Friday, November 30, 2007




THE LAST DAY





“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.









AUTHOR’S NOTE:

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.
COMING UP: BEST OF MOVIES 2007 and WHY IT SUCKS TO BE 30

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you are back at the blogs. It was a good thing to wake up to this morning :) Most people, myself included, will never understand what it is like over there. I look forward to reading/talking about your experiences, struggles and triumphs.
I am grateful you made it home safely.
xoxo,
C

Anonymous said...

Once again you made me cry. I don't know if it's because I know you or the words you write convey a perspective that most of us will never know. All I know is that I'm glad the you have to write, make me feel, and give me insight that I wouldn't get anywhere else.
I too am greatful you are home safely and look forward to reading more, tears or not.
Katie

agent y said...

Wow.

Made me want to laugh cry thrown up smile wish and think a little.

Thank god you made it back. You have more to offer this big bad world, and I have a feeling that more writing like this is a big part of it.

Your so talented, Paul. It's like I tell Mary, you have a gift...get that shit out to everyone you can -- hell, make a living at it! Cause youre that good.

"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."
I dont know any better way to say it than THIS IS GOOD SHIT:)

I honestly cant imagine what it's like to do what you did. Well, actually I can, but it's all my own fantastic creation of it, which honestly might be a complete different flavor than yours. Not bad, just different. Try to imagine childbirth. You can imagine it, but until you feel as though your body has been taken over by some mysterious force that is causing to perform feats only of which are dreamed...well, yeah. You just dont know til you experience it.

It's a wonderful thing to hear a candid, realistic, highly intelligent portrayal of such a...big...thing.

Know youve always got a pair of eyes readin and feelin right along with you.

Welcome home.

PS How ironic is it that I labeled myself a "greenie" today.

BUCK SARGENT said...

As always, most excellent.

More please.

Some Soldier's Mom said...

I do get it (I mean I understand what you mean about if you ain't done it, you can't understand). my analogy: you will never fully understand childbirth...

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.

Brilliant. Welcome home... and thank you.

P_G_S said...

Welcome home and thank you for your service.

Mr. Boy said...

Welcome home, good buddy. As always, one can never truly understand the Shirey until they've had a chance to bounce around in that ol' noodle of yours -- and -- as always, you've managed to paint quite a picture.

It'd be interesting to hear your take on bunnies and puffy white clouds -- and guys named Darren, who have mustaches and wear turtlenecks, and hang out at the mall casing the joint for teenage booty.

In anticipation for your 2007 movies list, recent releases are as follows:

"The Mist" sucked hardcore, except for the ending, which was ballsy as hell -- but by that point I didn't care.

"No Country For Old Men" was great for the first hour and a half -- then it just -- well stopped being awesome.

"American Gangster" was pretty great, I thought.

Can't wait for the next installment, my friend. It's great to have you home safe!

xformed said...

Well said. I'm already looking forward to more of your thoughts on your return.

Welcome back.

gsdluvr said...

Welcome back and thank you. Would love to read more.

rick554 said...

Welcome Back and Thank you for serving our Country. Good Luck to you bud and keep up the good work!
An old AF vet and a Proud parent of a SOLDIER
Rick554
PS: love the road clearing idea!!:-)

Miss Ladybug said...

First time here (You've been BlackFive-alanched?). Good stuff. I'll be sure to stop by from time to time...

dianainsa said...

Great writing, very visual and honest. Thanks for not being too hard on all of us civilians, there are many among us who try to honour your sacrifice, but many days I am ashamed and disgusted by the shallowness of some.
Thank you for your service and your pride in it, we are proud of you and the freedoms you fight for.
Keep writing-btw,I came from Blackfive.

brat said...

Thank you and WELCOME home! Keep writing - PLEASE! People MUST hear what you have to say.

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for for your writing. But most of all thank-you for your service, not a day goes by that our family does not think of and pray for our heroes. Every freedeom we enjoy is because of the brave people like you. Welcome home.

defendusa said...

There is nothing I like more inthe world tham perspective...and, hell, you're only thirty?? Man, it has taken me a while to "get perspective.
This was a great read and I would love to see more. I am grateful you are home. I am gateful that you were happy to do it.

languillelady said...

Thank you , thank you, thank you, and welcome home.

doc Russia said...

Welcome back.
experiencing war is like experiencing sex.
You can watch it on tv, you can read every book there is about it, and you can hear as many stories as you want, but until they experience it, a virgin will not understand sex the way the initiated does.

You... and your life... will never be the same again.

Anonymous said...

Thank you and welcome home! You have a way with words that sets you apart from the others. Keep them coming...

Anonymous said...

So many of us truely do appreciate but don't fully understand the sacrifice each one of our soldiers make. Thank you. Your writing has given me an insight into how it will be for my son when he leaves in Jan '08 and then comes home. I know now I won't ask him "Isn't great to be home?" I'll just hug him.
Mary Wlodarski

Anonymous said...

"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."

You just made my day Soldier, one of the best quotes of this war I have ever read.

You are loved and appreciated for wearing the uniform and for serving. I look forwarding to reading more...

Anonymous said...

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.

My soldier is in Iraq now, but before he left, he tried for the longest time to put into words what drove him to re-enlist. I truly believe that you have succeeded in giving his feelings a voice. Thank you for helping me see the world through his eyes in a way that he could never explain, and for preparing me to how he will likely be feeling when he returns home.

Thank you for your service and welcome home. I hope you continue to write... I know I will be reading.

Anonymous said...

Great writing!! I am looking forward to that "larger body of work" you will be coming up with!
Welcome back and thanks for your service!!! You folks are the reason I still work for the Army
after 25 years!!

b0b

MattS. said...

Welcome back and thanks for serving our country. Keep writing.

douglas said...

Gotta agree, the 'hippie road clearance' line is one of the best I've read in a long time.

I think the best those of us who've not been there can do for you guys is understand that we don't understand, really. But we can be grateful. I am, thanks.

As for happy vs. grateful- I say if you're grateful, you'll be truly happy, if you're just 'happy' you'll never really be happy.

Keep it coming.

Anonymous said...

Welcome home, you most definitely deserve it. Your service in fields foreign is humbling and appreciated to those of us that didn't go. Thank you for stepping up to the task!

Sean said...

Nikki sent me your blog. From one Alaskan to another, I just wanted to say glad you made it back and thank you for what you've done.

cameramanken said...

I was gonna start by saying welcome home but then I would sound like everyone else .... Awww who cares Welcome back! Thank- you for the sliver of insight that is this thing called War. For those of us who have never been part of it. You have given me the knowledge to keep my damn mouth shut and listen to our returning men and women. rather than ask "how happy you are to be home?" -Ken

Scott said...

Thank you for posting this, it was truly great. Thank you for your service- as you said what you did and went through is what keeps everything the same- for better and for worse... thank you for your service.

Dutch Schwab said...

Paul, as a child I planned a career in the millitary. I did spend 6 years in the USMC. (FDC operations chief 105 howitzer). I made decisions that took me away from that career and watched and heard as members of my previous unit never returned from paying the ultimate price. I definately cannot understand where you are coming from and can only imagine what you experienced. I am outraged at how our country will elect a president and then tie his hands up so as to retard his efforts. Why can't we support his efforts and our men and women sacrificing everything for the good of their country. We put someone in charge and then don't let him or you guys do your job. We send the press over and they seem to prefer to give bad reports about how our troops are conducting themselves and their business. The biggest thing that pisses me off is that the signal being sent to our troops is that their efforts are futile and useless. It isn't important that you agree with what I am saying above because I have no idea of what it is actually like but I will say that I appreciate what you and all our men and women are doing and pray for you guys every day. My comments above are in regard to the fact that I believe once we have committed our millitary to war, lets support them fully and give them the best chances of doing their job and returning home.
I also want you to know that although many of us at home cannot fully comprehend what you go through in war we do honor you and respect the fact that you have payed a price for our freedom.
may GOD bless you and your fellow soldiers!
Dutch Schwab

Rick said...

Welcome home and thanks.

Excellent post. You've got the gift of words. Keep at it.

Anonymous said...

You are an incredibly articulate person. I am impressed by your choice of detail and the seamlessness of your writing.

And, in a way, that makes my sadness at what you say even worse. It seems that you are saying that I can't speak to you because I have never been in a war. You seem to say that no one but another person who has been there can understand. If that is true, then you are forever removed from most of humanity, including probably most of your family.

I hope it is not true.

Regardless, I am grateful for your service and for the sacrifice of time away from family, of innocence, and of days off while over there. Thank you.

Paul said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments. As I stated in the blog, it provides the fuel to keep me going. It is one thing to write and yet another to be read.

I am grateful to all of your responses and wanted to address a few things:

My experiences are what directly influence my thoughts, ideas, insights, and perceptions, which ultimately leads me to what I think and feel about things.

That seems like a no-brainer. However, what I'm trying to say is this; I speak for no one but myself. Although my thoughts may reflect how many (or few) feel, they are ultimately my own.

One of the biggest reasons I joined the Army is because I had to know...I had to know what it was all about...if I had what it took...and to be a part of something that so few know about.

Bottom line: I wanted to know.

And now I do. Nobody can take that from me anymore than I could take away their own experiences. I have never climbed Mount Kilamanjaro or played a concert (as I have ZERO musical skills), and I have never visited anywhere other than the middle east (outside of the U.S.)

That being said, to those that have done the things I've mentioned, then yes, absolutely they understand those experiences and places way beyond me. Although I may have read a book about such places, seen pictures, video, or known people that have done or seen those things I would never TRULY know what it means unless I have done it myself.

I feel that way about all things in life. We read books, watch movies/TV, even explore the internet to expand our horizons and get a feel for what else is out there in our world, and for some that may seem like they have a better understanding of such things moreso than others.

But the truth is, and it will always be so, in everything in this world, that you will never know unless you have done it yourself.

The same goes for war. If you told me about your skydiving trip and I had never been, all I could do was listen and appreciate the experience, and usually the response to the event is either "I could never do that" or "I have got to try that."

I don't expect that many people will willingly go to war just to find out what it's all about. But, some people do. They're called soldiers. And it doesn't make them better than you. It just means that they want to know. And beyond that, maybe they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

To think that you could not "talk to me" because I believe that you cannot know an experience because you haven't been there is ludacrous. Conversation and information is what creates intelligence and awareness about something. Experience is what creates conversation and information.

In response to the following comment:
"You seem to say that no one but another person who has been there can understand. If that is true, then you are forever removed from most of humanity, including probably most of your family."

You speak the truth. War does remove you from humanity. And that's something you can't understand. Talking to your family about war is not a simple task. You don't sit around the Thanksgiving day dinner and belt out tales of your friends being blown up before your eyes or the smell of burning flesh after a suicide bomb goes off.

Is it sad? Yeah, it's sad. It's war. I know this. And nobody can take that away from me, especially someone who has never been.

War is terrible, ugly, and real. It creates heroes, villains, survivors, cowards, and widows. It is here to stay, like it or not. There will never be a utopia of human civilazation where we all get along and put rings of flowers on each other while chanting to the trees and clouds. That is not reality.

Reality is that we do the best we can and we try the best we can and we endure and try to improve and sustain our world, but some things will always exist and all we can do is our BEST to keep it from overtaking us. And the best way to do that is to LISTEN to what those who have been through such things have to say.

The best thing anyone can do when they hear about something they haven't experienced is simply to listen; ask questions; talk about it; try to understand...

We, as people, spend a lot of time trying to feel that we measure up; that we've done enough in life, experienced the full gamut that this world has to offer and when faced with something we don't fully understand we go on the defensive and try to dismiss it away and pretend that we don't have to be or do something in order to fully understand it. I think we all know the truth, we just don't want to listen.

Again, thank you all for your comments. I am truly grateful for everything that you all have said, including the response that fueled this.

I will always be listening and thinking and spinning it back to the world, to anyone that cares to hear what I have to say. I will continue to share my perspectives, experiences, and my blend of life with anyone that chooses to hear me.

And without someone to hear me, I am just a stream of consciousness spilling into an empty hole. So, again, thank you for listening (and talking back!)

COMING UP: For those that aren't regular readers, I am not ALWAYS so serious and will be churning out some of my more comedic works, however, in light of recent events (namely a 14-month deployment) I will balance it out with some of my stories from the war. I hope you'll stick around for all of it.

Next up is my annual Year in Review of movies and after that I've got something to make you think and laugh, so stick around. I promise you won't be bored.

BUCK SARGENT said...

One word response to your response of another's response:

Word.

Oh, and I can save you time on your Year in Movies review. Except for 300... they all sucked! I typicall only purchase DVDs that I know I'll enjoy for years to come (Braveheart, Pulp Fiction, Gladiator, Star Wars, Zardoz, etc. etc.)

Know how many new DVDs I bought this year? Hint: rhymes with done. Which is what I'm about to be with Hollywood. I'm gonna start reading books on my 42" Plasma instead.

Mur said...

This is good. Obviously I'm glad you're outta there. Obviously. Welcome back, welcome back. Don't go see Across The Universe. Unless you want to shit your pants. You might. Yeah, Paul, keep them coming, your writing is gold in a brass age. Nice to see that these days. Other peeps are sick wit it, as the Negroes say.

agent y said...

wow. I wanted to see across the universe.
Go and see something, because movie reviews are why i liked you in the first place.

...and hear, HEAR!