The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

REDEPLOYMENT AND TRANSITION |

March 27, 2011

Name: Major Dan
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: AfghaniDan

Bird-spotting: wondering which plane would take me home.


REDEPLOYMENT.  That's the odd name our military uses these days for returning from deployment.  So despite whatever logical tendency you may have to assume that it would mean "deploying again" or "returning to deployment", now you know it means coming back from one. That's what I've now done, or am still doing: redeploying.

Hurry-up-and-wait in Kuwait.
Mural at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan

It's an abrupt change, being stateside again after most of a year away. Return from deployment tests us all in different ways. For those with their own families, there is the "reintegration" of that. For us without, there are still numerous challenges. Everyone you know is at a different point in their respective lives now. You've changed and they've changed, and as much as you may strive to find an immediate "normal," there is none.

 Thrilled to see some immediate family at BWI!

It has rained in Jacksonville, NC, for three days straight, and at some point during most of the others as well. It's a drastic change from experiencing rain maybe three days in all of eight months, and only briefly at that.

The New River, North Carolina, in rain.

I check my hip constantly for my weapon. We all do. It's weird how many times you have to process the realization that it's not there -- you turned it in, dude.

Last twilight in Kuwait before the return trip.

I'm incredibly anxious, to what's probably an unhealthy extent, about what's next. My pattern for a few years now has been one of chucking aside the uniform for awhile, only to grow restless and return to the one known commodity: that of going to fill an open job somewhere, one that ostensibly requires my skill sets and experience. I've been offered a few already, and haven't even finished the mandatory outprocessing from this one. Wish me luck as I seek to buck that trend for once.

Camp Swampy living up to its nickname this week...

Some seem to anchor themselves quite easily to what's consistent or stable in their lives. Some might be free of past associations, but set about going after their goals in a straightforward manner. And some return to their struggles. I belong to that category -- of those who turn inward and don't find clear goals, who overthink just about everything, who find themselves dwelling too often on things out of our control, and consequently, who wonder just where we are supposed to fit in.

Various members of family AfghaniDan rock their scarves.

I hope I can purely enjoy life for awhile, and shake off this philosopher's lament. It comes saddled with too much attachment, too much fantasy, and often, too much heartbreak. Although I yearned every single day for all that I couldn't enjoy while deployed, there is a sudden unhappiness in being back and realizing that some things are not as you remembered, or would like them to be. I think every day about the latest struggles my team is facing, and about those whose deployment is infinitely more dangerous than mine ever was. And I have enough difficulty taking my mind off all the possible tasks to tackle without constantly being asked what I'm doing next. I know most people mean well, but please -- cut a recent veteran a break!

A little snapshot of my current neighborhood.
 My surroundings should soon be the Rocky Mountains again.

So what's the current situation for your nomadic narrator? A full-time attempt at "transition" and "adjustment" -- though those words don't mean much at all when it was a very transient, unsettled situation you left in the first place. Honestly, I thought I'd be a hell of a lot happier in at least my first few weeks. There have been some very good times -- some standout moments that have welcomed me back across the first month stateside, from Virginia to NC to Nevada to Coloradoh -- but no vacation yet from the psychological burden of doing something important with myself, with this experience. And now?

You can take the "Dan" out of Afghanistan...

...but still the shadows will give chase. 

Now the hard work begins. For whatever reason, it is far more daunting to me to establish some sort of 'normal' life than it is to log 18-hour days for eight months straight in Afghanistan, working my tail off to try and build a government ministry and new army's capacity. That is my next thing, I think, to create stability where I've known none. And to ignore the teasing temptation to simply be irresponsible for awhile, which works counter to that. In the frequent, more depressed moments, I see myself as a homeless, jobless, car-less, even ski-less (in Colorado!) single veteran who still somehow is saddled with too much accumulated stuff. It's as if the last ten months were an odd dream, and I'm back trying to figure out life in the place to which I up and moved just a few months before that.

Hike up Mount Sanitas, and Boulder drops far below.

My hiking partner and buddy's best friend, Bodie

I didn't plan on a segue from my Afghan chronicles to the personal lamentation of a restless, anxiety-hounded Nowhere Man who is searching for the motivation to do even some of the most basic things. But it seems that I'm doing it anyway. Bear with me. I still plan to post "lost chapters" of this deployment (hopefully in time to keep the attention of some loyal readers, anyway). And your honest feedback is always welcome.

Comments

A long time ago, a friend told me during a particularly ungrounded time of my life, "When you can't think yourself out of a way of acting, sometimes you can act yourself out of a way of thinking." Thoreau said, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." Keep going for those hikes with Bodie. Be well, don't let yourself worry (too much), breathe in, breathe out, keep writing, and I have a feeling your road will become clear. I'll be pulling for you.

Oh, yeah, and one more thing: Welcome Home, Major! And Hello, Dan!

Use the "skill sets" that the military has taught you. Get on overview of the lay of the land in your new surroundings. Cover your flanks. Make a plan of attack and execute.
Oh yeah, welcome home. If this is to be your new normal, make it your normal. You probably already know the "ghosts" that are going to accompany you on this quest.

I check my hip constantly for my weapon. We all do. It's weird how many times you have to process the realization that it's not there -- you turned it in, dude.

You could put it back on in most civilized states where adults live, and knowing that you probably will never need it, the weight nor the responsibility (which was why you kept checking for it to start with) will bring smiles to your day.

It all changes, if you had been in the US you would have had it in small doses, easy to adjust to. Could think of this as an opportunity to help establish a functioning government in a land that no longer speaks a language or has a culture you are bonded with. The dog is along as translator and functioning friend, you have it good.

And do remember, get all the important things done today - you understand about tomorrow, it never arrives.

Hey - giving a shout out from Denver. There will be a few of us helping out the food bank of the rockies on Friday, April 15th for The Mission Continues, themissioncontinues.org. Let me know if you want to help. Might be useful as a transition tool.

Welcome home, fresh powder in the mountains as of today. And you've been practicing for this transition for years, you just didn't know it, how much marching have you done? Just gotta keep putting one foot in front of the other.

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