I had no idea whatsoever what the coming year would bring, and as I look back on all the places I've been, people I've met, things that I have done, things that I've seen, and what I've learned, "Days Are Numbers (The Traveler)" by The Alan Parsons Project begins playing on my iPod. Perfect. Hadn't thought to do that for myself, but somehow this device has performed the iPod mind meld and knew exactly what I needed.
It's amazing how we can look at our preconceived ideas of what to expect from an event and find our naivety in retrospect. There was some of that; trust me. If I could go back in time, I'd tell myself a few things on January 1, 2007. I'd tell myself to relax, to be more forgiving, to feel secure in what I know to be true. I'd tell myself to sleep through commo class that first night at Camp Funston, because I was going to have to learn it all over again. I'd tell myself to start studying Pashto again. I'd tell myself to read more about counterinsurgency. I'd tell myself not to sweat most of the stuff that we did at Ft Riley, because it had nothing to do with reality.
I'd tell myself not to worry about the treadmill and to spend more time on the stair climber... with weights on. I'd tell myself to look into Chantix. I'd tell myself that the thicker socks would never be worn. I'd tell myself that tea with the Taliban isn't all that unusual. I had tea with one this morning. Start off your year with a civilized sit-down with an enemy; it's good for the soul.
I'd tell myself that when it all came down, I was going to be fine. I'd tell myself that at the end of the year, I would feel good about what I had done and how I had done it.
I would tell myself to be more accepting. I would tell myself to expect to be left hanging out on a limb in precarious positions, but that it would be fine anyway.
I'd tell myself to just have faith.
I'd tell myself to spend more time writing.
Last year was a year that was, except one day, given to my country. It was a year taken from my children, taken from everything that I had thought important; and, through my country, given to Afghanistan. I have come to care about this country. I have come to see the people here as worthy. I have come to hope for this country, for the children of this country. I have seen my own children standing by the road with no shoes on their feet. I have seen my daughter in a blue burqa trying to shield herself from the view of these strangers who seem almost from outer space, peeking under the strain of unbearable curiosity. I have felt the concern of a father carrying a sick child to be seen by these strangers because no one else could help.
I have seen unfathomable sacrifice. I have seen young men torn asunder in their service. I never understood the word "asunder" until September 10th. Now I will never forget.
I have had people try to take my life because of who I am and what I am doing. I am not the Lone Ranger. A lot of people have had it a lot worse.
I have been in the company of heroes. I have seen the very best that our country has to offer the world; and we are offering them up. There are some amazing young Americans over here.
I am simply a witness to all the greatness that surrounds me. Not all of us are great. Some of us deserve to be shot. I have witnessed greatness, heroism, unbelievable selfishness, sacrifice, cowardice, triumph, loss, dereliction, and quiet courage. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. We all have to live with where we fall on that scale. Times like these tend to follow us through our lives, and like the line from the movie: "What we do here echoes in eternity."
There will be echoes. Most I've seen have passed the test. Their echoes will bring pride to their families.
I have come to believe that we are winning; not because of our wonderful plans, but because of a few who truly have a tremendous impact and because the Afghans themselves really do want to be free.
2007 was a year of incredible experiences. It was a culmination, a definition, and a regeneration. I am grateful for all of it.
I know what it means to be the sheepdog on the far hill, and there are wolves out here. Soon it will be time to run back to the flock and raise the alarm, to bark about the wolves beyond the far hill until someone says, "What? Timmy fell in a well and he needs our help?"
In 2008, I will be near my children for most of the year. I will see them again, and I hope that I never forget how very hard this was to be away from them. It's the worst pain that I've ever felt. 2008 will carry me home, one way or the other. Others will come and continue the work that was continued this year.
There will be a lot of challenges in the coming year, but I think that if I look to the top of this page, I can find some advice to give myself. As I finish this, once again the mind-melding iPod works its magic and produces U-2's "New Year's Day." Perfect.