Friday, November 30, 2007


“The last day. It’s hard to believe it’s here. Just like Afghanistan, it seemed like it would never get here and now that it’s here I’m left to wonder where all the time went. I haven’t allowed myself to get excited or to anticipate leaving in any way, which may be why I am not overflowing with joy.

I am happy to be leaving to be sure, but it’s never what you’d expect. There is a connection to this place now, one that can never be undone. Like a scar it will be with me forever, a reminder of what my life once was. It is the quintessential moment in all war stories; when the battle is over do you rejoice or do you cry?

I would never want to stay here, but there is that connection again. As much as I hate it, this place is now intertwined with me and me with it.”

- except from personal journal, dated 17 November 2007.

Because it needs to be said and because it will answer many questions that I will field in the coming year, this is being written to provide some insight into the frame of mind of a soldier returning from war. I have many experiences to share, but cannot and will not attempt to cover them all here. That is being put into a much larger body of work that I look forward to sharing with everyone once complete. In the meantime…let’s get into my head a bit, shall we?

It’s hard to put into words what it means to return from war. This being my sophomore effort at it you’d think that I would have some great and epic insight into it, but I don’t. It’s very different and very much the same for everyone.

We worked until the very last hours of our departure. I finished my last COR (Commander of the Relief) shift the day prior to the journal entry above. Doesn’t leave much time for reflection, but enough that I had to put something down. Twelve hours later I was on a plane to Kuwait, away from the rockets and bullets and roadside bombs.

When your mindset is stuck in survival mode it is near impossible to recognize the difference when you find that you are no longer in harm’s way. You realize it, understand it, even accept it, but it’s not like a light switch. You simply continue as you are.

I dreaded the questions that awaited me upon my return, from both friends and family; there are the most common, which are almost like a formality… “Are you happy to be home?” which begs the most sarcastic response you could fathom, but because of the seriousness of my safe arrival I give the cordial response, which is “Yes, yes, I am happy to be home.”

But, that’s not true. It’s not happiness. It’s not joyous glee. It’s not a celebration. It is the most humble and grateful feeling on earth, that somehow, someway, by God or luck or both, I managed to survive where others didn’t, some right before my eyes.

That is the truth of it and it is in no way a lesser truth than what happiness can mean. It is a greater and deeper truth. Happy to be home is a given. Grateful to be alive and with all your body parts is something else entirely.

Rushing back into the world, back into the United States, it’s a shot of adrenaline straight into the cerebral cortex. Everything is fast and bright and colorful and self-important. It leaves your head spinning, makes you dizzy and drains any energy you can muster.

It takes time to readjust. That’s another big ‘no duh.” And we will. Most of us will readjust and assimilate back into our big, busy, important lives and forget that for fourteen months we lived on the edge. That we lived for one thing and one thing only; survival.

Many people try to find that place within themselves where they can let go of everything, accept the fact that they will one day be nothing but ashes, and truly live in the moment.
For the group of people that are having trouble finding that place, they need look no further than their nearest recruiter. Take a trip to the desert and don’t skip on the MOS that puts you on the front line.

It’s not about choices. It is how you must live. You cannot afford to think about next week or next month or next year or what college you will go to after you are out of the Army or where you will work when you graduate or where you will vacation on your twentieth wedding anniversary or your unborn son’s high school graduation.

You live in the few passing seconds that it takes you to read this sentence. That is your life. Because at any moment, at any time, and many very creative and gruesome ways your life could be over.

In the course of my tenure in Iraq, people were killed sleeping in their beds from rocket attacks.

The running joke was that if you were hit by a rocket while sleeping or, worse yet, simply walking around the base, then it is by a much greater design that you are dead. You were simply marked and it was written in the stars that it was your time to go. Or you could pretend that you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, at which point it won’t matter, because your opinion will no longer be heard.

As author Chuck Palahniuk put it in his well-known novel Fight Club ‘once you give up everything, you can do anything.’ It is a similar mind-set in war. Which isn’t to say that all soldiers become careless barbarians. Or start Fight Clubs. They cling to the love they have in their life, savoring those daily phone calls, e-mails, and online chats. It’s the only good thing they have and it could very well be the last one they ever have.

There is something liberating about this mind-set, namely that you can truly focus. For us, obviously, it was focusing on the mission. Your job is your life or your death. It is everything. It is the obstacle course that exists between the living, breathing moment and ends at your future.

Your future is your ending. Your ending is your beginning. It is this bass-ackwards mentality that truly fucks with your head and leaves your head spinning when you are immersed in the color infused explosion of America and it’s early morning shows with cooking recipes and celebrity guests and the obsessive world of fame, toys, gadgets, and of course, the new “green” movement.

You come home and latch onto the familiar and scratch your head bald wondering what the fuck happened to your universe. The truth is, nothing much. The iphone is out, the green movement is on, Brittney is lost, O.J. is locked up, Beowulf is in 3-D, and Harry Potter is over.

And there’s a new fucking Old Navy. Great. Just what we needed.

In the divide between soldier and civilian, the lines eventually converge and we all live in happy harmony and live, love, hate, and fight for all the same shit all over again and the only difference is that we wear a uniform and train to kill during business hours. Until the next time. And there will always be a next time.

Many people hate that we are in Iraq and don’t understand it, etc. That’s fine. This isn’t about that. But, the truth is, this is not the last war that this country will ever fight. War will end when we end. I know that there are a lot of hippies out there that think they will lead a charge on the battlefield armed only with hugs and cultural understanding…and that’s awesome…I’d love to use those people to hug the IED’s that are emplaced for our dismemberment pleasure and see where that gets us. At least it will clear the road.

I’m an optimist.

It is the fundamental lack of understanding by the civilians that will conflict with all soldiers who return from war. As much as people hate to hear it, roll their eyes at it, or generally miss the point of it, the truth is, you really can’t know and will never understand war until you are in one.

It’s a special club and the membership requirements are simply to bear witness to the worst that humanity has to offer, shoot bullets at it, watch it shoot bullets at you, blow up your friends, and separate you from the people and places you love for an extended period of time. If you do it good, you might get a ribbon.

I can understand the concept of building a house, but until I actually build one I’ll never know the intricacies of that experience. That’s a weak analogy, but you can run with it from there. Dream up a better one.

It’s good to be home. It’s good to see the country alive and well and vibrant and, well, the same. After all, isn’t that what we are here to protect anyways? Whether we are fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan or defending against an alien invasion on Independence Day, we are here to preserve this way of life. I’m happy to do it.

No, not happy…grateful.


I’m looking forward to sharing more thoughts and experiences. I’ve got my usual observations on daily life and this crazy world of ours, and some serious, deeper thoughts and experiences to share.

If you enjoy my blogs and want me to write more, here is a tip; Give me some feedback. I’ll always write. I don’t have a choice. There is a sentient being that lives inside me that won’t allow me to NOT write, but he requires a special fuel to keep the words spinning out of my head and through my fingertips and that is feedback.

Let me know what you think, hate, like, etc. It provides that being with the motivation to talk back and puts my ass in the computer chair, staring at a blank space and filling it up with words that form sentences that form paragraphs that become some kind of prose and is delivered to you via the internet for your reading pleasure.