Spc. Raymond Benitez | Special to the Fort Leavenworth Lamp
After a tense phone discussion in March with my then-fiancee, an uneasy feeling was lurking in my stomach as I contemplated the daily reports over COVID-19. Every day another country diagnosed more cases, spreading closer to North America. I assured her that there would be no delay for our wedding, almost in denial because coronavirus had been infecting its way to the United States little by little. Minutes after hanging up, President Trump declared a state of emergency. Our plans were shot down with a bolt of lightning.
My fiancee Jennyfer and I are from Puerto Rico. The hardest thing about coming from an island is always homesickness. It never leaves you, you just learn to live with it. It doesn’t matter if you’re stationed in South Korea or the United States, every duty station seems like an “overseas tour.” That feeling multiplies when your spouse or soon-to-be spouse is living away from you.
In Hispanic cultures, family and faith are major factors, so there is also pressure to hold formal ceremonies and for family to be present. However, at the risk of disappointing them, we decided that our marriage held more weight than our wedding. Pandemic or not, we would see it through together. We used our wedding savings to buy a one-way ticket to Kansas for Jennyfer and to pay the first month rent on our new apartment. We had a smaller ceremony at our local church, Church of the Open Door, on March 26, our families being present for the event via FaceTime. It was just one of many plans that changed because of the coronavirus.
Situations like this are not uncommon throughout Fort Leavenworth as PCS travel, leave and training events have all been delayed until further notice. Some soldiers and their families have found themselves caught in between their travel plans to their new duty station and the recent travel restrictions. In some cases, it has caused hardships for these families after having already out-processed most of the installation. Times such as these have been unprecedented and call for the strength and support of our military communities.
However, it’s in the midst of the worst situations that we can see the best come out in those we work with. My time with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Joint Regional Correctional Facility, 705th Military Police Battalion (Detention), has shifted my perspective of leadership and service. At a much earlier time, I understood Army Values more as a marketing campaign than a way of life. They were slogans copied and pasted onto e-mails and retention posters as an attempt to foster a fading sense of patriotism within younger generations. It was not until I witnessed it demonstrated in the actions of the noncommissioned officers and officers that I began to understand what it meant to have pride in the uniform.
I recall the effort my company commander made to push through an exception to policy memorandum, with nearly no chance that I would be able to travel home for the wedding, left an impression. As insignificant as it may seem, sticking your neck out for a soldier, even when it appears to be a fruitless endeavor, can still inspire trust and loyalty within subordinates. When you have a leader who wants to see you succeed, you want to see him/her succeed as well and make that your purpose. In the end, after much discussion and prayer, my now wife and I decided to see the pandemic through together here in Leavenworth and are now stronger for it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly become a turning point in our country in how we operate, but it has also provided a proving ground for growth, as all conflicts do. It has nurtured strength, patience and unity among us all as every soldier, family member and leader supports one another. Our plans change together, we adapt together and we fight back together. Although the future is uncertain as to how long we will fight this new enemy, one thing remains certain — the United States Army will continue to be the strongest team on earth.