Couple share deployment experience
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 7, 2008 1:59 PM
Angela Horton scanned the faces of wounded troops seeking treatment at a military hospital in Iraq, hoping the person she was looking for was not among them.
She knew her husband, Tim, might have been.
Master Sgt. Angela Horton and Lt. Col. Tim Horton
But as it happened, the rocket attack she felt moments before had "just missed him."
"To see those people coming in and going out all the time, I don't think anyone could tell you how that feels," said Angela, a master sergeant attached to the National Guard's Charlotte-based 145th Medical Group. "It's a horrible thing."
Particularly when there was always a chance her spouse would be one
"You know, one of us could have been killed at any minute," Angela said. "But at least if anything had happened, I would have had the opportunity to be with him."
And for the Hortons, that was the bright side of their most recent deployment.
They were together -- for better or worse.
Tim was the first to arrive at that base in the desert.
The Air Force lieutenant colonel and member of the 916th Air Refueling Wing left home in December.
Angela knew that just a month later, she would be joining him, but the day he left was still hard.
"It's always hard to be separated like that," she said. "That feeling of loss, it never goes away."
Tim accepted the fact that he would miss a few holidays and the couple's anniversary -- that there was always a chance the good-bye they shared before he deployed would be their last moment together.
But rather than focus on the negative, he looked forward to the day she would arrive -- and honed in on the mission at hand.
"You try not to think about it that much," he said. "You think about when you are going to see that person again, not that you might not. Even though it's there, you try to stay positive."
Angela arrived at the end of January.
For the reservist, volunteering for this particular assignment was a way to give back.
"We are more fortunate than others because we don't have any kids at home anymore. Our daughter is grown and married," she said. "So my thinking was, if we volunteer, somebody who does have kids at home, they won't have to go. We take their spot."
Besides, deploying with Tim, she thought, would make the tour less difficult -- and give the couple a new set of memories to share.
And if nothing else, they would have each other to support and confide in.
From an office on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Angela and Tim remember.
There was being a 10-minute walk from each other but not being allowed to share -- or even see -- the other's living quarters.
"You can't do anything," Angela said. "It was really weird."
And there were awkward ends to evenings spent together, ones the couple said felt like the final moments of a high school date.
"It was strange," Angela said. "I mean, there you are, three months together, and at the end of the night it was like, 'Well honey, I'll see you later.'"
But there is one memory that seemed to stand out.
Tim knew that because he had arrived early, he would be returning home without his wife.
So things "started getting hard" once his departure day got close.
One might think the end of a deployment would be celebrated.
But both Tim and Angela would tell you the real relief did not occur until more than a month after he touched back down in North Carolina.
"It was horrible. I hated it. I kept saying, 'I don't want you to go. Don't go,'" Angela said about the day Tim left Iraq. "It was a real feeling of, 'I may never see this person again.'"
So when she, too, had finally made it home, she committed herself to enjoying the aftermath of the months they had spent both together and apart -- like the first time the two of them, together, saw their first grandchild.
And she found that their semi-shared tour had prepared them to be better partners back at home.
"What they say is true. It is an adjustment coming back to being married. I found that out during my first deployment. Over there, the only thing you think about it yourself. There is nothing else but the mission. So when you come home, it's hard," Angela said. "But this time, it was different. We had seen each other every day, we had been through it together. Even if we couldn't stay together."
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