January 30, 2012
In the next few days I will begin my journey back to Afghanistan for the third time. This is my first time deploying as part of a brigade-sized unit. A brigade from my home state of Ohio, the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), is in the process of deploying to northern Afghanistan after training for several months at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. How I came to be with them, to volunteer again, is a longer story. The train-up period seemed to drag on forever, with a certain degree of fatigue having set in before the actual deployment begins.
My uniforms, weapon and equipment surround me here in my billet. Some of my gear is already in Afghanistan waiting for me. I and the rest of my gear will be loaded onto a charter aircraft soon for the long, miserable flight across the world. Once again I will stand on the soil of Kyrgyzstan, then I will once again trod the soil of Afghanistan. I don’t anticipate a lot of excitement on this tour, but along with the familiarity of working with Afghans and our NATO allies will come new experiences. I am filled with a feeling that is similar to the anticipation of jumping into a cold pool having already experienced that same shock only recently; except this is more intense. It’s not really dread, but it’s similar. I know that this is going to last a while, that I will be uncomfortable, that I will miss my family and friends. I know that I will develop close relationships, but they are not that close at this point. I know that I will live in conditions that are similar to those of inmates at an Arizona county jail, and that it will suck.
Back through the doorway into Afghanistan (photo courtesy Rebecca Zimmerman)
Our mission in Afghanistan is a huge question in my mind. I came back from my second tour a little more than a year ago. At that point I was encouraged, but President Obama’s timetable for withdrawal had not had any significant effect. Now it seems to have had an effect, and the mood of the American people regarding our mission and purpose there feels as if it is and has been in decline. That does affect us. It affects me. But we have a job to do in a potentially dangerous place. The sense of wonder and excitement that I had on my first tour is not there. I know a lot more what to expect. This tour will be nine months long, and I’ve already spent three times that long in Afghanistan. This will be my first experience in the north, after having spent lots of time in the east and the south/southwest of the country. Once again, I will work as an advisor to the Afghans, this time with the Afghan Border police.
So I embark on this deployment with mixed feelings. My sense of determination is still there, but it is deeper and less intense-feeling. I wonder sometimes if I am not steeling myself for an outcome that is less than what I had hoped for in 2007, perhaps much worse. As it was before I headed out on my second tour, I feel a sense of anxiety about the “suck factor” of being away from my kids, of being out of the loop with the reality of life in the States, of living in spartan conditions and working daily in a third world country. There is very little, if any, sense of anticipation or excitement.
This is my starting point.
At the end of all this, I will be able to look back at what I have written here and see the ups and downs, the key events of my experience on my third tour. My intent is for this blog to be about the experience, not about my analysis of the bigger picture. That I will save for AfghanQuest. Here I will tell the stories of the long, strange trip that will be my third tour (and my last in this uniform).
During and between his previous deployments Old Blue has contributed over 40 posts to The Sandbox, including PICTURE AND MOVIE TIME, I WASN'T PREPARED, CHAI, THROUGH THE J-BAD PASS, HERO, and DECEPTIVELY SATISFYING.