Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Back In The USA

Coming home is an adventure all its own.

The final flight out of Afghanistan, for us, was on a C-130. The C-130, a four-engine turboprop whale, is a slow and torturous ride to go the distance from Kabul to Qatar, where we boarded a C-17 for the short hop to Kuwait, from where we embarked on a civilian charter that took us through Germany and then to New Jersey and finally Kansas.

In Kansas the whirlwind of out processing started in earnest. There were briefings followed by a welcome home ceremony in a gymnasium attended by a few officers and NCO's who had been responsible for training us to go to Afghanistan and the few families who had been able to make the trip to Ft Riley. The days that followed brought a myriad of out processing tasks; medical, dental, turning in equipment, turning in our personal weapons, briefings about everything from our reemployment rights to dealing with post traumatic stress and the difficulties of reunions and readjustment to the family.

And, spending the last few days that we would ever spend with a group of men with whom we had shared a lot over the course of the past fifteen months.

There was a lot of joking around, a bit of celebrating, some evenings were spent together. Some of the men's families had made the trip to Kansas to greet their warriors and welcome them home. Most of us had to wait to see our families, but it was only a few days. The good people at Ft Riley did all they could to speed us through our out processing and move us on to our final destinations.

But we were still in our little enclave. While we were mentally breaking our ties with this ad-hoc organization, we were still just our little group. We were each looking towards our own reunions, still looking towards returning to our individual lives. We were from many states, and each of us would go our separate ways, beginning to live what had been normal to us.

I don't know about the rest of the guys, but it will never be quite the same again for me.

Everyone flew home via Kansas City. When I arrived at the airport, I had very little time to get checked in and get to the gate. Kansas City is a small airport, and it's a short trip from the ticket counter to the gates. The good people from Homeland Security carefully scrutinized my military ID and I moved towards the metal detector. Mind you I was wearing my newly donned Combat Infantry Badge and I forgot the foil on the tobacco in the lower leg pocket, but I tripped the machine twice and was slowly and carefully subjected to The Drill, a maneuver which many travelers have performed.

My uniform and accompanying bona fides had no affect on the defenders of our homeland. I was clearly up to no good, and my heinous plot had to be foiled.

I doffed my combat boots, had my feet carefully wanded, and then the full body wanding was artfully performed. This was followed by an equally artful full body pat-down, whereupon I was informed that I was cleared to proceed home. At just this moment my name was called over the intercom to report to the gate immediately for final boarding.

I was lacing my boots as quickly as I could when one of the HSA employees, an underutilized astrophysicist on loan from NASA, decided that my carry on bag had to be hand-screened. I was carefully maintaining my cool, but I was just about to lose my mind.

"Are you insane?" I asked the young Herbert Dingle reincarnate. "See my name tag? They just called me to the gate, and this guy just cleared me."

"This will only take a moment. They won't leave without you," he asserted.

"Yes, they will. They have no idea that I'm here. I have four children waiting for me in Cincinnati," I pled.

He was carefully examining my doxycycline, mentally evaluating the explosive potential as he slowly rotated the bottle at eye level.

"Those are my anti-malarial pills," I said, careful not to raise my voice or appear hostile.

The supervisor arrived and casually leaned on one of the posts. "We really appreciate your service, sir."

"Really?" I asked, restraining myself from having a post-Afghan meltdown, "Cause you're not acting like it. I just spent a year fighting actual terrorists, and you're treating me like I'm one of them."

One of the junior astrophysicists ran off to inform the gate personnel that I was being detained and would be there shortly. She was the only one of them who really seemed interested in whether or not the appreciation of my service included actually being permitted to make my flight.

I finally boarded the plane and they immediately shut the door behind me after cordially greeting me. I found my way to my seat and was relieved to see that the plane was perhaps a third full. I had the two seats to myself. Very pleasant.

The flight attendant was very solicitous and took very good care of me on the flight to Cincinnati. The flight was uneventful. Again, as the decent to Cincinnati began, the flight attendant made the normal announcement and then mentioned that I was coming home. The passengers applauded.

We landed and taxied to the island terminal. From this terminal you must board a shuttle bus to go the main terminal and make your way to the baggage claim. I was in a huge hurry to see my children, to be home.

As I made my way towards the shuttle boarding area, there was an airport employee who was providing assistance to people who needed to make connecting flights. I needed no such assistance, so as I made my way around this woman, she stepped out.

"Excuse me," she said.

I changed direction and tried to go on my way.

"Excuse me," she said again, stepping in front of me.

Knowing that no one had any reason to stop me, but not wanting to be unkind, I stopped, exasperated.

"I cannot allow you to pass..." (I'm about to revert to my basic infantry training) "without shaking your hand and thanking you for your service."

"You're welcome," I said, shaking her hand.

Puff of smoke. I was on my way as quickly as I could.

The long walk from the outer terminal to the baggage claim area was the last obstacle. I traversed it as quickly as possible, and as I neared the end, I could see a little girl hopping kangaroo-like. It was my five year old daughter, who was very excited. My total focus was riveted on her.

At that moment, I was passing an airline pilot who was walking in the same direction. He reached over and grabbed my shoulder and said, "Welcome home. Thanks for your service."

I was so totally focused on my daughter, I'm not sure that I even acknowledged him.

My thirteen year old son was beaming. My two year old son appeared excited, too; but I'm not sure if he really understood what was happening or was simply under the influence of the excitement of the others. I ran the last few steps, shedding my laptop bag and backpack, and knelt to hug my daughter and son, oblivious to the rest of the passengers passing through the terminal. My eyes stung.


It was now real. It was over. The Afghan journey was over, and I was back in the arms of my children.

Readjustment is a difficult thing. The time change has really struck me since I got back home. The kids are just starting to get used to having me around. I've got projects to take care of as well. There is a lot to do.

It's weird, too.

Just a few weeks ago, I was in the hinterlands of Afghanistan, aware of the local happenings and the changes that were happening. I was aware of the reports of this Taliban leader and that village swinging one way or another, of what our next step was with the local ANP. Now I'm back in Ohio, and nobody cares about any of that.

It's weird.

I took my children to the mall the week after I arrived back home. I've repeated many times the quote, "America isn't at war. The military is at war. America is at the mall." As I drove towards the mall with my little ones in the their car seats, it occurred to me that I was on my way to the mall now, too. How odd. I laughed to myself.

But I am not one of them. They cannot see it, but I'm not one of them. I have been at war, and part of me is still there. Perhaps that's what we're actually purchasing with our time spent over there; the peace of mind to go to the mall and not think of Afghanistan or Iraq unless they see a report on the news.

I got an email this morning from Jacques Pulvier, who is still in Afghanistan and should be leaving in the next couple of weeks, telling of one of the teams that replaced our old team in the Tag Ab Valley, sometimes called the Tagab Valley. They had gotten into a fight there yesterday, and I could picture exactly where that ambush had happened; one of the places where they like to ambush us there in the valley.

Part of me will always be able to picture that area, that valley, the people, the khalats, the riverbed, the fingers that pointed from the mountain at the villages along the newly paved road. The Ala Sai District center that you can see from the town of Tag Ab; it would take nearly a half an hour to get there and as many as three ambushes to get back from there.

There are still people who I know working in that valley. There is more work to do there. It is the changing of the guard, though. There are new people, new teams, a new division.

Jacques has run his last mission into that valley, thank God. He's about to return from our forgotten war, another single victory; a live American soldier who has been there, done his best, and returned.


  1. My uniform and accompanying bona fides had no affect on the defenders of our homeland. I was clearly up to no good, and my heinous plot had to be foiled.

    Don't you know, everyone one of us is a potential Timothy McVeigh! (/sarc)

    But seriously, welcome back.

  2. Even though I have heard this from you first hand, it still brought tears to my eyes reading it. I know your family is overjoyed to have you back home, as am I.


  3. Thank you for the update. I have been checking daily to see how you are doing.

    We have two nephews headed to Iraq. One is an Army nurse, one is in the Navy.

    We have a son in the Air Force and one commissioning Mother's Day.

    You write beautifully. Keep writing. Keep talking about it. All of it.

    I don't go to the mall. And I avoid flying because of their stupid searches.

    Keep your eyes open. Please keep observing what is going on during this relentless election season, and blog about it. We need your insight. We need your voice. Take care.

  4. Welcome home, Soldier. Thanks for your service.

    Waiting to hear about your more extensive writings...

  5. I'm so glad that you got home to your kids.

    I've Googled the Tag Ab/Tagab Valley and came up with some information that this is one of the most dangerous areas in Afghanistan. A Taliban hotbed.

    Of course you knew that but we couldn't tell how dangerous it was from your posts from Afghanistan due to OPSEC.

    I've come across two YouTube videos as well. One is the trailer for the 82nd Airborne deployment which finished in March 2008.

    It's very professionally done. I hope it gets released to the public. Afghanistan needs to get into the public awareness.

    The other is a joint search of a market in the Bedrau valley, near Tagab, by 2nd Brigade, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment Soldiers and Afghanistan national soldiers and police.

    My respect for you has increased a few more notches and I didn't think that was possible.

    I want to thank you again, with all my heart, for serving those 15 arduous months in Afghanistan.

    Enjoy your life. And your kids.

    YouTube links for your readers:

  6. Welcome home! I'm so happy for you and your family.

  7. Welcome Home, Soldier!

    Thank you, thank you.

    May you and your family prosper in this nation that you have defended from those who wish to destroy her.

    Words fail...

  8. Welcome Home, Soldier!

    Thank you, thank you.

    May you and your family prosper in this nation that you have defended from those who wish to destroy her.

    Words fail...

  9. Welcome home! I have two teenagers who hope to serve their country - one USAF the other USN. You are an excellent role model. Thanks for all you do.

  10. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 04/23/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  11. Welcome home. I do hope you put all of this that you have wrote into a will be a best seller

  12. Welcome home!
    You did more than your share, now enjoy your rewards in the glow of your sweet children.

  13. I'm glad to know you are home safe and with your children. Welcome Home!

  14. Thanks for your service. Welcome home.

    I pray that God will allow the rest of your "Band of Brothers" the joy that you have described in your homecoming, without the TSA hassles.

  15. Echoing the words of others here...

    So glad to know you are home safe and with your children. Welcome back!

    I do hope you continue to blog - have appreciated your writing for a while.

  16. Now THIS is the post I've been waiting for! Thanks for the amazingly descriptive updates of your experiences abroad. I couldn't believe the inane frustrations you ran into en-route and doubt I would have handled the situations with as much patience as you did. You get to blame PTSD- what about the rest of us?!
    Welcome back, and all the best.

  17. Welcome home. I hope everything goes well for you.

    Despite it's lack of media coverage, many people (including me) will never forget that U.S. Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and Sailors are operating in Afghanistan.

    Thank you for your service, and again, welcome home!

  18. Welcome home! I will have that sweet reunion with my son on Sat (I hope!) Thank you.


  19. Welcome Home! I waited to say that because I didn't want to jinx the whole coming home process. Mr. Murphy likes those multi-step process to much to call attention to them too early!! God Bless and thank you.


  20. Welcome home and thank you. And thank your family, too. All of you have made sacrifices for the rest of America. I just wanted you to know that there are many, many people who appreciate what you have done.

  21. I'm so grateful you are safely home within the loving arms of your family. Thank you so much for everything, and know that you are home. Welcome home, and God bless your family and you.

  22. "But I am not one of them. They cannot see it, but I'm not one of them. I have been at war, and part of me is still there. Perhaps that's what we're actually purchasing with our time spent over there; the peace of mind to go to the mall and not think of Afghanistan or Iraq unless they see a report on the news."

    Welcome home, and thank you for your daily sacrifices while serving our country. I know you risked all, and I know civilians can never truly understand or fully relate to your life while fighting for our freedoms in Afghanistan. But know this, although we cannot understand that which we have not lived, if we could, we would share the journey and be with you every step of the way with our deep desire to understand. We wish a part of us were back there with you.

    You are loved and appreciated.

    Mother of a soldier recently back home from deployment to Afghanistan

  23. Welcome home, Hero! I know, you're saying "I'm no hero!", I hear that alot from the soldiers I work with at BAMC, the ones who were injured in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are still waiting that re-adjustment period when their recovery allows them to be sent home. You are a hero for going, for keeping us informed, and for the difference you made in the lives you touched. I'm so glad that folks thanked you on your homeward travels. I never miss an opportunity to say thank you to your comrades in arms, but in the future I will keep in mind which leg of the trip they are on!

    I hope the toys we sent will touch hearts and minds of the next generation of Afghanis. God bless you, you've changed my life too.

  24. I'm posting this because you will know of this battle in Afghanistan and the amazing valor and bravery of the American Soldiers, Special Forces and the Afghan Army. He may not know all of the details. Be sure and check out the video interviews with the key players.

    Your readers may get a better picture of the situation in Afghanistan and the role you played.

    To understand what makes a real HERO this is a must read for your readers.

  25. Welcome home! I've been reading your blog for a while and second those who say, please keep writing.

    And as a Navy brat, I would just like to share a (former) child's point of view. If at any time your kids say, "no, I want Mom to do it," be patient. We get used to Mom as "the Decider" and it can take a little while to remember that Dad gets to make some decisions too.

    I'm so glad you are home safe. Thank you for all you have done (and gone through) in service to your country.


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