In about three weeks time, I will be touching down somewhere in a United States airport. As the day of my departure grows closer, I struggle to maintain interest in what I’m doing here, in my mission, in genuine concern for the troops, and concern for the war as a whole. For lack of a better way to put it, my head may no longer be in game. I’m elsewhere already. The overriding desire to get the hell out of here and go home has drowned out all my other interests. Every day, I schedule a few more things to do when I return.
First, I’ll turn on my cellphone. There are a number of people I have promised to alert when I’m safely stateside, and they are most easily contacted via phone. Additionally, talking on the phone helps keep me awake while I drive, and I plan to do a lot of it. There’s a great deal of catching up to do. Then there are the plans.
Initially, my time will be spent with my family. I’m sure I’ll see them all in one place at some point, but I still intend to sit down with each of them, see how they’re doing, catch up on their goings on over the past four months, and generally return to a more proactive involvement in their lives. I get along with all of them, so this is probably the one thing I’ve missed the most out here.
Following this, there are a few local friends who I need to see. There is the former boss and now mentor and friend I need to visit. He’s been busy this summer, so I know little about the details of his life at the moment. I’m hoping for good news, but more realistically I expect a mixed bag. Such is reality. For him and most everybody else, there are always difficulties.
In my absence I also missed a wedding, so I’m eager to congratulate the newlyweds (both friends of mine), see their new house, and see photos from the event. Their wedding party, comprised mostly of people I know, would have been a fantastic reunion.
My media sponsor also deserves a visit, since it was his implicit trust in me that permitted my travel to Iraq in the first place. As a veteran himself, I’m sure he has a number of questions about Iraq. It’s been a good eighteen years since he was last here. Much has changed. His editor has also promised me lunch. I’ve yet to turn down free food.
Across the entire United States, I have been guaranteed shelter should I come for a visit, and I hope to visit at least a few. There are two volunteer editors in Kentucky who have set aside more pressing matters and provided me critical feedback on pieces prior to my posting them. There is another faithful volunteer in New Orleans, though I doubt I will have time to make it down there for a visit.
There are two Iraq veterans who have provided me invaluable encouragement while I’ve been gone, and both have promised me free drinks if I make it up their way. One even promised be food. Coincidentally, both will be in one place soon after my return. With a little luck, I’ll catch them both in Detroit. Flatteringly, they both consider me a brother.
In all the initial excitement of being home, I will take a break from writing. Seeing as it’s basically all I’ve done for the past fourteen months, I look forward to having no deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise, no pressing responsibilities, and nobody particularly concerned about my silence. I will sleep late every day and not feel guilty about it.
There are a couple local restaurants whose cuisine I’ve missed while out here, and I can’t wait to sit down in their crowded dining areas, observe nobody in a uniform, and chat with friends I’ve known for years. I will make at least one trip to the local coffeeshop, buy an overpriced gourmet drink, tune out the background chatter around me, and play solitaire on my computer.
When I have settled in and finished all the greetings, I plan to head into the mountains. I’ve longed to see something other than scraggly palm trees, and there’s no better place for that than in the Appalachians. I hope to hike out there at least weekly, carry in all my gear, stay out overnight, and stretch my legs. After riding in military vehicles for so long, I need the exercise. It’ll be nice to not have to be on the alert for anything more than the occasional bear.
At some point, every conversation will invariably turn to Iraq. People will have questions, and I will try to answer. Many I will be unable to answer. I have too many questions of my own.
And then, after somewhere between three and five weeks, I will miss Iraq and want to come back, as will many servicemembers returning to the states. Part of me will still be here.
I will still have friends over here, many of whom have long months still remaining on their tours. I will have other friends who are preparing to deploy to Iraq in the near future. There’s still a war going on, and its outcome is still uncertain. I will want to see its closing first hand.
I will miss the mission briefs before each excursion outside the wire. I will miss the troops I accompanied. God forbid it, but some of them may never see home again. Regardless, they will still need a voice.
I will miss combat boots and rifles, and thousands of men and women uniformly dedicated to the same cause. I will miss hearing their stories. I will miss being around those who get it and who don’t ask difficult questions I still can’t answer. I will miss the conversations over headsets as we drive a boring road to some town with an unpronounceable name. I will miss the chai we’re served when we get there. I will miss the potential for every mission devolving into an IED attack or a firefight.
I will miss this place because it’s grown on me, but most of all I will miss my fellow Americans who have answered their country’s call to serve here. I will miss introducing them to other Americans. I will miss the adventure. Home life, after some initial excitement, will be disappointingly boring. Though every situation is different and every servicemember has his or her own unique outlook, many will feel this way, too. National service, and more specifically combat service, is memorable. Like little else, this never leaves you.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved