MONMOUTH — The vase of red roses Scott Lewis sent to his wife, Lynn, for Valentine’s Day rest on the counter. Nathan, Scott’s 6-year-old son, plays with the Lego jet his dad sent him for the same occasion.
Meanwhile, Scott’s been pestering his daughter, Kimberlee, for clues that will lead him to the perfect gift for her 17th birthday next week.
None of this makes Lewis any different than any husband and father who loves his family, but for the past six months he has expressed that love from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Lewis, a major serving with the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion, left home in August. He’s expected to return in July.
“Our routine has changed to the point where, when we Skype him, I can hang up and move on,” Lynn Lewis said. “At the beginning of the deployment, I had a very hard time hanging up. I feel guilty about that. I don’t want that to be our norm.”
The Lewises on the home front continue to talk and email Scott just about every day. They get to see him during weekly sessions of Skype, an Internet based video conferencing system. Kimberlee said her dad keeps in touch via email, sending her notes of encouragement about tests and her role as Fern in Monmouth Academy’s production of “Charlotte’s Web.” Kimberlee was only 7 when her dad spent a year in Mosul, Iraq, with the 133rd.
“I’m a lot more aware this time,” she said. “I would say it’s more difficult just because I’m more emotionally developed. When you’re little it’s all about the toy you’re playing with. Now I know there’s risk there. It doesn’t help the stress of being a teenager.”
There are differences for Lynn this time, too. The technology that allows her to keep in daily contact with her husband — they are even able to exchange text messages — was unavailable during the year Scott spent in Iraq. Lynn makes it a point to make sure there is a note and the picture of the day waiting for Scott when he wakes up each morning.
The most important difference, Lynn said, is the security offered by the airbase. Two members of the 133rd were killed and 12 were wounded in 2004 when a suicide bomber attacked a crowded dining facility. Bagram is a large self-contained airbase — Lynn described it as a city— that insulates the soldiers on the base from the country around them.
“That’s a good feeling,” Lynn said.
The difference in this mission for Scott is rooted in his increased responsibility. In Iraq he oversaw a company of a hundred or so soldiers. He now is responsible for 10 times that many. That responsibility comes with 10 times the workload, Lynn said. Her husband has had to develop tunnel vision.
“Mission accomplished is at the end of the tunnel,” Lynn said. “The bright spot is he’s going to come home at the end of this mission to me and kids.”
For Scott’s family, hitting their stride has meant taking care of problems as they come up. At Christmas time, that meant throwing a mattress on the floor in front of the wood stove to keep the fire going during three days the family spent without electricity as a result of the ice storm. Another time it meant putting Kimberlee’s developing driving skills to use to haul out the tractor that got stuck while Lynn was blowing snow from the driveway.
“I haven’t run into anything I haven’t been able to get myself out of,” Lynn said.
They laugh now about the stuck tractor, especially recalling Scott’s reaction when they told him, but in truth Lynn would prefer her husband didn’t know about these things. She worries it will only add stress to a job that comes with overseeing 1,000 soldiers from across the country. Lynn’s service to her nation is doing whatever it takes to make sure Scott can worry about being a major without worrying about his duties at home, whether that duty is small, like taking care of the trash, or something bigger, like making sure the pipes don’t freeze during an ice storm.
“He feels bad that he’s not the one out there doing the driveway,” Lynn said. “He feels bad he can’t do anything here.”
As much as the family celebrates the important occasions like Christmas and birthdays as normally as possible, there is also a sense of wading through the occasions this year until Scott returns. Each occasion in the rear-view mirror means the family is closer to when Scott will be there to celebrate with them.
“We’re getting through riding the roller coaster,” Lynn said. “There are still dips.”
One of the occasions Lynn looks forward to around Christmas each year is attending the military ball with her husband. This year she had determined she would not go, but her best friend, whose husband serves with Scott, talked Lynn into attending. As much as she enjoyed being with her friend, Lynn found herself looking for her husband’s arms around her shoulders and the knowing looks that can only be understood by a spouse.
“We had a great time together, but it wasn’t by any means the same,” Lynn said. “Next year, I’m taking my husband.”
Craig Crosby — firstname.lastname@example.org