Army Ambushes



Noun: A surprise attack by people lying in wait in a concealed position

Verb: Make a surprise attack on (someone) from a concealed position


Since age 4, my husband has enjoyed sneaking up on people and I daresay the years of practice have paid off. He’s used his ambush techniques on my parents on several occasions. For example, after an evening jog Hubs saw my parents’ car returning home. He ‘did push-ups’ outside of a dark garage and waited for the car to pull in before popping up and suddenly greeting my father. Naturally, my dad screamed and jumped out his skin. Some of the father-in-law intimidation dissipated after that—my father has a HILARIOUS scream that makes me giggle just to think about. My mother eventually demanded that Hubs loudly announce his entry into a room or wear a bell, convinced that she would discover him in a room when she thought she was alone and immediately die of heart failure. He didn’t do it on purpose every time, poor guy.

Firstborn has just started following in his sneaky footsteps and is practicing the art of surprising Mommy. He has recently learned that his giggle-run is a tell and has remedied the situation. All I need is a house full of boys mastering the art of ‘stealth mode’.

Ambushes come in many forms; we’ve all experienced them from time to time.  People come up and engage in conversation when we have NO clue who they are or what they are talking about and  kids bring home bright colored paper requesting 3 dozen baked treats for the 2nd grade party tomorrow.  Spouses are suddenly plucked from the home, the signature perfume of a deceased friend is on the air, or banking errors double charge the mortgage and leave the account anemic until you talk to 8 customer support specialists in 7 different countries. Ah, the joys of life’s little ambushes. Even when we know that something is going to ‘get us’, not knowing when or how can prey upon the mind.

I take comfort in the fact that the Old Testament mentions several ambushes, both in wartime and not. Surprises, betrayals, deaths, and rough moments are a part of life. Even Jesus, who I believe clearly knew it was coming, was “ambushed” in the Garden of Gethsemane. In His most challenging hours, Jesus asked his 11 closest followers for support, while knowing that he would have to face the hardest part alone. In this battle of life, we are told to “fear not”. Those who have made Christ their Lord have a refuge and a fierce warrior who promises not to leave us, even when His presence is hard to detect.

Like thousands of others, my spouse is currently overseas in an ‘area of conflicting interests’ (read War-zone with an added eye-roll). Military lifestyles include adjustments that can be prepared for, to some degree. We expect missed holidays and special events, sleepless nights, and even thoughtless comments from strangers. (I do NOT know when he will return, when I will go into labor, or what the long-term will hold for Afghanistan.)  While we have a new normal that is stable and highly functional, there are also aspects that can’t be entirely prepared for because they pull at the heart at unexpected times. These are what I affectionately call “Army Ambushes”.

Most Army Ambushes are predictable events that have unpredictable timing.  Ambushes may include patriotic songs on the radio, war based movies, Welcome Home or military-based show plots, commercials with troops in uniform, or seeing the Beloved’s identical twin in a public place.  These are positive things, but they can trigger tears and a sudden need for chocolate when unexpected. Also included are family conversations and Q/A sessions with gems like, “What is war?” “Is Daddy coming home?” “Daddy goes and fights because he loves us and America, but he still misses us, right?”  Oh, my heart. Ambushes also include strangers’ genuine thanks, knocks on the door with surprise baked goods, or a neighbor cutting grass for a wife playing both roles. Not all Army Ambushes are bad; some are great morale boosts.

This week I had two distinct Army Ambushes; the first was a dream that my man was home. My dream was interrupted by an e-mail alert that another young wife and mother was now a widow. The second came a few days agowhen  Firstborn performed a series of ‘firsts’ during one conversation. He said, “Hi Dad!”, waved for the first time, and pointed at the screen in response to the question, “Where’s Daddy?” The two then bonded in the time-honored tradition; they stuck out their tongues at each other and said, “Ah!” for about a minute, stopping to laugh repeatedly. Sigh. Who knew Kiss concert preparation would be so meaningful? We know these sacred moments come at some point during deployment, but we just don’t know when.

Friends and family members aren’t exempt; yesterday my mother had her first ‘army ambush’ from a country radio station. Over the course of a 30 minute errand run she heard a song about a transport that brings home the fallen, Toby Keith’s “American Soldier”, and Montgomery Gentry’s “Letters From Home”. Country is usually the most patriotic genre- listen sparingly or be on guard.  I know a few wives who have had to pull over and get a grip before ordering a drink at Sonic at the risk of frightening the car-hops.

  In one of my former jobs, I often toured vets through a very realistic Vietnam Experience exhibit that features the sound of Huey helicopters, the jungle, and a sudden ambush of weaponry. No warning could prevent them from jumping and reacting to the sound of enemy fire. It transformed  soft-spoken grandfathers into senior citizens who could take out Chuck Norris. Even a military service dog got down on command; one veteran grabbed me and ducked over me in a highly impressive maneuver.  Afterward, nearly all of them would then advise me on how to survive an ambush. From advice and experience, here are a few things I’ve learned.

No one can fully avoid ambushes unless they run and hide in a hole. Stick to your guns, be sure of yourself, trust your buddies, be aware of your surroundings, don’t go looking for trouble, and don’t go charging in trying to a hero- those are the easiest targets. We can’t go through life unscathed and we can’t do it alone. We need each other. It’s okay to take cover, to call out for a battle buddy, and to cover someone else while they reload.

Who has your back when life ambushes you? Who counts on you to be a battle buddy?  Life’s greatest moments of valor and victory don’t come from sitting helpless; they come during the fight. It’s okay to have a moment of surprise and an occasional falter when ambushed—the key is to keep fighting the battle.  


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