military in which he fought. I am proud that we gave back for him.
Yes, I am proud.
And I am thrilled that, though our career with the Navy is coming to an end while our children are so young - so young, in fact, that the girls will never know the stinging loneliness of a deployment - it will shape who they are because it has shaped who we are as people and as parents.
These are some of the many many memories and images I have from the last 9 years:
Jack holding a letter we received from Daddy during one of our deployments.
Standing in front of a banner we made. There is nothing in the world to match the elation a homecoming brings...
... and there is nothing in the world that matches the pain of watching a Daddy read his son a story one last time before he leaves.
Watching our boat sail out to sea, ferrying my best friend to depths unknown ...
... and watching my little boy demand to watch his Daddy read books on TV.
Newly-commissioned Ensign Gallagher and I... Very young and very eager and totally - totally - unaware of how drastically different our lives would be 5 years later.
And as college seniors - excited about everything we had committed to do and about our commitment to one another.
As juniors at Notre Dame, and recently engaged, the uniform was then, as it is now, one of my favorite parts of being a part of the Navy...
Our first date - November 10, 2001...
Thank you, Navy. We will remember you fondly, always. And thank you to all those who continue to serve and to sacrifice - we hold you tightly in our hearts and prayers.