I had to hurry to get to Atlanta by 1300 today so that I could in-process for a flight that boards at 1815 this evening. Typical. Hurry up and wait. God bless the United States Army.
The wonderful people of the USO provide free wireless internet, which I am now gratefully using to post to the Adventure as I wait for my flight back to the war.
I had prepared for saying goodbye to my children. I set a calm and cheerful example, and being prepared for it kept my emotions more manageable. My kids did pretty well with it, and I'm pretty sure that being calm myself really made a difference for them. I was prepared to say goodbye to my family. It's not easy, but it's something that you know is coming. It's not a surprise, like when you know that you're going to get an innoculation... the pain isn't a surprise.
I was prepared for traveling in uniform... every soldier has been out in the public in uniform and knows that feeling of being something of a curiosity. It's like being a circus clown; people don't see the person inside, they just see a circus clown.
When people see you in uniform in public, they just see a soldier. That's why we have the responsibility to maintain the dignity of our uniform.
I would like to say that I've been nothing but supported when people have seen that soldier and it's me inside. People have said many kind and supportive things. People have shaken my hand and wished me luck. People have told me that they pray for me and all of us (prayers are always welcome!)
But I wasn't prepared for what happened today.
As my flight from Cincinnati to Atlanta was beginning its descent, the flight attendant began her normal spiel about landing and gates, and assistance finding your connecting flights and so on. Then she announced that I was on board and on my way back to Afghanistan after spending two weeks with my family.
The plane erupted into applause. I was stunned.
I nearly burst into tears. My emotions, barely contained under the thin fabric of my ACU uniform, rushed towards the surface and nearly made it out. Somehow, I managed to keep it all together, but it was close.
We arrived in Atlanta with only about a half an hour before my report time to the USO for processing for my flight to Shannon, Ireland and then Kuwait. I had to get a quick nicotine fix and find something to eat. They formed us into a line upstairs at the USO, probably 200 or more of us, and took us downstairs in two long lines. Soldiers and Marines paired two by two in a long line snaked through the airport towards the Army Personnel Command desk to do our formalities. As we wove through the airport, the throngs of travelers began to applaud.
I wasn't prepared for that, either. Again, I struggled not to lose it. It was like cracking the seal on a warm, freshly shaken coke. All the bubbles rush towards the cap, bringing the contents of the bottle along. That's what it felt like. I managed to keep all my fluids contained; but it was another close call.
How could I be so prepared for saying goodbye to my children that I could put a brave and cheerful face on and nearly lose it when perfect strangers applaud?