Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fearless and Afraid

Mail Collection Ending. That's the subject of an email I recently received.
My tour of duty in Afghanistan is coming to an end.  I have a bag laying on my bunk which I am pre-packing; not packing mind you...merely pre-packing. This is the ritual that allow a Soldier to place a year's worth of clothing into a gym bag. This same skill allows me accommodate my wife's habit of, say, packing a parka for a trip to Florida in July...just in case.

One might think that coming home is a joyful thought...and it certainly is, but I'm finding that it carries with it some apprehension. It's been a year. A year ago, no one was worried about Ebola, the Royals had been done playing for a month, ISIS didn't control anything and I had just received a phone call asking if I'd heard that I might be deploying. A lot has happened. I sold a house, I bought a house, I moved my parents in to part of the house and my family in to the rest. I left for Afghanistan. My favorite dog died. My washer died. The garbage disposal died. The furnace died. My car died. My wife's car died. My wife got a new (to her) car. My wife got another dog. She bought some new furniture. Some of my professional colleagues won awards, I have professional colleagues I haven't met. Someone else is in my office. My BBQ grill was destroyed in a storm. My sister had a baby. My son started running Cross Country (if you know me, any family member running on purpose is a life event). My lawnmower died. My teenagers started driving. The Walking Dead started a new season and the Royals were 90ft and a base hit from extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series. Nearly all of that happened in my absence.  My wife handled it all with grace, and likely a few choice words about my career choices.
I've changed a little too. I wasn't in a combat role here, so its not like I have the "1,000 yard stare" and nightmares...but I think being part of a "war" changes you regardless. I've been as near as I'd like to be to rocket impacts. I've stood at attention on the ramp of an aircraft 7 times, rendering honors to 12 fallen Soldiers. My entire existence has been confined to a half square mile for a year. I've lost 35lbs....I mean seriously....I've lost a kindergartner over here. I've celebrated with Australians, mourned with Romanians and joked with Bosnians. I've advised Generals and counseled Privates. I've discussed the legal issues and ethics of multi-million dollar contracts and $10 unit "coins". I've had someone else doing my laundry for a year and they haven't even lost a sock. That one may haunt me for awhile.

As I pack up, I have to wonder: What now? What next?

What does coming home look like? What am I going to eat first? When do I go back to work? How long before my wife and I find "normal" again? When are my taxes due again? What kinds of cases might I come back to? Am I going to remember everything? Am I going to gain all that weight back (Heaven forbid!)? Who is going to make me breakfast? Do I have to find a way to buy another car? How will I do that? What else is out there? Do I have any options? Do I want any? How soon before I yell at my kids? Will it feel like I was never gone? Am I going to remember those 12 guys who didn't come home? Is what I'm doing going to honor their sacrifice? Wait...I lost I going to have to spend money on clothes? Does it matter that I was gone, that I was here or that I'm back? How soon before I lose my own socks in the laundry?

I don't know.

Lots of folks have done this. I've done nothing as remarkable. Most of my military friends have done this more than once. I suspect that most, if not all of them, have had similar thoughts as they returned. I'm telling myself that it comes with the territory, and eventually, I'll look up and realize I've been home for longer than I was gone.
Perhaps the end of a deployment is much the same as the beginning, with every Soldier balancing being fearless and afraid.  I'm ready for home.  See you soon!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Harry S. Truman and Torque Converters. 

A Love Story.

I oppose sensitive, romantic, emotional posts via Social Media.  Primarily because I’m uncomfortable being sensitive, romantic or emotional.  I am, however, creating an exception for Anniversaries occurring while serving in Afghanistan.  Rather than you reading a note to her, I’ll have her read a note to you…and I’ll put it out here a couple days early so she knows I didn’t forget and do it quick.

20 years ago my roommate went out with a girl from church.  He’d mentioned her a few times.  I had no idea who he was talking about.  They had a “sports date”, i.e. running, tennis, volleyball etc.  Clearly NOT the girl for me.  He came home and reported that “We’re going to be great friends, but nothing really romantic.  I think YOU would like her though.”  Nope.  I’m headed for the Army, where, after being the first attorney to win the Medal of Honor, I will enter private practice, win millions in verdicts, attract the attention of Sandra Bullock and eventually run for the Presidency.  “Yeah, well, I think you’d like her” he said.  Pffft.

Summer came.  There was a canoe trip.  My roommate was adept at keeping our canoe near the pretty girls.  Don’t ask me how, but Harry S. Truman came up.  Probably because I am a total nerd.  I thought to stump everyone by asking “What does the S. in ‘Harry S. Truman’ stand for?”  “It doesn’t stand for anything” said this girl, “It’s just an initial.”  I was smitten.  What could a date or two hurt?  Knowing only that she worked at K.U. Medical center, I promptly spoke to 462 different operators, nurses, doctors, secretaries and administrators before I found her and asked her out.  We went to the Truman Library.  I know.  How could she NOT be locked in after that? 

She is now the woman I love; the summer romance that I forgot to break off.  I love that she will run screaming through a field while shadow fighting like Bruce Lee if a June bug touches her hair.  I love that the first sign of pregnancy was never a test, but rather her murdering clich├ęs:  “Whoa! That guy is taking his side out of the half of the road middle.”  I love that she speaks the English language faster than anyone I’ve ever met.  I love that the parents of her students love her so much they go out of their way to keep in touch with her.  I love that her students HAVE to run up and say hi and get a hug when they see her in a store.  I love that I can get a phone call and tell her that in two months we’re going to sell a house, move, build an apartment for my parents and then I’m going to leave her with 4 kids, 2 dogs, a lizard and her in-laws for a year while I go to war…and she says: “We’ll be good.”  Well, she also said: AREYOUFREAKINGKIDDINGMECAN’TYOURETIREANDGETAREALLAWJOBTHATPAYSMONEYSOYOUCAN NOTHAVETOLEAVEMEANDGODOTHIS (breath) THISSUCKSDON’TYOUDIEANDLEAVEMEWITHFOURKIDS!
She did eventually say, “we’ll be good”.  I love that she still looks good when cleaning up the mess du jour…whether kid barf, puppy pee, muddy footprints or just sniffing out the source of the boy-stink permeating the house. I love that she tolerates my ability to turn anything in to innuendo (oh yeah…I’ll replace the torque converter!).  I love that we can communicate entire paragraphs and a punch line with a look.  I love that I can amuse her.  I love that she knew the S in Truman’s name didn’t stand for anything.

Though she could have done far better,  I thank God daily for her poor judgment and 19 years of tolerance.  I’ll be home soon.  I’m gonna get after replacing that torque converter.

Happy Anniversary!