When I volunteered to come to Afghanistan, I volunteered as an individual soldier.
When I was at Ft Riley, I was a member of an ad-hoc team. Shortly after we arrived in-country, three of us were split off from that team, but we became our own little family. A couple of months later, we got a new Colonel that pulled me away from that team and swapped me out with a Major.
The two teams were more together than apart during the better part of the time between then and now, except for the month that I spent living in the valley with my Afghan team during the operation. During that time, O, Maniac, Major Stone Cold, and I each were off on our own with a small SECFOR* team and between 80 and 100 ANP. We ran into each other at intervals during that operation, each little reunion a small joy in the midst of the apparent chaos.
We bonded with the guys from South Carolina who were tasked with keeping us secure as we worked with the Afghans. We each had our little team. Surferdude, Cookie Monster, T-Dog, Burt Schtickem, Coopage, and Gonzo were all from that fine group of men. There are others from that group who I haven't written about... yet; Pineapple, Tater, Headspace, Sparky, Crash and Sack, the Hometown Hero.
We got to know these guys and came to care about them just as much. South Carolina, you have a lot to be proud of in these fine men. I trust them with my life, as does O and the Maniac. I'll never forget them. They leave in January, just over a month from now. They are already bowing towards the door.
Be that as it may, we worked together a lot. We shared similar experiences and projects. Recently, the team that O and Maniac are on have been going a different direction, and I've gotten to see very little of them, and my work was becoming less and less exciting.
I had an opportunity to move to another team that was shorthanded, and so I asked to go. This was rumored and rumored, and it finally happened. I arrived today at Camp Dubs, where it all started for me almost eight months ago.
I feel like a totally different man now. I'm not, of course, but that illusion is there.
Once again, I'm on my own. I have no idea what the next several months hold for me. I do know that I'll get to be in a whole different area of the country for awhile, and that I'll get to see a lot of things that I never would have seen up in the old province.
When I arrived back at Camp Dubs, almost all of my original team was here. I got to sit with some of them and have a cup of coffee and chat for a few minutes.
It's good to see them, and they're great guys, but we've had pretty different experiences. It was a small but happy reunion.
When I left my children, I was alone. When I arrived at Ft Riley, I was alone. When I was separated from the only two guys with whom I'd been a team, I was alone. Now I'm going downrange in a different direction, and again; I'm alone. I came to war as just me, and when I get off the plane at the end of all of this, it's going to be just me. My kids and I will have a small but very happy reunion.
If any of that sounds like complaining, it's not. I knew all of that going into this.
When I chose to come to war by myself, I knew that I would meet other men and work closely and not so closely with them. I knew that I would make friends, possibly for life, with men that it would be a challenge to get together with ever again.
Today, Burt Schtickem offered me a place to stay if I ever decide to go to Myrtle Beach.
God love him.
This isn't a complaint. It's just what there is right now, the sensations that I feel. I look at my experience with this deployment, and I see that theme running through it. That's what this has been for me... separation, reunion, and revolution; not necessarily in that order. So far, my experience has been the richer, in a way.
But there is pain, too. I said goodbye to some very fine men today, possibly forever. That hurts, I don't care who you are. We have been through all kinds of experiences together in the past months, and I've gotten to see their character.
To every action or inaction, there is a consequence; good or bad. These sensations are just a natural consequence of the choice that I made to come here. This newest decision has its consequence, too.
Now I have just enough time to really bond with an entirely new group before I RIP* out in April.
One thing that I know is this; I will be fine. We will bond. We will get to know each other, we will get to work together, and we will come to respect each other. Then it will hurt all over again in a few months when it's time to separate from them. It is the way of things, especially war.
In the meantime, there is discomfort. There is that feeling of separation, of missing those guys who I woke up near only this morning. There is the anticipation of the unknown, again. There is the laborious task of getting to know someone new in a stressful environment.
When you deploy as part of a unit, you have the common bond already. Everyone knows each other already. Everyone shares the struggle. The families back home share the struggle with each other. There is the built-in sense of community.
There is also time for ceremony and ritual, things that mark the passages with little gateways.
The ones left at home have organized support.
When you make the choice to come as an individual, you forego all of that willingly, with knowledge. Knowing does not mean unfeeling. These sensations are part of the experience here, and a repeated part of my Afghan experience.
I'm ready for what comes next!
SECFOR = Security Force
RIP = Relief In Place; to be replaced and leave.
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