What just happened?
The passing of the past two weeks apart from uniforms, formations and generally most other reminders that I am in the military, has made me begin to come to terms with the fact that I was away from home for a year.
A year. Wow. Was it that long? Not that it was all some grand ol’ time that passed without me noticing, but now that it’s done, I remember it more like a fuzzy memory–a time at the bar not having fun that I’d rather forget.
But it is important to try to wrap your mind around things like that. There it was, 10 to 12 hours a day–sometimes more, for seven days a week, all year long. It was one long Monday, one never ending constant drain on the psyche. Like Purgatory.
A year! I hear about all that went on over here and I can’t put the same measure of accomplishment to the time in Iraq. Maybe we were just focused on our small snapshot of the war and not privy to larger facets of the whole expanse of the conflict. Maybe we just didn’t care.
Now I’m back and everyone’s a year older, a year farther down the path. A year? Wow.
Would I do it again? Not willingly, but that’s hardly a consideration in the whole warmongering gig. We’re all volunteers, “Nobody put a gun to your head to sign up” is the saying we hear on a weekly basis when we start to grumble about preparing for the field or a million other frustrating aspects of our time “in”. And they’re right, there’s no escaping that memorable moment when each of us sat at a desk and signed over our souls and physical likeness to the United States government.
But a year just went by? Like that? Yikes. “How are you doing?” and “How are things over there?” are questions I get almost every day.
I don’t know. I don’t know how I’m doing, really. Good. Can’t complain. Have all 10 fingers and toes. I throw those out there to prod the conversation.
How are things? It wasn’t a picnic. I usually shrug off that one. It’s a question that has several layers to understand its context and when you finally explore several of those, there’s still really not one answer. You might as well ask “How are things on planet earth?”. It’s complicated.
When I have more than just a few seconds, I do try to explain some things. It’s definitely MY perspective, not to be confused with THE perspective. As a journalist, I had the privilege of visiting all manner of groups of troops–mechanics, aviators, drivers, clerks; in addition to the myriad of situational briefings and officer-led meetings. Talking to everyone from colonels to privates let me see a few things.
Some sat in stasis, having never left the states, living each day gripping pictures of loved ones, counting the minutes until they could call home and put the war on hold. As the months progressed, this chosen drug began to lose its potency, and they started to look almost haggard in between calls and emails–not in any sort of crystal meth sense, but in the jitteriness and irritability of a junkie without his fix. Instead of shakes and cold sweats you’d get sighs and “Man, X more months…”.
Some went out to the smoking area every hour or so and bitch about why we were there. Yes, soldiers wonder why we’re asked to die too, weird huh? We’re everyday people enticed to enlist for self-serving reasons like college money, thrown into a situation of incredible self-sacrifice…yes, that; but we do think of larger things than ourselves sometimes. We never did figure anything out though.
Some didn’t say a damn thing. You’d come to find out they were banging a young specialist after shifts. Guess that was their outlet. You’d hope the wives weren’t too pissed.
Some were overly funny, crass, or cynical–like the war was some frat party that needed a pickup after everyone started falling asleep. They were good to have around, at least for while; but the jokes always wore thin after a few months, and there wasn’t any beer to hype up the laughs.
Others did other stuff, by the time we got back, we were all shocked to see life hadn’t waited for us. Wives had left, friends had moved, what had happened?
I’ll be good later and I’ll have some good laughs, but for now I’m just damned confused at how to reconnect. That’s cool, though. I’d rather soak in the whole experience rather than pop a couple of pills to feel super great. Maybe the year away was just tilling the soil and now it’s time to finally plant something.