No, I'm not heading back to Afghanistan, at least not yet.
That's the saddle I'd like to be back in, but fate has not been kind to me. I'm still stuck here at Fort Lewis, WA. Not a bad place to be stuck, but it's not Afghanistan.
I know it's been a long time since I posted, but I've been dealing with bouts of depression since my return and it's hard to post when everything looks black. I've been doing some reading and it seems that depression is not uncommon among veterans. I know that may not surprise some of you, and I've heard the same thing many times, but I was surprised when it happened to me. I've got everything in the world going for me; I'm not supposed to get depressed. But here I am.
Fortunately, there is help, from the VA and lots of other places. For all the bad press the VA gets, they actually have a great website and lots of great programs for returning veterans. Check out http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/
When I returned from Afghanistan I decided to keep blogging to add one more voice to the blogosphere that told the real story about Soldiers; how they feel about the war, the country and life in general. I'd still like to do that, even if my focus shifts to include returning war veterans and their struggles to reintegrate and "get on with life". That's what I've been told to do many times in the past 9 months, but I've found it hard to do.
I often think about the final scene in Rambo, First Blood. The scene I'm thinking of is when Rambo is approached by COL Trautman in the sheriff's office, after shooting the sheriff and nearly destroying the town. He gives this long speech about how much he misses his friends from Vietnam and how hard it is to fit back in to "normal" society after all he has seen and done in the war. I always thought this scene was overly dramatic and played heavily on the stereotype of the "mentally unstable Vietnam veteran". But now I don't feel that way about this scene anymore.
If you don't remember the scene, I'm sure you can find it at www.youtube.com
I've never seen heavy combat and never killed anyone, but I've seen the cost of war up close, the cost in lives and property. And I know lots of Soldiers who struggle to deal with what they've seen and experienced while deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Everyone who deploys, whether it's for 90 days or 15 months, experiences disruptions in their family life and experiences the stress of combat. Some of them come home with PTSD, and some of them come home just missing the excitement and camaradarie of the deployment. It can be even harder on our Reserve and National Guard Soldiers who go from civilian life to combat, then back to civilian life all within a relatively short time period. And while Active Duty Soldiers are surrounded by the military, and other Soldiers who share and understand their deployment experiences, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers are often surrounded by well meaning friends, family and coworkers who do not understand these experiences.
I can't tell you how many times people have said "You must be glad to be home", and then wondered why I paused, considering my response. It's tough to explain that, while I am glad to be home with my wife and children and my friends, I miss the sense of meaning and purpose that you find in combat. It's tough to explain how much you miss a place where you have little free time or privacy, where you are in constant danger. But many of us do miss it.
I once flew with a friend, a Vietnam veteran helicopter pilot, who told me he never got over the thrill of flying in combat. He told me this in 2000, over 30 years after his service in Vietnam before 9-11, before I deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and I did not understand his comment. Now, after two deployments, I understand it very well.
I did not intend for this to be a pity party for me, but it's easier for me to talk about these issues in terms of my first hand experiences, not what I've heard or read but what I know.
And there are blessings that come from being back here at home. Soon after I redeployed I was able to work with an Iraqi family I met during my deployment to Iraq in 2003/2004. They were in the process of immigrating to the US under a program established to allow Iraqi and Afghani interpreters who worked for us in those countries to immigrate to the US. My friends were stuck in Canada and frustrated with the INS bureaucracy. I was able to work with them and the US consulate in Montreal and the Department of Homeland Security and now they are living in San Antonio, Texas. My friends and family in Texas have helped them get settled and they are starting a new life in a new country. I'm glad I could be part of that. It's something I could not have done from Afghanistan, so I guess I can be useful to someone, even here in the US.
If your interested you should check out this website: http://www.cponefoundation.org/
I'll have to add some pictures in my next blog. I know blogs are much better with pictures. That's another hard thing about blogging here in the US, there are just no interesting pictures to post! But I'll get some pictures of my Iraqi friends or stryker vehicles here at Fort Lewis to add some color to my blog.
And I've got to decide what to do with my blog. I can't keep posting randomly, I need to post regularly or not at all. I'll get my act together and post more regularly.
One of my favorite movies is Holiday Inn, a 1942 movie starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.
If you've never seen it you should pick up a copy at your local video store, in the classics section. I'm thinking about using that idea for my blog, which would at least keep me on track for blogging once a month or so.
Thank you for reading this blog and thank you for supporting our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines.