Ah… to be home. Everyone out there has been away from home for a while. A long weekend away, a full vacation or even some time working abroad… You know that feeling when you finally get home, you put your suitcases on your bed, get into something comfortable, and sit on the couch… Take that feeling and multiply it by exactly 267.23 and that is what it feels like to return home from a combat deployment. I’m always reminded of the great scene in Fight Club where Tyler threatens the shopkeeper’s life and then lets him go…
Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day in Raymond K. Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.
This is what it feels like. The colors of the leaves on the trees are more vivid, the food tastes richer, the breeze on your face as you drive with the windows down feels cooler; everything just feels better. So in celebration of getting home, I bring to you the Five Best Things about Being Back in America… In no particular order.
1) Pavement: For anyone who hasn’t lived the majority of their life in a 1st world country… Large portions of the rest of the world are not blessed with particularly great infrastructure. Afghanistan, continuously being in the bottom 10 poorest countries in the world, is no exception. My first deployment I spent almost the entire time driving on some of the worst roads in the world. Trying to get from Point A to Point B on a road where you have to stop every couple hundred meters just to avoid a massive hole (I won’t even get into the IEDs that produced them- because that’s just not the direction we’re going with this post) is incredibly frustrating.
Worse than the roads though, is walking on gravel every day all day. The amount of gravel purchased and used by the US Army in Afghanistan would easily fill this hole
with plenty to spare. Spending every day trudging through the stuff gets old very quickly. Just being able to go for a stroll around the block on a combination of well constructed roads and sidewalks is fantastic.
2) Couches: It’s a verifiable fact that couches are the most underrated personal possession in any family’s inventory. You hear a lot of, “Oh nice car,” or “did you get the new iPhone 5?” but usually unless you just got a new one, people don’t comment a whole lot on the comfiness of a couch. This is a national tragedy. Furthermore, upon googling if there is a national couch day, the first link I found (answers.yahoo) said no. Which is unquestionable proof. Chairs are all well and good, and lying in bed is of course great, but there is just something about kicking back on a couch spreading out a bit and doing any number of things. They are are force multipliers. They make pretty much anything more fun.
3) Clothes that aren’t a Uniform: I’m not really a super well dressed guy (though I am a horribly addicted Gilt shopper- somebody please help me stop) but I’d ask anyone to consider wearing the same thing everyday with two variations. Boots, pants, and a long sleeve top with a hat and sunglasses, or running shoes, white socks, and the Army Physical Fitness Uniform with sunglasses. Oh… you know who else only wears one or two things every single day… Inmates. And part of the reason wardens insist on this, is to strip away convicts’ identities. The feeling of putting on my most comfortable pair of jeans, a tshirt, and some sandals was in a word splendiferous. Everybody has that set of clothing (Nike basketball shorts, and an American Flag imprinted Under Armor shirt that says “We must protect this house,”) that they wear around their castle, and is their go-to when they just need to be comfortable. Getting back into this getup is equally glorious.
4) Friends and Family: This one probably goes without saying but was too critical to leave out. For anyone who has never been present for a deployed unit’s homecoming… It is truly something to experience. Take Hugh Grant’s Love Actually comment about the uplifting experience at Heathrow’s Arrivals section and add the fact that everyone coming home could have been killed.
In 2004 I was present when my Uncle’s reserve unit returned from the invasion of Iraq. As they marched across the field to join with their families in the stands, pandemonium ensued. The families in the bleachers could not be contained. They came down on the returning soldiers like a pack of ravenous carebears. It was a sight to see.
Almost a decade later I’ve had two such homecomings. Without a doubt they were polar opposites in many ways, but the one thing that stayed constant was my mom. Who was at both and was more than prepared to bring on some joyful waterworks. Since I know my mom is one of about five people who read my posts, just thought I’d give her a shout out and a thanks.
Though my particular group of friends like to write posts exaggerating some of my past exploits, and as Rudy mentioned “My deployed friend has now sent our house in Clarendon more packages than we have sent him in Afghanistan,” spending some time with these clowns (read- drinking, arguing, and endlessly ragging on each other) is pretty much the best.
5) Freedom: Quite paradoxically, soldiers spend a large percentage of their time with limited to no freedom, in order for the other 99% of American’s to enjoy theirs. This isn’t me getting on a high horse. The way this country has continuously separated political decisions by our government from supporting our troops is incredible. (Nearly) everyday of my short Army career I have felt supremely appreciated by my fellow Americans. From random people buying me drinks in airports (I’m wasn’t even in uniform, but the bad haircut gives it away), to shaking hands with WW2 veterans in Maine on our way out, we are given rockstar treatment and it means a lot to us.
Yet, while deployed we have almost no personal freedom. Want to go grab a bite to eat? Sure, if the DFAC is open. How about driving down the… oh wait, there is no where to go except from your tent to the office, to the gym, to the DFAC… and that’s about it. This type of insulation goes against everything that makes us American. Americans love wide open spaces because wide open spaces breed big ideas and limitless possibilities. We like trying new things, seeing new places, and taking chances. We’re a people born for adventure, discovery, and ambition. Coming home now, as the leaves start to change, the smell of limitless possibilities is pungent in my nostrils. What does the future hold? The beauty of being American is the freedom to build that future through my own will and determination. And that is completely worth dressing like an inmate and walking on gravel all day.
3G/4G Cellular Service
Freshly Cut Grass
$5 Footlongs at Subway