This year was no different when it comes to fun. We stayed home in our newly-assigned, on-post quarters at Ft. Sill, OK, in Christmas 1997, just the four of us--Ellen, Amy, Josh, and I. It truly was an enjoyable family event. New Year's Day 1998 started off better than its 1997 counterpart, since we weren't recovering from "car-lag" after returning from that near-17-hour trip back from Alabama. Admittedly, it would have been nice to have been with extended family for a few days during this very special season, but the toll of tiredness was just more than we wanted to pay. This was the first Christmas we weren't with extended family since Ellen and I married, 17 years ago. Nevertheless, we were so glad not to be traveling that long trek that we barely felt lonely for being so far away. I said, "barely."
Well, the remainder of the winter and spring 1998 were pretty much routine. Easter was special, though, as we observed it in a Sunrise Service with all the basic trainees at Ft. Sill. I also had the privilege two weeks earlier--the week before Palm Sunday--of writing the "Chaplain's Corner" newspaper column in the CANNONEER. (It proved to be my last for them. I'm still working on putting it and my other most recent articles online, so keep checking my personal web site for updates.) I took the opportunity to discuss our Jewish Roots as Christians, since the Jewish Lay Leader at Ft. Sill would be writing during Holy Week on the meaning of Passover, and the Eastern Orthodox chaplain (my supervisor) would be writing the week following Passover/Easter about Eastern Christians' observance of Easter. It was quite a series.
With late spring and summer came the annual season for changes of command throughout the Army. It happened to be time for both my Regimental Commander and my Battalion Commander of the past two years to change command. The Regimental change of command was in May, just before I left for Annual Conference, and the battalion change of command happened shortly after my return from Annual Conference and personal leave.
Conference seemed rather mundane this year, though I did get my 15 seconds of fame as I marched on stage and told my name and where I was currently serving as an Extension Minister. :-) It certainly was a joy, however, to renew friendships and acquaintances, many of which I'd cultivated--and continue to cultivate--by email. In fact, seeing all my friends was the highlight of attending Conference for me. :-)
We left the kids with Ellen's parents for the summer, because we didn't know when they would get another opportunity for such a lengthy visit, thinking I would likely be assigned to Germany or some other accompanied overseas tour like that next summer. We had no idea of the news that awaited us upon our return. While at Annual Conference and at home with relatives, many of you asked me whether I thought I'd be moving anytime soon. I guess I should have taken that as some sort of omen, but I dismissed it almost entirely, thinking I had the system all figured out. I told everyone I expected to remain at Ft. Sill at least until the next Annual Conference, as my initial three-year obligation wouldn't be up until then. I truly didn't expect to be relocated until after my initial obligation was finished in June 1999, and I had been approved for Voluntary Indefinite (VI) status, for which, by the way, I was approved in September 1998. I am now obligated until 12 June 2000. However, upon my return from Conference, on the very day of my battalion's change of command, I received verbal notice that I would be on orders for the "Land of the Morning Calm," South Korea, and that I would report sometime in the December 1998-January 1999 time-frame. As time passed and my orders were finally cut, I learned I would report on 16 December. Everyone catches their breath when they realize that this is right before Christmas, but I tell them I'm looking on the bright side: I'll have a glad reunion for Christmas 1999. If I have to miss one Christmas with my family, I'd rather it be on the front end of a one-year separation than at the tail end. That seems to help everyone, including myself, in coping with this trial.
One other chaplain from Ft. Sill, a good friend of mine from Michigan, Chaplain (CPT) Brian Mead, will arrive in Korea shortly after I do, in January 1999. Much to my amazement, yet another chaplain friend at Ft. Sill with whom I've maintained online contact, Chaplain (CPT) Jason Logan, has also received verbal notice that HE will report to Korea next summer! It looks like Korea is the assignment of choice nowadays. :-)
We were expecting Ellen's parents to bring the kids home to us and visit for a week at the end of last summer, but ill health in Ellen's maternal grandmother and one of her great aunts kept them close to home and required us to make that long trip one more time to retrieve the kids ourselves. Furthermore, after moving on-post last December, we were now in a different, less safe school district, and when the school board declined our request for an exception to policy so they could continue in their previous district, we transferred Amy into another school in Elgin, OK, a neighboring town, and began home-schooling Josh, since the new school couldn't (or wouldn't) accommodate his learning disability by hiring an additional teacher. We still don't understand why God allowed us to go through that ordeal, but it's all behind us now. In fact, Josh actually improved academically under the tutelage of his most capable, teacher-certified Mom, and perhaps that's the reason God permitted it. :-) Nevertheless, they are both in an excellent private Christian school in Dothan now, Northside Methodist Academy, and they are doing quite well and loving every minute of it. What a delight it is to be a part of a school where ALL events begin and/or end with prayer, and the name of Jesus is mentioned and lifted up frequently!
Somewhere in the midst of all the turmoil of this past summer, Amy also acquired her learner's permit to drive. I think she has improved ten-fold since I took her out to her school parking lot in Lawton, OK, for her first attempt with me (I understand she had tried a time or two before with her maternal grandfather, affectionately known as "Pops"). Her mother, on the other hand, still has some reassuring to undergo. So far, so good--NO ACCIDENTS!! :-)
As if we didn't have enough stress in our lives this summer, Ellen received some disturbing news in early October that the lump which had shown up in her left breast during a previous mammogram had increased in size. In the course of trying to out-process, clear post, clear quarters, etc., we were also faced with trying to schedule and undergo a biopsy to determine whether the lump was cancerous. On the day the packers came, Ellen spent the day in the out-patient clinic for a breast biopsy. I had to take her into the hospital at 0600, and the packers arrived around 0820. A very kind, Christian neighbor and good friend right next door, Rebecca Shosek, agreed to bring her home that afternoon. The Chaplains' Spouses' Group offered not only prayer support, but they also provided supper for us that evening. That was genuine Christian love, and what a Godsend! Later that week, on my last duty day at Ft. Sill, Friday, 30 October, the hospital called to say that the biopsy result on the lump indicated it is benign. Despite intense soreness, Ellen still attended our unit's farewell dinner for us that night, 30 October. It brought just over 2.25 years of service in the 2-2 FA and Ft. Sill to a close. "Parting is such sweet sorrow."
Since I am entitled to 30 days leave plus an additional ten days of permissive temporary duty (PTDY) to resettle my family, I took all those plus a few more to enjoy a nice, long break before my departure on my "hardship tour." We departed on leave on 31 October, and arrived in Dothan, AL, on 1 November, All Saints' Day. I was invited in advance to preach the morning worship service at my home church, Tabernacle United Methodist, on 8 November, so the congregation could give their pastor, Riley Richardson, and his wife, Angie (Ellen's first cousin, by the way), a weekend trip to Panama City, FL, as part of Pastor Appreciation Observance. We were home to celebrate Thanksgiving with extended family for the first time in two years, and was it ever good! Ellen and I also celebrated 17 years of marriage on xx xxxx 1998, with dinner at a classy restaurant and entertainment at a delightfully fun movie at the theater. We'll celebrate an early Christmas on 12 December, and my flight leaves the Napier Field Airport in Dothan at 0515 Monday, 14 December. I am scheduled to arrive at 4:15 PM. on Tuesday, 15 December, local time in Seoul, South Korea.
My unit of assignment is the 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery (ADA), headquartered at Camp Sears, about 1.5 miles from Uijongbu, and 21.5 miles from Seoul. I've been in regular email contact with the chaplain whom I'm replacing. He has been explaining what's happening there, in addition to answering my multitude of questions about life, etc. over there. What did we ever do before email?! :-) For any of you interested in reading more about the military mission in Korea, follow this link to the 2ID (2d Infantry Division) web site: http://www-2id.Korea.army.mil/
One last highlight of this year has just concluded. Ellen's mother's side of her family held their annual vacation/reunion 3-6 December, and this year they selected Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA, as the getaway location. Since Amy and Josh were still in classes until Friday, we waited and drove up there Friday afternoon, 4 December, and returned the afternoon of the 5th. We drove through Ft. Benning going and coming, and on the return trip, we took a few extra minutes to tour around and get our bearings, since we hope to be assigned there upon my return from Korea. We arrived at Callaway Gardens, miraculously, just in time to step onto the 6:00 PM. trolley to view the "Fantasy in Lights" Christmas lighting display for which Callaway Gardens is so famous this time of year. It truly was a beautiful sight, though I was quite disappointed not to see any Christian symbols displayed. They did, however, hold a five-minute dramatic reading of "One Solitary Life" set to the backdrop of a Nativity Scene in lights, but that was OFF the regular trail. I guess they felt that was enough of a homage to the REAL Reason for the Season. Of the ones on the trail, however, my favorite was the 12 Days of Christmas display. The next day, we had a wonderful lunch in one of the pavilions we reserved, and we ate and visited till our hearts were content. I took a couple of lengthy walks alone with each of my two children and we shared some one-on-one time I will cherish in my memory forever. I hope they will, too.
Indeed, these entire past few weeks have been among the most pleasant and memorable ever for me. They have been "chicken soup for my soul." :-) So, too, was the lunch gathering I enjoyed on Thursday, 10 December, in Ozark, with a few of my good friends in the Dothan District who were available to meet with me. Their kind words and prayer support were such an encouragement to me! I thank God for them and their respective ministries.
Well, that about summarizes the year 1998 for the White Family. I'm hoping for a really fast year in 1999, so I can rejoin my family as soon as possible. I hope all of you will keep in contact with me either by email or snail mail during this next year. That will certainly help speed the time for me, too. Here are the snail mail addresses for Ellen and the kids first, and then for me in Korea:
Ellen, Amy, and Joshua White / xxx xxxxx xx. / xxxxx, xx xxxxx / xxx-xxx-xxxx
CH (CPT) Michael L. White / HHB 5-5 ADA / Unit #15130 / APO AP 96257
Ellen's email address--if she'll ever use it--is email@example.com, and Amy's is firstname.lastname@example.org Josh is currently sharing with both Ellen and Amy. My email addresses are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org Feel free to write either of us anytime. Now, I pray God's richest blessings upon you all in this holy Christmas season.
CH (CPT) Michael L. White
Xxxxx, AL (but Korea-bound!)
Chaplain Michael L. White Is Online!
http://www.angelfire.com/al/mlwhite700/index.html (No longer in use)