WHAT I MISS THE MOST |
July 25, 2007
WHAT I MISS THE MOST
Name: CAPT Benjamin Tupper
Posting date: 7/25/07
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Syracuse, New York
I spent the last year as an American Soldier embedded within the Afghanistan National Army. The time I spent away from home was both rewarding and damaging. Like the Afghan mountains we lived and fought in, my year there had emotional high peaks and valley lows. I experienced the loss of close friends, both American and Afghan. I inflicted my personal share of destruction on my enemies, and managed to avoid my own violent demise through chance, skill, and dumb luck.
And now I'm home. The adrenaline rush and combat euphoria are slowly being smothered by a wet blanket of safe mundane civility. This feeling of suffocation has made my return to safety and comfort ironically uneasy. It's probably counterintuitive, but now that I'm home, what I miss the most is being back there, among my brothers in arms, facing those that wished to kill me.
This seemingly unhealthy longing for the danger and thrill of combat would bother me more if I were experiencing it alone. But I've got plenty of company in this withdrawal drama. Many of the men I fought side by side with in Afghanistan are experiencing the same difficulty in kicking their adrenaline habit. A quick roll call can shed some light on how it's impacting reintegration into our American lives.
Right before I left Afghanistan, I received an email from a close friend who had left the country two months before me. It simply said, "I would trade everything I have to be back over there." This fine soldier has more recently taken to alcohol binges and high risk late-night activities. Just last week I received an urgent phone call from him. His voice was tweaking with excitement. He had just totalled his car in a high speed drag racing accident. Listening to him talk on the phone was like listening to him talk on the TACSAT radio, calling in enemy contact. Instead of lecturing him on his irresponsible drag racing, I was feeding off his buzz, trying to capture a long-distance high.
Another close comrade of mine leaves me voicemails using our Afghan radio call signs instead of our real names. His messages tell of fist fights with his VA counselor, being kicked out of his father's house, and weekend-long alcohol-induced blackouts.
Within days of my return home, the front page of my local newspaper reported on a recently returned Afghan Vet who was arrested after a violent alcohol-induced spree. His impressive and unprovoked rampage involved extensive property damage. At its climactic peak, he climbed to the rooftop of a building and rained cement blocks onto parked cars below. Those around me joked at how this guy must have been crazy. Privately, I gave him extra points for creativity in addressing his need to recapture the thrill of combat.
And then there is my story. I returned home to a comfortable and privileged life, only to turn it upside down in many respects and start over. I needed to do this because a return to the predictable comforts would have driven me to dangerous and high-risk acts that would have hurt those closest to me, as well as myself. I had seen this demon in me when I came home on leave eight months ago. I tried to pretend I hadn't been changed, and the result was that I felt like an animal in the cage of my pre-war life. I had outgrown that cage.
The advice given by mental health professionals who deal with Veterans like me, is to accept the fact that we will never feel or find the euphoric heights of combat in a healthy manner here at home. We need to accept the pleasures, albeit mundane, that our daily lives have to offer. As sound as this advice may be to those who haven't been downrange, for me it's still a hard reality to accept. Giving up the need for this rush of action is like abandoning a close friend on the battlefield.
And any soldier will tell you, leaving behind a fallen comrade is something we just don't want to do.