July 12 -16 2017 marked the second reunion for “633rd SPS Desert Deployment Team, Family and Friends.” The location for this year’s event: Africa. Ok, not actually Africa but holy hell, who knew Oklahoma could make you that moist? Before I start to wax eloquent about the reunion itself, I wanted to offer, on behalf of the attendees, a special heartfelt thanks to the Sellers family for opening up their home to all the attendees. Having guests for an extended stay is bad enough but combine that with said guests being a bunch of middle aged, alcohol imbued veterans and their families and you can see how things could be a tad more challenging. So, our apologies in advance, for any damage we did to your children that may manifest down the road. Look at the positive though, their vocabularies have been expanded by leaps and bounds beyond their peer group.
These reunions first started in 2016 after we received a call that one of our own was diagnosed with ALS. Talk about a gut punch. First, from the standpoint that someone you had spent countless hours with in the desert had been dealt such a shitty hand. WTF? Out of all of us, Tom was probably the least deserving of this (and that should give you an indication of the kind of people Tom hung with back in the day). But secondly, on a personal note, what kind of friend was I? That phone call was the first time that I had even talked to anyone from Desert Shield/Desert Storm in over 25 years. People that I had thought of as “brothers” back then, weren’t even a priority in my life anymore. They were just a story to tell from a bygone time when people would ask about the war. So, while the reunions were initially established as a rally call around a sick friend, they turned into so much more. They became an opportunity for all of us to re-establish those bonds that we formed so many years ago. An opportunity to once again be the friend, a friend would like to have (yes, I just quoted Tim McGraw). Not going to lie, it was also an opportunity to see what we all manifested into after 25 years. Who got wider, who was folliclely challenged, were we still the same irreverent assholes we were back then? The answer to the last is yes, by the way. After the 2016 reunion, we determined that this could no longer be a one and done type event. Planning began immediately for a 2017 reunion which ultimately brought us to Oklahoma.
When asked to contribute to this blog, I was instructed to address the elephant in the room at these reunions, that being ALS…the unwelcome attendee. But here is the deal, folks. While ALS is always present, it isn’t what we focus on, nor should it be at these events. Do we have to make adjustments to ensure locations are accessible for Tom and Frank the Tank…yes. Has this disease slowed Tom down…yes. Should you use his feeding tube to shotgun beer…no, at least Lara say’s no. Has it changed who Tom is…fuck no. The purpose of these reunions are to be who we are, or at least revert back to who we were, for a period of time. Part of that is to give the Gareys’ the ability to put this disease on hold, if only for a weekend. To have people treat you for who you are and not see you through the lenses of ALS, but rather through the lenses of brother, friend, and family. Dressing up your ALS friend in a Hannibal Lecter mask is completely acceptable. Causing wheelchair envy because your wheels are bigger (size does matter) is cool. Catching a ride on Frank the Tank because its balls hot outside is encouraged. Playing Card’s Against Humanity and Disturbed Friends and ensuring Tom gets all the handicapped referenced cards is to be expected. So, while ALS is the constant companion at these events, we tell it to fuck off for the time we are together. We are always aware of its presence and the toll it is taking, but refuse to allow it a seat at the table. The Gareys’ are forced to deal with this life sucking disease every day of their lives and I am in constant awe of their ability to handle it with the class and strength that they do. But even the strongest people need help, and trust me, these reunions do help. By just being there we help not only the Garey family, but each other as well. Every one of us is dealing with our own personal issues, illnesses, and/or inner demons. Sometimes we need someone to lean on, to bounce issues off of or to just make us laugh over stupid shit. This is what the reunions are truly about. What started as a circling of the wagons around a brother with ALS became bigger. So, for those of you who participated in either of the reunions, my thanks and my love to you and yours. You have made my life richer by becoming a part of it again. For those that have not been able to attend, I encourage you to make every effort to make the trip next year. Trust me, you won’t regret it. Also, we need more people to attend so we can quit changing the name of the damn group. I’m afraid we reached the point where the next iteration will be, “633rd SPS Desert Deployment Team, Family and Friends, Acquaintances’, People Who Can Point Guam Out on a Map.” I leave you with the following quote, “It doesn’t matter how many people you meet in your life; you just need the real ones who accept you for who you are and help you become who you should be.” ― Roy T. Bennett