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Call to arms is never easy to answer

SOAPBOX • With a wife and son left behind, one sailor shares his parting thoughts after being called to active duty

My personal call to arms came on a sunny Thursday morning, while I was getting my 3-year-old son, Max, set for day care. On the line, a military clerk with a foghorn voice was about to send me down the rabbit hole.

'Commander Bernsohn?'

'Speaking.'

'This is Petty Officer Fox at the Naval Reserve Center in San Diego. I'm your official notice, sir. You've been mobilized. You have 48 hours to report here for processing.'

'How long am I being called up?'

'One year.'

As a reservist, I'm a diving and salvage officer, working for a staff of naval bomb disposal planners headquartered in Southern California. They'd been tagged to deploy to the Persian Gulf, as part of Iraq contingency operations. My faxed orders said I'd be headed to a diving command based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Fox couldn't chat long. He had hundreds of other lives to put on fast-forward. The Reserve Center granted me three extra days to clean up loose ends, and I began to measure my remaining time in Portland by each second.

I notified my boss and called my wife, Leisa, who was out of town on business, and my family. Then came calls to creditors, the mortgage company, utilities and the airlines. The honey-do jobs that had languished for weeks took on a sense of urgency as the clock ticked.

Leisa and I had done our best to prepare for my leaving. But nothing gets you ready for the loss of intangibles Ñ dancing with Max in front of the couch, watching for fire trucks on the freeway, teaming up to entice Max into his bath, Leisa's face reflected in the light from a fireplace. Those are the things you don't cherish nearly as much until your mission takes them from you.

I spent my last night in Oregon awake, listening to my wife breathing. I spent my last moments in PDX memorizing the contours of my son as I carried him to the concourse gate. Leisa had the same tight smile and tears that I'd described while telling stories of other soldiers and sailors saying goodbye. Max's face held questions that, this time, I

couldn't answer.

Military commitments have, over the years, become part of my life. But it was suddenly hard to see the Big Picture, as my home grew smaller and smaller in the window of a plane.

On the approach to San Diego, I pulled pictures of Max and Leisa out of my wallet, the first of countless times I've used them to keep the memories of my other life alive.

Bill Bernsohn has been a reporter for KPAM. He was called to active duty in the Pacific in late January.