Friday, April 8, 2011

My hero

He picked his career knowing that he would never get rich or famous.  At an age when most people are packing for college, he was packing for boot camp.  He committed his life to protecting and serving his country and most days his dedication for his country is what kept him moving forward.  He has missed out on many holidays and birthdays with family and friends.  He was not home to see his son turn three, four or five.  He might not get to see him turn six, but his love for our son increases with every heartbeat.  He promised to lay down his life to protect the rights of all American citizens.  He makes sacrifices every day to make life better for others.  His needs and wants come last and his family must endure the long absences.  He knows his decisions will affect the needs and wants of his family, but our love for him keeps him strong.  The love I have for him can span the circumference of the universe for all of time.  It makes me mad that he puts our family after the needs of the military, but he wouldn't be the man I love otherwise.  His strength and dedication set the example for our son.  Having him in my life makes me a better wife and mother.  His love for us carries me through the hardest times in life.  When he placed the ring on my finger and I vowed to take him for better or worse, he stole my heart.  Our government may make decisions that affect our lives, but they can never decrease our love.  They can put his paychecks on hold while ensuring their paychecks are on time, but they will never take away the happiness and memories we have created and will create in the future.  The men and women elected to protect our rights might not make the decisions we would, but at the end of the day, I will always be proud of my husband and the life we have created.  When I miss him the most, I can look at our wedding album and not have one regret for choosing the life I did.  Our home is where the military sends us and my heart belongs to my hero.  Always and forever, I love you Michael Woodworth.  I will see you in my dreams.  XOXOXO

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Well, Michael and I are getting settled into our safe haven. I've always known that my parents were my safety net, but never thought I would have to use their home for a safe haven. I know that people have lost more than I have and suffered far worse that I want to imagine. Still, my world has been turned upside down. I have been fighting the tears and depression several times a day and yet I feel horrible that I am having a pity party for myself. I have never expected life to be easy but at this point, I would appreciate a little dull!

I don't regret evacuating or voluntarily departing Japan, but I do regret losing control of my life. I don't care what the military calls it, we evacuated an unsafe zone. I made this decision for my child and to protect his future. He deserves to have the best of everything and his quality of life was in jeopardy, or so it seemed. I know that many people stayed behind, but I also know they were not given the same options given to me. Those given the option of leaving jumped at the change. I don't feel like we were given the complete picture and allowed to make an informed decision. The truth was a missing factor in the huge equation thrust in our lives. Given the variables presented to us, I believe myself and my fellow evacuees made the right decision.

I think that I have been a good military wife and very supportive of my husband's career. I haven't always been happy with the tasks thrust upon me, but I did them with grace and style. I moved myself down to Pensacola, FL, while my husband deployed. Little did I know that this would not be the first nor the last move I would make on my own. Four years later I am doing the same thing but on a much larger scale. Now, I was moving my toddler along with two dogs half-way around the world while again, my husband was deployed. It was the hardest thing to do, but I did it and led the way for many families to follow in my steps.

Now, we fast forward to the place I call limbo. Limbo is an ugly word to me but I am trying to understand and redefine my life at the moment. I have left my home and the routine of my daily life to come and take what some call 'a vacation' at the governments expense. As I have stated in my previous post, this is far from a vacation or even a short get away. I am living in my childhood bedroom with my son and two dogs. I don't have the familiar things around me or even my favorite pictures. I brought one pair of shoes for myself and just two outfits. I am not able to relax or even enjoy this time with my family and friends because I am always on alert and trying to anticipate the next move of my son and the dogs. I'm on edge worrying about what my son or the dogs might break or ruin.

I find that writing this blog does help decrease some of the stress and anxiety while helping my friends and family understand my latest adventure. The biggest change we have made was registering Michael for Kindergarten at my old elementary school. We went in a little late this morning to just check things out and Michael asked to stay longer and even wound up riding the big yellow school bus home. He is all ready to start tomorrow morning and ride the bus to school with his cousin/brother. They are eight months apart and the best of friends. The best part of the day was their reunion on the playground just prior to Michael's departure home. Well, I guess I should get a few hours of sleep before I wake him up to get ready for his second day of school. Good night from Limbo-land.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

To those who believe the news...

I have kept my opinion to myself long enough. I have always put everyone else first and myself last. As a military wife, I have been insulted and judged by people who do NOT know the facts or even understand what is going on. To quote Paul Harvey, let me tell you the rest of the story...

The news has reported that those of us who chose to evacuate are really living it up in Hawaii getting $22,000 a month. It has also been stated that my voluntary departure is a 'vacation on the government's dime'. But the best accusation is that I and my fellow military wives panicked and decided to evacuate because of mass hysteria. To everyone who knows me, I need not explain myself.

To those who will believe anything said on the news or written in a newspaper, sit down, buckle up and enjoy the ride on the Karma Train! My name is Courtney and I will be your conductor today. We will be making several stops today in Neverland and then ending up in Reality.

Neverland Stop #1-

Calling this a vacation? Really??? No, not hardly. A vacation involves a set time-frame and a return date. It also includes happy thoughts, planning fun outings and lots of pictures with smiles and happy faces. It also includes returning to a home and getting back into a routine.

Neverland Stop #2-

Receiving free money? Nope, not one red cent! Everything has been out of my bank account, which is decreasing rapidly because I had to leave my job and when you don't work, you don't get a pay check. Silly me!

Neverland Stop #3-

Accepting military housing? Another negative there, Ghost Rider, we cannot receive military housing at our safe haven because we already have housing back in Japan. Stop listening to those news reporters who are sensationalizing our 'voluntary departure' just to increase their ad sales. Want the truth? Just ask a real person who is living this nightmare! My life is an open book and I plan to post the events daily if not more frequently.

Reality Stop #1-

Yes, I did accept a ticket from Japan to Richmond, VA.

Reality Stop #2-

Yes, I did accept a hotel room which was charged to my credit card along with all of my meals and any necessities needed for the overnight stay in Seattle.

Reality Stop #3-

Yes, I am at my safe haven with my parents and family. Fortunately, my parents have room for myself, my son and my husband's two dogs. In fact, they even want us here!!!

This concludes the end of our ride. To those who really care, Michael, the puppies and I are safe and sound. I am fighting sadness, frustration and regular everyday stress plus the unplanned absence of my husband and possible loss of our next orders. We are at my parent's house so please email me or call if you remember the number. I would love to visit and find ways to laugh at my life.

How many sailors does it take to perform an evacuation?

In the days following the earthquake, we were told by our commands to stay home, pack a bag and prepare for an evacuation due to the radiation in the air and water. We were made to fear for our lives and the media in The States was making things out to be worse than they were and still are. I posted an Earthquake Map in my previous post so if you need, please pause and go watch it again, maybe even three or four times to really understand what occurred. I am in no way placing blame or making accusations against anyone or any command. I have always believed and practiced that if we want to complain about a problem, we need to be part of the solution as well.

It all began on Thursday, March 17th, St. Patrick's Day. Maybe leprechauns were involved in the planning and execution of the information, honestly, I just don't know! Our command instructed the sailors to have their families pack a bag and prepare to evacuate. The big command told us to wait at home and a bus would come and pick us up and take us to the planes. We were told so many different scenarios that contradicted and canceled out previous instructions that panic set in with some families. Add the panic and lack of correct communication together and what do you get? You get a huge rumor mill and people confirming their intelligence by posting just about anything possible. In my heart, I knew that God would take care of us and guide our leaders. After sorting through the information, the one common denominator was that the families should pack a bag(s) and wait at home for a bus to come around and pick up everyone and their pets. Honestly, I was shocked at such an aggressive plan but pleased to know that our leaders did care about the safety of the families. Then April Fools Day came early to Japan and reality hit; there was no plan, no bus and no planes.

Well, we sat at home on Friday, Saturday and Sunday waiting for further instructions. The whole time my husband was being recalled every five minutes, or so it seemed. So, on Monday evening, I decided to take matters into my own hands and confront those left behind to 'help' the families. I packed up our luggage, the dogs and a few essentials to help us through a few days on our own. The command was making minute by minute postings with directions on what we should do. So, I went and stood in line for seven hours only to be told to be patient and wait a bit longer. At 3am, we were told to write our name down on a list and go home and get some rest. We were to return at 9am, six hours later, to get processed onto Flight 3. Ok, I know how to write down my name and two contact numbers so we did what we were told. I think I slept about three hours in my own bed and reported back with my patient and loving child along with our luggage and dogs. Stupid me, I left them loose in the van and prayed for the best. (Remember this, there is a story later!) We arrived at 9am to just a few people there and I was shocked to think I might be on time for something. Fast forward six more hours of sitting and waiting patiently, to be told we could leave for one hour to run last minute errands and come back for the processing. Ok, I decided to grab a few last minute things to help entertain Michael and head back. Plus I just knew my good little puppies needed to run and walk.

So, we get to the van and the dogs were screaming! Great, just something else to add to my headache! No worries, I will feed them a few cheeseburgers and they will be happy campers. As Michael is climbing across the driver's seat, he asks me, "Mommy, what is that smell?" and then proceeds to throw up on himself and all over the van. Yes, the dogs were so wound up, they had diarrhea all over the van and now Michael added his contribution. I just took a deep breath through my mouth because it was a horrid odor and I was gagging myself and cleaned up Michael and as much of the poop as I could with what limited supplies I had. I'm a good military wife, I can do it all! So, we drove over to the exchange to buy new clothes for Michael and some clean up supplies for the mess. I walked the dogs in the rain for about 20 minutes while Michael is yelling at me from the van about the horrible smell. I swear, I thought I heard God laughing at me and I made Him and myself a promise that I would come out of this a better person. I would learn the lesson He was teaching me.

Despite being a single parent yet again, I pulled it all together and returned to the mass exodus to be processed for my flight. Despite my frustration added to my mental and physical exhaustion, I stayed positive up until the minute I returned to the gym. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a line of people and instructions that they are the last 20 to board for Flight 3. Oh really??? I was told at 9am this morning that we hadn't begun boarding for Flight 3. (More deep breaths and self-talking about staying positive and being a good role model for my son.) Upon further questioning, I was told by the same ones who had been giving me such 'great' information all last night and this morning that I needed to speak to the man in charge. No worries, I am great at public speaking and communication. Little did I know what no one was on the same page and the wives were being viewed as hysterical females. For the sake of those involved, I will not use names or ranks. I made my point and I ensured that everyone understood the information I had and even pointed at two sailors in particular who were giving wrong information and trying to make me the bad guy for trying to follow their directions. After a few minutes of reality hitting me hard in the stomach, I did have a female moment and began crying to a few friends. The civilian in charge of the whole operation showed up and came to me. He will forever be my knight in shining armor and actually followed through with the instructions he gave from 13 hours earlier. He personally walked me up to the line and processed our family for Flight 3. The lesson of this story is that when those in charge leave, the ones left behind do what they want to do and care less about the consequences for their actions. As soon as my Knight left to grab a few hours of sleep, an order came out to board everyone that didn't leave and go from there. This all began one hour after I left. Not one phone call and the notebook went missing!

As I promised, I will be addressing the process and plan to help make this a better and easier process should this ever happen again. This is what I do and I am good at it. (Toot, toot!)

Next post: Yokota restores my faith in humanity

Japan, Courtney-style: The day the earth shook

Japan, Courtney-style: The day the earth shook

The day the earth shook

My friend, Nicole S Gonzales-McIntosh, has inspired me to share my story about our evacuation from Japan. Perhaps through writing, I will be able to find peace and harmony. (Ok, stop laughing... I tried to sound philosophical.)

Yes, I did accept and sign up for the voluntary evacuation from Japan. It was not for the so called vacation that the news has portrayed myself and many of my friends of partaking. I could go on to define the word vacation, but we all know what it means. So, let me tell you how my new adventure began.

It was Friday, March 11, 2011. Mike had early GQ (general quarters) this day so I elected to sleep in to my normal wake-up time of 0400 rather than get up earlier and leave with him at 0430. My life doesn't revolve around myself anymore, but around the life of my precocious five year-old. For his sake, I wanted him to sleep until 0545. I was able to get him to my friends house a little after 0600 to enjoy what would be his last day at his Japanese school. My friend, Nicole, and her husband were in Okinawa. Her two little ones were already at our friend's house and Michael was so excited to see his favorite girl. I was able to coax him back to sleep and crept out the door to begin my day.

It was Friday and I was thankful for the weekend. We would be having my friend's two little ones for the night and I was planning out everything in my head to ensure a successful sleepover. Work was a normal day and as soon my teaching day was over, I was heading home. A fellow teacher stopped me to ask about a ride for another teacher who lives in our neighborhood. The other teacher needed to get home quicker than the work-to-home bus. I waited a few minutes trying to find her, but little did I know, she had found another Negishi-ite for the ride home. I left the building at 1440 to begin what was to be a quick ride home with a stop at my favorite fruit and vegetable stand.

As I entered the expressway, nicknamed the Yoko-Yoko, I noticed there was not a lot of traffic on the opposite side and the emergency signs were showing symbols I didn't recognize. I figured there was an accident somewhere along the way on the other side and thought nothing of it until I got off at my exit. There were police everywhere preventing vehicles from entering the expressway. This made me a bit nervous so I tried calling Mike. I kept getting weird sounds, so I tried calling a few friends to no avail. This is when I realized that something was wrong and I couldn't make any phone calls. I remained calm and headed home. Perhaps it was all a coincidence and my cell phone was acting up.

Just as I was about to get onto the main roads, I got a frantic phone call from Mike. He kept asking me if I was ok and I was telling him I was fine. He told me that we had a big earthquake and to be careful. We determined that I could not make phone calls so he would keep calling me from the Boat until I got home. I hadn't felt a thing, or at least recognized the feeling of the first quake. Once I was on the main roads, I was stopped at a light and that is when the first aftershock hit. I was under the overpass and my van began shaking like an ice cube in a martini shaker. It was rather surreal at this point and when I saw the local Japanese office workers evacuating their buildings and looking up, I then knew something was wrong. This was no normal earthquake.

I could see the light posts on the overpass swaying back and forth. I began crying and praying for my safety. Mike called me back and calmed me down. At that moment, I realized that Michael was on a bus on his way home. I asked Mike to call the school and make sure he was ok. I remember telling Mike that I would be fine once I had Michael in my arms. The aftershock subsided and Mike was able to keep me focused long enough to get home. We were unable to reach Michael's school. My heart and nerves went into panic mode, but my mind was on overdrive and my focus was to get home. Mike was able to reach our housekeeper who ensured Mike that all was well, just a few broken or damaged items and the dogs were fine. Mike let her know that I was on my way and would be there shortly.

It is all pretty much a blur at this point because all I can remember is the waiting for Michael's bus. This was the longest period of time in my life. I was able to email from my cell phone but that was it. I remember grabbing Nicole's littlest one from our friend, Coralys, and waiting for Michael and his girl to get off the bus. The bus was now an hour late. Still no communication with the schools by phone or email. Inside I am panicking, but on the outside I was calm. I took the little one to my house and to check on my housekeeper. She wanted to remain at the house and offered to keep the little one with her while I went back and continued my wait. I remember returning and picking up my friend, Julia, on the way back to the bus stop. She was a huge calming factor and being together and chatting helped. We had been promising to set aside some time to catch up and hang out but this is not the way we wanted it. We decided to drive up to the security office to see if they knew of anything. Before that, we drove to another parent's house to see if she knew anything and she was in the same boat we were. We made it to our main base and I remember grabbing a Coke and taking some Excedrin. When I headed into the office, Julia was waiting patiently for some information. There was another parent in there concerned about his daughter who was on the home-to-work bus. We were told it was stuck in traffic and people were getting off and just walking the rest of the way. Security was able to have the Japanese translator contact the Japanese police to inquire about our children. They could not tell us where the bus was, only that there were no accidents or injuries at this time. The Japanese police were stationed all around like a grid with eyes and cameras everywhere. We would be contacted if something came up or more information was known. So, we drove back to our spot and decided to wait by the front gate instead.

Julia and I sat there for a long time, maybe almost two hours just talking and chatting. My father and Mike were able to call me and check in for status updates about Michael. The bus finally came into view but from the opposite path they normally take. I remember jumping out of the car and running to the bus, as fast as I could. The children were all happy and talking about what a great time they had on the bus. They were able to eat and drink and basically had a little party. The bus stopped in front of the house of my fellow teacher seeking the ride home from school. Julia and I inquired about the rest of the students still on the bus and they did need another restroom break of possible. Julia ran the children and the bus assistant to my friend's house. I took the three happy campers, Michael, his girl and Julia's son, to my van. They were all very animated and talking about what a great time they had on the bus ride home. Since they had to take the main roads home, the bus driver was able to make several stops at the convenience stores for snacks and restroom breaks.

We drove to Coraly's house because she had Julia and Nicole's youngest children and we unloaded and reloaded the kiddos. During this, my father called to confirm my email that I had Michael and I could hear him crying and unable to speak. He told me he would call me back. This made me start to cry again but I had to stay strong for my son. We dropped off Julia and her boys and then headed to our house. I was able to call Mike on his cell phone from our house phone and keep in touch with him that way. He had Julia's husband with him and they were slowly making their way home. All I can remember was talking with my parents and patiently awaiting Mike's arrival. Once Mike was in the door, he got on the phone with my parents and assured them of our safety. I don't remember much after this but we all snuggled in the same bed that night. For now, my family was safe and sound...

This link will show you the play by play of the earthquakes. Japan Quake Map