When you live in a city that is so crowded that you become used to staring at strangers in the face from mere inches away, it becomes highly disconcerting when you don’t see anyone outside at all. End-of-the-world-movie scary. There are extra long lines at gas stations, but not a lot of cars on the roads. It’s freaky.
But that’s not the stressful part. Japanese citizens are moving on with their lives as best they can with messed up train schedules, occasional power outages, and shortened commercial hours, not to mention dealing with the horrifying devastation of towns of their fellow countrymen. Streets are quiet. For American military families though, life has been anything but calm.
Voluntary departure is the term by which they are describing the choice before families all throughout Japan. Families can choose to leave Japan as soon as arrangements can be made for them. Simple right? Stay or go?
It’s not so simple. Families with children. Families whose military member is deployed. Families with pets. Families who are worried about radiation exposure. Families who are considering how to pay. Families with pregnant moms. Families with Japanese spouses. Families who left Japan on vacation and left their pets behind. Families who are unsure if they will ever be able to return.
Back and forth the information goes. We wait in lines, gathering personal records and stamps on paperwork. We have bags packed, ready to hop on a plane if neccessary. One bag, 50 pounds, one carry-on, and up to two pets. We’re sending you here, no there, no here. Phew! It’s enough to drive anyone crazy, and if you can imagine throwing in a few cooped up, home-from-school kids, the whole situation is likely to drive more than one person over the edge of the sanity cliff. Like a whole base full of stressed-out mothers.
Most military families are proud of their flexibility, of the knocks that they take, because they are proud to support their military member and thus the important work that they do. But in reality, it isn’t too often that we are called upon to be so extraordinary. Sure, we deal with unique challenges in our family life, like long ever-changing hours at work or “business trips” that last six months or more. But in day-to-day life this could be compared to the family life of a workaholic or someone who travels frequently. It’s not for everyone, but entirely manageable.
This case of voluntary departure asks so much more of the military families in Japan, because it asks spouses and kids to join the military themselves. Service members may be used to things constantly changing and decisions being postponed until we can’t even remember what we were deciding. Get all your random DD forms ready and hurry up and wait. Family members may hear about it, but we don’t often have to live it.
I find it hard not to call Jose every eight minutes and ask if he’s heard anything new, even though in my head I know there’s not much for us to do but wait. Wait for new information, wait for definitive orders, wait to see that everything will be fine. It’s a range of emotions that seems worse than any final outcome. But in the end this is the event that the concept of readiness is for. I see where we’ve succeeded and where we’ve dropped the ball a little bit, but overall it’s nothing that we can’t take and it could be much worse. Bright side, at least we’re not in Libya.