How this Air Force officer kept in the fold while away from home

When Zach, a personnel officer with the U.S. Air Force, headed off to South Korea for a year-long tour of duty, he knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But he couldn’t have imagined it would also be the catalyst that brought him closer to his siblings – and the perfect setting to receive a treasured Polo from his 102 year-old grandma.
Friends & Family

When you join the Air Force, chances are good that at some point you’ll be assigned to a post outside the USA. I knew most officers weren’t gonna jump at the chance to serve a year away from family and friends, but I made a strategic choice to put it at the top of my wish list. I’m young, I haven’t started a family yet, and I knew living abroad would be a cool, once-in-a-lifetime experience. And it has been.

But I’ll be honest – I’m also seriously missing my people back home.

I had mapped out a whole plan for staying in touch with my close friends and family over FaceTime. But between busy schedules and a big time difference, it wasn’t working. And I didn’t want to just “cold-call” anyone. People might think, Oh, its Zach, I should stop what I’m doing ‘cause he’s in Korea and he wants to talk to me. There’s a certain type of pressure that I didn’t want to place on folks if they weren’t available to take my call. It also wasn’t a good option to try to catch up and capture everything over big long texts.

So I got my family and friends to start using Marco Polo. I’d first found out about it when I was stationed in Spokane, Washington and saw a buddy using it. At the time, I thought, What the heck is that? It wasn’t like a live video chat because everyone was taking turns, and it wasn’t like social media where people were posting selfies and trying to get “likes.” He was connecting with a lot of people in a really genuine way. That’s what I wanted.

The other day I was listening to a song I loved in high school. I knew my brother loved it too. So I shared it in a Polo. He Polo’d right back – singing the next verse! That led to a round of quoting movies back-and-forth. It was hilarious. That wouldn’t happen without Marco Polo. I’d never send him a text saying, Hey bro, thinking of you when I heard this song. This was our way of saying we missed each other without actually saying it, and it was ten times better than a text.

Close friends have also sent me Polos from events that I would have been part of. At my friend Jesse’s wedding, the dudes in the bachelor party were Polo’ing from the dance floor, saying, Hey, Zach, man, wish you were here. I still get emotional thinking about it.

This year I’ve also grown closer to my four siblings. One of my best Marco Polo moments was the time we all connected at once. I had created a group for us and one morning when I was getting ready, I noticed it was active. I jumped on. Everyone was there. That never happens, except maybe at Christmas. I have an eclectic group of siblings, and the banter was just incredible; it was like we were all sitting around the table together. Such a joyful moment.

The only thing that tops my sibling Polos is what I’ve come to refer to as “The Grandma Polo.” One day I sent my mom a Polo during a layover in Indonesia, and my grandmother happened to be with her. Mom and Grandma Polo’d back. She’s 102, and she went “full Grandma” on me with words of love and support. Out of hundreds of grandkids, I was the one who got that Polo. I won. I’ll keep that for life. Everyone claims they are the “favorite,” but have they received a live Polo?

Transplanted for a year in a foreign country is a big change, and it can feel lonely compared to my thriving relationships in the USA. I’m honestly counting the days until I can once again share laughs in-person with all of the people who mean the most to me. Until then, Marco Polo has helped keep me in the fold.