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Prologue

I had the opportunity to read the poem “The Departure…For Those Who Deploy” at a Women’s Veterans Conference, sponsored by the Virginia Employment Commission, in Hampton Virginia on Nov. 8, 2018. It was the first time it had been read publicly.  I had written and published the poem in the “cruise book,” for the final deployment of the guided missile destroyer USS Coontz DDG-40, in Middle East Force (MEF 2-87), while serving as Navigator/Administrative Officer.

The poem is a deeply personal story and tribute about the many silent sacrifices and commitment of those who serve and protect this country endure each time they deploy. It was a time when we, my wife and I, were so young, in love, married, and trying to start a family. When I deployed to the Persian Gulf, my wife was two months pregnant with what would be our first child, after losing a son and a set of triplets (a son and two daughters) to early labor. We were cautiously hopeful and prayerfully faithful and optimistic. She would be alone, and found great comfort and support from the tight village of the Executive Officers’s Wife, the Ship’s Ombudsman, and the Navy Wife Team. Equally it was her first real deployment of long separation. I tried to prepare her for “Departure Day,” because I had been in the Navy nearly seven years before we were married. We promised each other that we would be strong and that we would not cry or break down on that melodramatic and melancholy departure day. That never happened, but with each deployment, it got better, and we became more stronger, devoted and committed to each other, the mission of the Navy, and if not for those things, to show an example of visible strength to our children. To this day, thirty-six years later, my wife cannot get through the reading of the poem without getting emotional.

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So the essence of this poem was written and shared to inspire and give hope, strength, and aspiration to the men and women of the military who demonstrate everyday the courage, patriotism, and love of country to volunteer and deploy, and that we understand what you have been through, what you are going through, and wholly support you. So, do not give up or be in despair; there is no new enduring thing under the sun; and, it is our hope that through our example that if we could get through it several times, then you can get through it too, one day at a time. Much success and all the best!  

The Departure…For Those Who Deploy – Speech At the Women’s Veteran Conference

Good Afternoon:

The poem “The Departure…For Those Who Deploy” recognizes the importance and connection of the military spouses and families. How many are military spouses? How many have deployed? Thank you for your silent sacrifices. Thank you all for the opportunity to be part of this process, special, and momentous event. I must confess, however, that I have not always understood the importance of the sacrifice, of the honor, value, and commitment, or gave the respect and appreciation that I should have to the important role of women. I just kind of took those things for granted. As I have transitioned through life, however, I find myself at the threshold of special places, the exploring of opened doors of different, divergent, and new horizons, to arrive at this packaged place called now. Being the father of three daughters and a husband to a wife who endured the sacrifices and perils of military, and specifically, Navy life, I want them all to be successful, benefiting and contributing members of society. But more importantly, to understand that with the great freedoms and independence that we enjoy as Americans, came willing and silent sacrifices. And, as a man who has made mistakes and has evolved and is still evolving and is now raising a son to be a man, I think that it is important for you to know that you have my full support. 

I wrote the poem “The Departure…for Those Who Deploy” some 30 plus years ago, as a Navy Lieutenant, as the ship’s Navigator and Administrative Officer on the guided missile destroyer USS Coontz DDG-40, while on patrol in the central Persian Gulf, in what we called Be-No Station. Last year, while going through my attic, I ran across my cruise book and found the poem…hidden away for all those years, and it had both a poignant and a special meaning. Since the initial writing, I had the benefit of living and enduring Navy life and the wisdom and reflection of the experiences of the intangibles by those true volunteers who wear and wore the cloth of, and were and are willing to spill their blood for this very special and great place we call America. I had deployed four or five times and in a look-back, now I understand and appreciate the sacrifices and felt these deep and abiding feelings. I knew what it felt like to leave someone you love, and for us to think just for a fleeting second, before pushing it out of our minds…will this be the last time…that I will ever see this person again.

Thirty-five years later, my wife and I are still together…and “still we rise.”  The feelings of loneliness; of despair; of having to leave family at Christmas time; the anxiety and raw emotions building up for a departure and deployment and all of this becomes part of the fabric of who and what we are and an unshakable bond that binds us as veterans and spouses together for life.

The departure and deployment is not a singular event impacting one person. Instead, it is a confluence or events and emotions that become a holistic synergy of effort to complete the military’s mission. The spouse is an important part of the mission. Thank you for your sacrifice. Now I will read the poem. I hope you like it.

“Before anything ends, it must begin
To leave my loving family seems the greatest of all sin
A day of departure is never happy or jolly
Instead its moods of ambivalence and melancholy
Daddy why do you have to go to sea
Don’t you realize that you are hurting me
Yes my child, but it is necessary
To protect you from some unknown adversary
I will give my all until no more is left
I will never forget you in spite of myself
I will remember your face
I will remember your grace
I will remember your fun-loving smile
I will remember your independent style
I look the woman that I love in the eyes
They strain from the emotion of her held back cries
With pent up determination she tries to be strong
To prepare for a separation that is six months long
Stand by me and always be there
Hey…I can conquer anything if I know that you care
Yes, that day of departure may be the greatest of all sin
But it must start in order to end
There are no entrenched standards, no guiding rules
To deal with the eventualities of a six month cruise”

Thank you again for the opportunity and for your sacrifice.

The speech and poem “The Departure…For Those Who Deploy” was given by Curtis Wray, at a Women’s Veterans Conference, sponsored by the Virginia Employment Commission, in Hampton Virginia on Nov. 8, 2018.

Curtis Wray is a United States Navy 21-year veteran, a retired enlisted and commissioned Surface Warfare Officer. He has over 21 years in the Virginia Workforce Development System with experience at the Virginia Employment Commission (1999 – 2007) in job services, unemployment insurance, and a passion for the art of Rapid Response service delivery, providing this service while at the Virginia Employment Commission (2006 – 2007 and 2017 – present); the Governor’s Office for Workforce Development 2007 – 2008; the Virginia Community College System (2008 – 2010); and, Thomas Nelson Community College (2010 – 2017).