Thursday, April 12, 2012


1 : one of two or more individuals having one common parent

Today I visited another world: the world of my brother.  It was a world both eerily similar and oddly dissimilar to my own. The terrain was much like my own - rolling hills, wooded areas, large swaths of grass.  The people as varied as those in my own neighborhood - black, white, Latino, Asian.  The streets were paved - the vehicles driving them a range of style, color and value.  Yet the buildings populating this terrain were uniform in color and style.  The people were all dressed alike, right down to their toes.  The vehicles a mix of trucks, cars and sand colored humvees.

My brother is a captain in the US Army and our trip to his command change ceremony at Fort Campbell was a bit like stepping into an alternate reality.  In his world, you must get permission to drive your car on the streets, you wear what you are told to wear and go where you are told to go (even across the world to dangerous places).  It is his world that makes it possible for my world to be as safe and predictable as it is.

As A, B and I waited for the ceremony to begin, B was wandering around, reading the plaques adorning sculptures.  The company my brother now commands has served this country for more than six decades.  There was plenty to read about.  Yet B was most interested in the raised concrete wall surrounding the sign bearing the name of the company. 

"Can I climb that?" she asked. 

"No."  I replied definitively.  "The army is very particular about walking where you are supposed to walk. Stay on the sidewalk."

"Okay," she replied with resignation.

The ceremony brought more questions:  Why do they wear their hair so short?  Why did that soldier pass out?  What is an FRG?  What are those flags for?  I answered as best I could, but sometimes resorted to saying, "You'll have to ask your Uncle Dave."  Which she did.  As soon as possible.

This was my daughters' first visit to an army base and my first visit in more than a decade.  I realized as I drove along the streets marked with signs prohibiting vehicles during the PT hours of 0630 and 0800 that I've only visited an army base stateside once before - and that was nearly twenty years ago when my brother was just beginning his training and I was still in college.  This base that stretches across the Tennessee/Kentucky border was the equivalent of a small town - much larger than the European Army bases I'd visited courtesy of my brother and aunt.

Visiting this base brought back memories of other trips. Of a visit to a PX during my junior year abroad, where I found, (much to my delight) Oreos.  I not only bought the Oreos, but shared them with a Swiss toddler on a ferry ride to Interlochen.  But I saw today that I was a child back in college.  It didn't cross my mind then that these bases existed for a very real purpose: the safety and security of all that I know.

Today my eyes were open.  And my ears.  We could hear machine gun practice on a range nearby.  My brother explained that they practice shooting in rounds of three to five, in order to keep their shot area tighter.  This was not a game they were playing.

As I drove past a lot filled with sand colored vehicles, I wondered when the color changed from green to tan and whether the lighter color had in fact saved the lives of some of the soldiers driving around this base.  As I washed my hands in the restroom and read the sign saying Absolutely No Outside Trash, I wondered whether this was a safety issue.  And as I drove back to Nashville, I pondered how different siblings can be.  I could envision B visiting A backstage one day in the future and marveling at the world of silence in the wings, thick stage makeup applied in the dressing room and leg warmers and sweaters shed immediately prior to heading onstage for a solo that took weeks to learn and takes minutes to dance.  Siblings are different and sometimes those differences lead us to end up living in different worlds.

My brother may have the same mother and father I do, but while he thrives in the world I visited today, I would not.  I am terrible at following directions I don't understand.  I don't have proper respect for the chain of command.  I was acutely aware today of just how much I did not fit in.  I was not in uniform.  I was not welcomed into the circle of officers' wives at the ceremony or reception following.  I was an outsider.  But none of that really mattered to me because I was there to see my brother take on a hefty responsibility - not only to the soldiers under his command, but to their families.  My brother may live part of his life in a different world, but he and his peers make it possible for me and my family to live the way we do.

And for that I could not be more grateful.

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