Soldier, Soldier

Today's post is from Alex.  Oh the power of Twitter... Prior to my urgent request for guest blog posts whilst I'm off on my jollies I had never 'spoken' to Alex.  However, thanks to a ReTweet of my request link, he offered a guest blog post after experiencing the benefits of a weeks-worth of guest posting over at his own blog - RAF Airman.  Yes, you read that right... a real-life soldier leapt to my rescue!! You can also catch Alex on Twitter as @RAFairman.  Over to Alex...

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I have to admit to being very much of a newby when it comes to this blog, but I saw a request fluttering about on Twitter for guest posts and decided to help out.

My own blog recently had a bit of a holiday and I had people guest blogging for me and I loved the concept so I was only happy to help out another blogger...

And we had a bit of a chat wondering WHAT I would blog about and the idea of maintaining relationships in the forces was mentioned.


I can offer no words of wisdom on this at all.

A little bit about me. I am 40, and I have been in the RAF for 23 years, joining very young it's the only 'real' job I've ever had...I am sort of institutionalised by it now, I guess. I am divorced and from that 'relationship' (ohhh god, how 21st century does THAT sound) I have two kids; a boy aged 18, and a girl aged 15. They are fantastic. I am truly, truly blessed to have them in my life. You know how people go on about teenagers? Well these two are the complete opposite of the stereotype...they make me incredibly proud.

I am now in a new relationship with a girl who is also in the Armed Services, not the RAF, but the Army. Together we have a fabulous little girl who due to me posting her pics all over Twitter is a bit of a star...she is 16 months old.

I left my ex-wife a few years ago, simply because I realised I did not love her anymore. I knew leaving her would hurt her it did but I knew that staying with her would hurt us both even more. So one Thursday night I told her I was leaving her the next morning and I had to to the worst thing I have ever done.

I had to tell the kids I was leaving. And then I had to leave.

God, I can't express just how difficult and painful that was. And it is something I will never forget. I remember the look on their faces. The look of total horror and shock. The look of everything falling, crashing down. The look of me breaking their hearts.

And I think I did. I loved them dearly...I love them dearly. You can't believe how much pain they and I got in the early years of the separation. At times I would see them and then when I would drop them back off at their house...I would often pull the car round the corner and just cry. And cry.  And in the end I think I was crying at my own selfishness. My desire for my own good feelings had made me hurt the two things I had promised not to hurt.

I remember when Sam, my son was born. He was premature by 7 weeks. Was a bit poorly. But he slowly pulled through. I was standing by the incubator in the hospital holding his tiny hand in mine and I promised him that I would protect him and look after him and be there for him.

And I broke that promise. I left him. And his sister. I left them both behind.

I have talked to them both about this fortunately they are able to talk about it and they are fine. As I said, they are great kids. They have their heads screwed on. Sam said the best thing ever to me...and it shows just how great he is. No matter what happened, you're still our Dad. You always will be, and we love you, no matter what.

And I feel the same about them. I love them no matter what but when I dropped them off at the train station on Sunday after their last visit to see me and their sister, it didn't stop me feeling like the hole that I ripped in their heart was opened up again. And in mine too.

Was it because I am in the RAF that the relationship broke down? Was it the travel, the times apart? Was it the stress of working in an organisation that by definition means I can put my life on the line?

No. It failed because I was selfish. It failed because I wanted something different and that the person I was with was not the one I loved.

And now I have another relationship. That one is made more difficult by the other half of it ALSO being in the services. She, as I said is a Nurse in the Army. And we have a child too. This makes for all sorts of issues from simple service rivalry get an army person and an RAF person in the same room and banter will take place, down to my girlfriend knowing EXACTLY what I will be doing when I go to Afghanistan on deployment next year. In the past with a civilian partner they have little concept of what ops and deployment is like...but a military partner...

And then we have the problem of being unable to live together she is some 50 miles away from me and that's probably the closest we can hope to be posted together even if we were married...and I do the weekend dad. I leave every Monday morning for five days of being apart and leave my girlfriend to do the hard work of raising Lily pretty much single handed on weekdays AND she has her own full time job in the military to deal with...but we cope.

So. From all this can I say what it is like to maintain relationships when you are in the services?

Not a thing. No. I, like the rest of the population make it up as we go along. We get pointers and steers as we go...working off what we know, what we feel and what we see around us. How our parents did our friends and colleagues do it.

But in the end, we just make it up. It's got all the same stresses and strains as the rest of the world who have jobs and relationships and complications and all that and it's got a few of it's own extra ones added in too... but in the end... it's just as difficult as anyone else has it.

And I am working my hardest that this time I get it right and that I don't screw it up like I did the last one. Cos I can't take having to tell another child who has nothing but love in her eyes that I am leaving. Which, at the end of the day is good.

Cos I won't be.