*Retold with permission
As I was growing up, I sort of felt like I was missing out. I don’t mean to suggest that I had a sheltered childhood or I was deprived, because I wasn’t. I had great parents, great brothers and sisters, and good friends, too. Everything I needed, I had, and I even had some of the things I wanted. I guess home felt small. It seemed boring, mundane, and all people worried about was their own miniscule facet of reality. The world carried on without them. Even at a young age I knew there was a lot out there; and I wanted to see all of it. But now, though, after years living around the country, years in the military, and years overseas, home is all I really want.
I’ve decided the world is a big place now, and there’s no way in hell I can see all of it. Besides, what’s the point? Just to say I’ve seen it? That seems sort of self-indulged. There are better things I could do with my time. Each culture and area has its little appeal, and it’s home to somebody, but there’s only one home to me. That’s what I miss out here.
I miss being with my family and catching up on what they’re doing. I’ve spent so much time away from home that I’ve missed first words and first steps, graduations and birthdays, Christmases…everything. I love my family and I love my friends, too, but there are gaps now in our relationships. Gaps when I was gone and something important happened in their lives when I wasn’t there to enjoy with them. They’ve told me about it all in phone calls, emails and letters, but it’s not the same to me. I didn’t SEE it, so it doesn’t carry the gravity that it rightfully should.
When you’re at home, I think it’s easy to get bored. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone to visit, said hello to family briefly, then felt a wave of boredom wash over me. To some extent, military life becomes normal. Everything needs to be done yesterday. Everything is fast-paced and important. You’re constantly in a state of panic, or at least in a rush. Home is different. It’s slow.
But at the same time, this isn’t normal, not at all. Getting shot at isn’t normal. Living in a tent isn’t normal – at least not for modern Americans. Living out of a green bag isn’t normal. Disavowing all responsibilities and relationships in pursuit of a mission, while noble, isn’t something that’s meant to be sustained over a lifetime. I think that the people who do that, the guys who spend their entire lives in the military: they’re missing out. Yes, they did something good and selfless for their country, but what about their families? What about a normal life?
Sometimes I think that you can either be married to the military and to the mission, OR you can be married to a wife and family. It’s hard to do both. One or the other will suffer. Besides, is it really fair to expect my wife to raise a family alone? I don’t think so. My dream is to own a house, have a family, and grow old with my wife. If I keep doing this, it’s not going to happen. There’s no way I can even meet somebody. I’m never home for long enough.
Do I regret getting into the military? Not at all. I think it’s been one of the most important and meaningful things I’ve done with my life. Yet I also think it’s going to be something that I will do, remember fondly, and then pursue other things. If having a wife, family, and a house wasn’t normal, why would people consider it the American dream?
It’s easy to fall in love with combat operations. It really is. I don’t mean the actual combat part. That never lasts long, anyway. I mean being deployed. Everything is taken care of for you here. Somebody cooks you every meal. Somebody tells you when to get up and when to get on the trucks and run a mission. You really don’t have anything to worry about. You know what you’re doing is good, but I think there are other good things, too, like home.
If we were a nation of warriors, what would we be fighting for? The idea is to fight, win, and go home. Not fight forever. People sometimes make the mistake of aggrandizing the warrior above the victory. But victory is what lets us all come home. We’re supposed to fight to win, not fight because we enjoy the conflict.
Part of the initial appeal of the military, and specifically a combat zone, is that I wanted to see what I was made of. I wanted to know if I could do it. It’s wasn’t a fascination with combat, per se, but more of a desire to test myself. But that’s done now. I’ve been tested, and I came through it okay. It doesn’t make me a man or anything, but I’m still pleased to know that when things get chaotic, I can still think straight. What makes me a man isn’t this; it’s how I care about people.
Some days I love this, but then I catch myself and remember that this isn’t normal. In fact, it’s very abnormal. This is a temporary suspension of reality. If it was so great people would be flocking to do it, and they’re not. It’s something you do, and then you move on.
Other days I absolutely hate it out here. It’s not that I don’t believe in the mission, because I do. It’s not like I regret joining, because I don’t. What I don’t like, however, is what this has required me put aside – a real life. I have some time left before my contract is up, but I imagine I’m going to get out and go to school. Hopefully I’ll meet my future wife along the way, too. I know it doesn’t sound like much of a plan, but I have time to think about it. Besides, thinking about it too much out here is going to distract me. I’ll start staring at all the Air Force girls or something, which isn’t going to accomplish anything. They think we’re all disgusting grunts, anyway. And we probably are.
Years from now, I hope to tell my kids stories about Iraq. I want to show them pictures and tell them about the friends I’ve lost. I want them to understand that it’s a good thing to do, but it’s not something you do forever. You do it, then come home to your family. If I keep at this forever, I’ll never have kids to tell this story to. Maybe I will if the war ends and we go back to the states, but I don’t think that’s going happen any time soon. We’ll be out here for a long time, or somewhere else.
I’ve always heard people say that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, and they’re right. Home was like that. So, years after thinking home was small, now I think this out here is small. Home is what seems appealing right now. I’ve had enough of war.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved