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 35lbs...am 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!