Friday, May 5, 2006

What I will do with my two week vacation:

In two weeks, I will be an unemployed graduate student. In order to be able to complete my course work in time to student teach in the fall and graduate in December, I will not be able to continue my employment this summer. Summer classes are only offered during the day, run two hours long, and are five days a week for a four week session. I will be taking four classes over the two summer terms. That kinda puts a wrench in the 8:30-3:00 part-time office job I'm in....

All this being said, I haven't had two weeks of no real responsibilities since graduating with my Bachelor's degree in May 1992. When I was looking at the calendar to determine my last day of work in relation to the beginning of summer school, I decided to allow myself a two week break. But, I also didn't want to just sit around doing pretty much nothing, and I'm not in a position to go off somewhere at the moment. I also know that I'd go stir crazy sitting around the house for 16 days straight. So, I will be doing some volunteer work for a group of people who are near and dear to my heart. I will be supporting our soldiers.

Being supportive of the military is something I grew up with. After all, I grew up in the military, in a manner of speaking. My father enlisted in the US Army in December of 1964 and made a career of it. He did not retire from the Army until August 1991. So, I'm not one of those people who just jumped on the "Support the Troops" bandwagon - it's a part of who I am.

I first "supported the troops" during Desert Shield/Desert Storm by writing a letter to "Any Servicemember" through Operation Dear Abby. I received a letter back, and had a pen pal. I sent lots of mail and care packages, to include "homemade" from a box brownies packed in an empty coffee or Crisco can, to help keep the brownies from getting crushed. As can be expected, when my soldier was no longer deployed, I stopped hearing from him. I sometimes wonder what became of him.

Then, when we sent troops into Bosnia, I did the same thing again, and again got letters back. But, as is the usual pattern, once the soldier returned to the States, I no longer heard from him.

Even though we continued to have our military deployed or stationed in Saudi Arabi and Bosnia after it was no longer in the news all the time, the drives to get the American public to send mail and care packages weren't really publicized, so I never "replaced" pen pals once I stopped receiving mail from them. However, after a number of years, I decided I wanted to pick up this "hobby" again, but I found that the Operation Dear Abby was only in operation at the holidays, so I couldn't send off a letter at that point in time. Then came 9/11....

I had posted a comment somewhere on the internet saying I was looking for a pen pal. I received an email back from a man asking me to write to his son, who was with the 10th Mountain Division, and had been involved in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. I wrote letters, but never heard back. After all, what do I have in common with a young man barely out of high school?

After 9/11, people wanting to support the troops started showing up and/or getting publicity. I found both AdoptAPlatoon, and eMailOurMilitary, and signed up to get pen pals. Didn't get much snail mail back. Had mostly Navy e-pals, since they have much easier access to email all the time when they are on a ship. Then, I found two years ago. I can't tell you how many contacts I've sent letters off to through that website. I read every single new post daily until last summer when I became a grad student, and my free time shrank dramatically. I still kept up with my pen pals that I already had, but I stopped sending out new letters because I knew I wouldn't be able to respond to anyone I heard back from like I would want to. This past semester really had me swamped!

With my semester winding down, and knowing I might have more free time in the summer months, I signed up with Soldier's Angels when they put out the word they needed people to send mail to new contacts they had. I got a new address, and have been sending (usually) weekly notes to this new pen pal over the last couple of months, but I've only been able to send out one package (takes time to do the packing and filing out of the customs form, and then you still have to go stand in line at the post office) to this new guy. Haven't heard back from him, but that's okay. I'll continue until he's not deployed anymore.

Now that I am a member of Soldier's Angels, I receive emails about what is going on. I recently received an email that an injured Marine was coming to my neck of the woods. This young Marine had recently returned from Iraq unscathed, only to be hit by a car almost immediately upon his return. This Marine was very seriously injured. His family is from my state, and since he will have to undergo lots of physical therapy, his family arranged to have him transferred closer to them. The rehab center is about 3 miles from my house. Although I haven't visited yet (he's just barely arrived here), I plan on visiting him regularly. I don't know his exact condition, but at this point, he's not really able to speak, although he has been responsive. I emailed his family last night, and got a response back. I'll be calling later this afternoon to get an idea of when would be good for me to visit him.

Also through Soldier's Angels, I checked into volunteering at Brooks Army Medical Center. Since I only have two weeks with no specific commitments, volunteering there at the hospital isn't really practical, as there is extensive training that is required to be a hospital volunteer. I was given some alternative volunteer opportunities, though. Soldier's Angels could use some help with data entry, so I'll go to San Antonio a few times to help with that. I was also given information on an Austin-based group called Operation Comfort. I've emailed them, but haven't heard back yet. Also, I was given contact information for the lady that (I think) runs the Fisher House at BAMC. Haven't had a chance to call her yet. If nothing else, I figure if there are kids at Fisher House, I could read to them or something, and give the parents a little break. It will be good practice for becoming a teacher, too. Plus, any excuse to go to San Antonio will make it easier to stop by Karam's on Zarzamora for their fabulous tamales & chili!

In addition to my volunteerism plans, I also may go to visit an old friend from junior high I haven't seen in over ten years. Depends on if my free time schedule works with her schedule, since she has a husband and two kids. Another thing I'll be doing lots of is going to AAA baseball games. I've missed most of them so far this season, since I had class three nights a week. But, I took my last final last night, and the Express are in town through the 8th. My family is big into baseball, and my sisters "know people" out at the ballpark ;-)

Don't get me wrong - I also plan to take advantage of the fact that there will be days when I don't have to go anywhere and I'll be able to sleep in as late as I want. I'm just glad I'll have the time to do some of the things I would have liked to have done long before, but was unable to because of work and school commitments. I'll tell you what it's like, visiting that young Marine, and the other activities I end up doing on my two week vacation later this month.....