May 12, 2009
Today is May 12th which isn’t a date of any historical significance, however, from my perspective, this day marks approximately two weeks from the time my replacement arrives at Camp Phoenix and about a month from the day I fly out of Afghanistan to begin out processing in Kuwait. I was told numerous times by my predecessor that the time here in country flies by and “you’ll be out of here before you know it”. I always just thought that was easy for him to say as he was packing his bags and boarding the next flight out of town, but in hindsight he wasn’t lying.
While there is still a job to finish up and a mission to focus on for another month, this is the point in my deployment where I begin to put things in perspective and see the bigger picture of the mission here in Afghanistan and the impact our presence is making. There is so much work to be done, and although we have already been here for over 7 years, it is the present time and the next couple of years that I believe will mark the turning point for Afghanistan and its self sustainability. All eyes are now on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The focus has greatly shifted from Iraq, and its time to narrow focus, prioritize missions, and accomplish these goals in the most effective way possible going forward. The 10 months I have spent here has taught me a lot. Most of all it has taught me that no matter what you read or see in the news, there are so many good people here who genuinely care about helping the Afghan people and are doing everything in their power to make it happen. This is the reality over here. In the time I’ve been serving here I’ve seen numerous fallen soldier ceremonies, both U.S. and coalition forces. The majority of these people were killed by some form of IEDs. There have been multiple incidents in which Afghan Army and Police actually turned on their U.S. counterparts and killed them and in the process destroying trust of many fellow comrades who had worked along side those men and women. That trust is what is most important in my opinion. Once that trust is formed, a strong foundation is laid, and then the mentorship process can truly begin to make progress. Through all the difficult times the U.S. and coalition forces have endured since Operation Enduring Freedom began 8 years ago, they stay on task and continue to do great work with full dedication to accomplishing the mission.
That is how I feel about the overall mission here. As my time winds down, I’ve also begun to think a lot about how this time has affected me and changed me personally. I have changed, and I feel like it is nothing but positive change. I thought it was going to be nearly impossible to make it through a year long deployment in Afghanistan. Before I left to come over here, my family and I had a send off party and I had the chance to say a few words to a lot of my friends and family for the last time before leaving the states. The one point I wanted to make to everyone was that the time and effort of everyone back home is just as important to supporting the mission as is the job of the soldiers actually serving here. I asked my friends and family to take the time to write emails and send letters. That is the best support a deployed service member can ever receive. That is what makes 10 months in a war zone feel like no time at all. A few days ago I started cleaning out my room and ran across all the letters, cards, and notes I had received over the course of my time here. After about an hour of looking at pictures and reading hand-written notes from everyone, it began to sink in just how much that had helped me get through some of the rough times. Feelings of loneliness were very short-lived as I always seemed to have kind words from someone back home waiting for me in my mailbox. I want take this time to publicly thank every single person who took the time to write me a letter, send me a card, or drop me a nice note in an email. That meant a lot to me and it truly makes a difference!
Over the course of the next three to four weeks, I will begin to hand over my duties and responsibilities to a new Navy Lieutenant that will carry the torch for the next 9 months. This is the nature of military service. We have all done numerous turnovers throughout our careers and this is a process we look forward to and at times dread depending on the next stage of our journey. To say I’m looking forward to my turnover is a huge understatement. July marks five years of active duty service for me, and pending my resignation approval, the next stage of my life will begin as I start the process of transferring off active duty and transitioning into civilian life.
I will officially end my active duty service on September 1st of this year. It seems like I have a million things to take care of in that timeframe and I’ll just have to take it a day at a time I suppose. Taking the GMAT exam for graduate school, completing paperwork to be released from active duty military service, acquiring letters of recommendation for grad school, completing applications to graduate school, moving all of my personal goods from Virginia back to Illinois, getting my car from Illinois back out to Virginia, looking for a place to live, finding a part time job, applying to the Navy Reserves, and finding a Naval reserve center to work at seem like only a fraction of the tasks I need to keep on the radar for the next few months. In addition to all those less exciting tasks, I’m looking forward to catching up on many of the fun events I’ve managed to miss over the course of the last five years. I lost track of all the weddings of family and friends that I have missed, and I don’t ever want to imagine another college football or basketball season spent on a ship out to sea or in the middle of a foreign country. I can’t wait to be a part of my cousin’s wedding in August and perhaps most importantly, I’m finally going to be able to attend the Illinois vs. Missouri college football game in St. Louis in September. As you can probably gather, there is a lot to take care of when you return from a long deployment and especially when that return coincides with getting out of the military and moving on to a new stage in life. It is a lot to think about and very stressful at times, but it is one of the most welcomed feelings of stress I can ever imagine. I have a lot of time to catch up on with family and friends, and that is how I plan to spend the majority of my first few months at home.
So here I am sitting in my office trying to think about the best way to wrap up perhaps my final article as a member of the active duty Navy serving alongside the Army, Marines, and Air Force in Afghanistan. As I’ve stated a number of times in previous articles, I only started doing this for one reason and that was to let everyone at home experience life as a member of the military serving in Afghanistan. I wanted to give this viewpoint from a first hand perspective with no agenda and no ulterior motives. I feel like I have been able to accomplish that, and based off all the positive feedback from home, I’d like to think those who read this also agree. Thank you so much for all the support. I can’t say it enough! Thank you also to Bill Morgan, who runs the WAM website, for allowing me the opportunity to have my stories posted on his homepage. I first started this project by working through the Journal-News, and then shortly after was asked to have my articles posted on the WAM website. It’s been very rewarding to know that my stories have gained enough interest to be presented in multiple forums, and I’m extremely thankful to those who put in the work to make it happen. When I first had this idea presented to me, there were a number of times when I thought it might be easier to simply let others take the time and make the effort, but looking back, I’m so glad I took the opportunity and now I feel like I was able to help make a difference in my own small way.
Going forward, all I ask is that you continue to keep the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in your thoughts and prayers. I would love to see someone else from the area have the opportunity to do the same type of project down the road so folks back home can continue to hear what is going on overseas, but even if that never happens, please remember that it doesn’t mean our men and women aren’t still over here doing some of the hardest, most amazing work I’ve ever seen. Your continued love and support from home is all I ask for.
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