Waiting with Ashley

My sweet girlfriend’s husband has been deployed for the past year.

Ashley is 23. She’s only been married for a few years and her man has been gone for a big percentage of them. They moved here to Germany last winter and he deployed almost immediately; we’ve never actually met him.

For the past year she’s been waiting and doing and being and trying to keep his side of the bed warm all by her little old self.

By far the most painful part of his absence has been the not knowing his return date. The troops have been coming home in droves, bus after bus of fathers and husbands and boys back from really long deployments. She’s known he was coming “soon” for weeks now. I’ve decided the word “soon” is a new four letter word, the waiting has been so miserable.

Today she finally got The Call. His is the very last troop coming in to return from deployment at their base.

Standing on the top bleacher with her tonight waiting for the orange doors to open and send her life back to her was beyond intense. All I could think about was Peggy Lee singing, “Waiting for the train to come in…waiting for my man to come home…” She sings that song way too calmly.

“Wow,” Ashley said, “I don’t even think I’m going to cry. I feel so…numb.” Um, yeah, that’s what happens when your entire nervous system finally shuts down because it can’t handle all the adrenaline.

I sat on the bleachers with my family and watched all the wives and mothers waiting for their husbands. They were beautiful. Each had taken great pains to look however it was their man wanted them to look, and no two outfits were even remotely the same. I saw women dressed for prom, women dressed office classy, retro-40’s with super cleavage (cleavage was the one constant in the group), and sassy mall getup. Every head had been hit hard with the straightener, curling iron, and aerosol, and the shoes were fabulous straight across the board.

The moment the orange doors opened and the microphone went hot it was like being at an eighth grade dance and knowing Justin Beiber was about to make an entrance. Talk about heart pounding.

And then the soldiers flooded through. 324 of them and Ashley was so scared and excited and nervous and terrified that not only did she lose complete use of her hands (we had to hold her “We Love Lt. Wall” sign for her), but she couldn’t find him. Anywhere. I personally haven’t met him, plus watching all the children pointing out daddys was kind of making me bawl my head off so I was mostly worthless.

The anthems played, the prayer was given, and with less than ten words the men were dismissed.

And she still couldn’t find him.

After all these months and last few weeks of waiting and worrying and anxiously wondering if it was ever going to happen, those moments were eternal and excruciating for all of us. She stood there frantic, tears pouring down her cheeks, “I don’t see him, I can’t find him, is he here? Why didn’t I wear my glasses?!”

And then as the soldiers started to move the sea of tan parted and there he was.

I don’t think her feet even touched the bleachers she flew down those steps so fast, high heels and all. Into his arms, faces buried together, they stood on the gym floor and I’m pretty sure the world went invisible for a moment.

We stood back and let them meld. Because that’s what it’s like when you’ve been apart for any serious space in time. You have to regain a sense of independence and self-reliance. You start to wonder, can we be a couple again? Will we work the same? What if we’ve both changed?

And if you’re lucky, the answer is yes you can, yes you will, and yes you have. Absence doesn’t always break you, it can make you stronger where you need it. Ashley grew in leaps and bounds this year and I’m sure her man did as well. And seeing them tonight, I have no doubt that their growth, in the long run, is going to make their little family unit stronger and brighter and better.




  1. What a lovely story, well told. Makes me appreciate the spouses of our troops even more.

  2. Way to go Annie, you made me cry with your amazing story. Now I need to go find some kleenex.

  3. Mary Richards says:

    You made me cry as well. I always cry when I’m sent to cover troop farewells or homecomings for my radio station. And you are a great writer.

    And I didn’t comment yesterday but I meant to — I loved the daddy-daughter ball! Darling dress, sweet pictures.

  4. Wow, major tears over here.

  5. Ashley Wall says:

    Oh Annie! Thank you so much for writing this! I need to save a copy of it! It definitely made me tear up all over again!!! I am so blessed to have such amazing friends like you who came to support me and and the return of my husband when you didn’t even know him yet!

  6. I loved this post. As a military spouse who’s been through 2 long deployments, your description was spot on. And I just have to say that you are a great friend to recognize that she would need someone to wait with. I was 21 when my husband left for the first time and we had been married just 3 months. What got me through the 20 long months without him was a wonderful family with 3 small children who “waited” with me the entire deployment. They invited me to dinner, asked me to join in on family outings, inquired about my husband’s well-being, the mother even took me along on late night Target runs after her kids were in bed. . . I will forever be grateful to her for taking me in and, despite our age differences, making me her friend. Not only did your post bring back the emotions of my husband’s homecomings but also of that wonderful friendship. Thank you!

  7. Emily Johnson says:

    This was a very emotional post! We were one of those support families for the military families of Baumholder, Germany. It was a true blessing in our lives as we stood by with our support for the return and then deployment of their faithful soldiers. Our family will forever be changed because of the families we witnessed, Vern and Ashley included, that became our friends and family as we all learned to survive a deployment. We served those who Served and it blessed our lives immensely! Thank you for letting us be a part of the Home Coming! May God bless our soldiers and their families.

  8. Holy Cow! That’s our Vern Wall from BYU Army ROTC! The world is very small when you are in the military (I worked for Army ROTC for 10 years and now work for Air Force ROTC) and gets smaller when you are LDS. Tell them I said hello. He’s a good kid, well, I mean, MAN. 🙂

  9. Beautifully told. I only wish I had read this BEFORE I put my makeup on. *goes off to fix mascara*

  10. I knew I shouldn’t have read this, I knew it would make me a mess; but I got sucked into it anyway (as you know, you are a fantastic writer). Even though my husband’s been home for a year and a half, it still feels so fresh in my mind how it felt to wait for him and see him come towards us. You’re right, it can definitely make your relationship stronger. 🙂

  11. Jennifer E. says:

    that’s my cousin Ashley. i’m not sure how she got so grown up, but i’m learning to respect her more the more i learn about her. … 20 years ago we were at a huge family reunion and she chose to sit with me, and i fed her everything from the buffet until her tummy hurt, and she didn’t want to hang around me anymore. and suddenly she’s grown and gorgeous and strong. most of my cousins are so much younger than me that i don’t know them, and now they’re turning into PEOPLE! and amazing people at that. <3 and thank you for that picture of what her year has been like.

  12. I’m crying all over the place, too. What a sweet story.

  13. Holy buckets! You made me bawl. Such a beautiful story and what a reunion 🙂 I couldn’t imagine be separated from my hubby for that long. Ashley is obviously a wonderful person and sounds like she has a heart of gold with patience to match. It’s so wonderful that they are finally together again after such a long wait.

  14. She was onlly 23…just a baby.
    I can’t imagine the emotional Depth of all of this.
    It is something I can’t even begin to really comprehend.
    Thank Goodness HE IS HOME.

  15. Love Ashley and wish I would have been there, but as always I am over the Atlantic somewhere. I can’t wait to be back and meet everyone. The article was beautiful and as any Army wife will tell you, the waiting and “soon” have no reliable predictions.

  16. Teary, too. When I was 7 months old my dad got deployed for a year. It broke his heart that I didn’t recognize him when he came home. (We fixed that problem in about a half an hour.)

  17. tears. tears. tears. big sobs of heaving tears. my cousin, a husbund and father of 3 girls. is still in Afghanistan. We girls (his mom, sister, our aunts, his wife, his girls) we can’t wait til this day.


  18. Oh MY! You totally captured my heart with that post! I always cry when I see those renunions on tv and you just wrote that scene perfectly! Congrats to Ashley!