WHAT HAVE I DONE? |
August 08, 2011
Name: C.J. Grisham
Returned from: Iraq
Deployed to: Afghanistan
Milblog: A Soldier's Perspective
Combat duty is a natural part of today’s Army. For nearly ten years, our country has been sending its sons, daughter, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, moms and dads to hot spots like Iraq and Afghanistan (and Libya?). I deployed initially in 2002 to serve as part of what we hoped would be a convincing reason for Saddam to step down and free his country without violence. Due to an injury sustained during an artillery strike outside As Samawah, I haven’t been back into combat physically since late 2003.
In all honestly, I could have stayed home and remained safe until I retired. I could have easily never seen another day in a combat zone due to that injury. While preparing for this deployment to Afghanistan, I was given a medically non-deployable status during Soldier Readiness Processing (SRP).
I feel like I’ve sat on the sidelines too long, though I couldn’t really help it. After returning from Iraq, I was sent to Operations Group at the National Training Center (NTC) as a Senior Trainer for Civilians on the Battlefield and stood up the Counter-IED Task Force. For the most part, this was a non-deployable position and I had fought hard to stay with the 3rd ID who was deploying again in 2004, to no avail. At the time, the IED play at the NTC was nothing more than a pop and someone telling you that you had just hit an IED. By the time I left, we had created more realistic Behicle-Borne IEDs (VBIEDs), IEDs, and the signatures and sounds that usually accompany them. Back in 2006, I created a video of just some of that training:
Note: This video was cleared through Army Public Affairs and Operations Group leadership back in 2006 prior to being published.
After NTC, I was assigned to a very rewarding unit on the east coast. I had a few opportunities to deploy to a Joint Interrogation Facility in Iraq in 2007, but then John McCain succeeded in redefining the definition of “acceptable” interrogation training. Because I had gotten my training through a DOD contracted company (which taught the exact same principles of interrogation that the Army did) and not through an actual Army school, I was suddenly pulled off my deployment because I was no longer “qualified.” Thanks, Senator McCain for such a remarkably stupid overreaction to media ignorance!
I left this job to take a 1SG slot in Alabama. The unit I was in had too few of them and this was a route that I wanted/needed to go. Unfortunately, this job, while very important, would also be one from which I wouldn’t deploy. Our mission was a domestic one. Another two years had gone by.
I began to wonder if there was a reason -- beyond the physical -- that I wasn’t deploying. My wife and I discussed this and I felt strongly that if I was meant to deploy, I would. But I was at least still going to position myself for the best opportunity to do my part.
People often ask me why I want to go back. It’s a valid question. Why would anyone want to put themselves in harm’s way? Even better, why would anyone want to put their families through that?
Members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul patrol in Qalat City, Afghanistan, Aug. 3, 2011. PRT Zabul is comprised of Air Force, Army, Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineer personnel who work with the government of Afghanistan to improve governance, stability and development throughout Zabul province. Photo by Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras.
The answer to the first question is easy: I’m a Soldier. I want to do my part. I tire of watching my friends and fellow Soldiers go in and out of danger 3, 4, 5 times while I’m sitting on my one deployment. I didn’t join the Army to interrogate a pencil sharpener or Powerpoint document. I joined to defend my country ! I joined to become a better person. It’s cheesy, but I really joined for patriotic reasons. I was earning a nice $50-100 per hour as a mobile DJ in Florida. But, it wasn’t rewarding to me. Something was still missing. I can’t sit back and watch everyone else sacrifice so much.
The second question isn’t so hard to answer. Of course, I don’t want to put my family through this. I know that every day for the next year they will worry about me. If there is any change in our communication schedule due to a blackout, missions, or just heavy workload, they will worry more. Why hasn’t he emailed like normal? Why didn’t he text or chat? And for the next few days, they will cringe at every knock on the door and wonder who’s in that car coming down the road.
My kids will have to navigate life for a year without their father. To adults, a year might not be a big deal. We’re in our comfort zone and most days are Groundhog Day. A year can go by with no major changes or missing much. But to kids, that year is a long time. To my oldest daughter, that’s a year where she’ll be learning to drive, starting to date, and wondering what to do with her life in the future. She’ll miss that fatherly influence (whether or not she admits it) in determining whether or not she should bring that boy home or accept him as a boyfriend. And she’ll turn 16. To my son, it’s his last year before moving into high school. He’s maturing and puberty is hitting full force. There are “man questions” to be asked and answered. And to my youngest daughter, she’s losing her daddy for a year. She’ll be getting her ID card for the first time, opening her savings account, and turning 10.
Why would anyone volunteer to do that?! I still don’t have an answer. I had the perfect opportunity to say I had done what I could and the Army wouldn’t let me deploy. I could have just stayed back here and had a fairly easy year with little responsibility, and been home to see my family every night. I wouldn’t have missed all those things in their lives. I could have accepted the SRP finding that I was medically non-deployable. I could have accepted the CENTCOM waiver request to deploy anyway that was denied. I could have said, “I tried.” Instead, I was determined to be with my troops and help my unit with its mission. I was determined to “do my part.”
I don’t want glory, honor, or any other reward. I don’t even care if I never leave the wire as long as I’m there to support those that do! I recognize that Master Sergeants don’t get to kick down doors anymore. We don’t get to negotiate the streets, collect vital information, or really do much of what we were trained to do years ago. There will never be a Fallujah 2003 mission for me again. That’s for the young guys. It’s their turn. But I can make sure that those guys are taken care of, have every possible tool at their disposal to accomplish that important mission, and stand as a guide and mentor for them.
Today, my family left for a vacation they’ve put off numerous times because my deployment date kept getting pushed back. They couldn’t wait any longer, because school is starting soon. This time, they had to leave before I did. By the time they get back, I’ll be in Afghanistan. While those men and women are family, they probably would have been fine without me. They probably wouldn’t have shed a tear not being able to see me for a year. Instead, there was a tearful goodbye to the kids and Emily as we gave each other our last hugs and kisses for a year. For the first time, my kids saw their dad cry. It was a gotcha moment as Chris called me out for all the times I told him I had no tear ducts when he asked if I ever cry (only Emily has ever seen me cry). What have I done? Why did I fight so hard to do something there is a possibility I wouldn’t return from? How could I cause all these tears?
I am blessed with a strong family that understands the sacrifices our troops make on a daily basis. We have a strong faith in each other and in God. If the worst happens, we know that we will still see each other again. It doesn’t make that potential loss any easier to accept, but it’s one of the ways we get through. I have great kids who step up when they have to and a loving and intelligent wife who is able to care for and explain things to them. In some ways, I think this year will be easier on them. One less parent to get upset about fighting, cleaning rooms, bedtime, etc. One less husband to clean up after and have steal the body pillow in the middle of the night.
What have I done? I hope that what I’ve done is left behind enough of myself that my kids choose the right in my absence. I hope I have left behind a little voice in their heads about what right looks like. I hope I have left behind enough love and devotion to last the entire year. The other day I taught Chris how to change the oil in the van. I hope I have left behind enough of those little life lessons to sustain them individually and collectively as a family. But that doesn’t make leaving any easier. On any of us.