Months ago, I read my first post by Vampire 6. I commented, and he emailed me back to tell me that he had read my posts while preparing to deploy. As Bouhammer pointed out, we are links in a chain. Vampire 6 is the current baton-carrier for the embedded trainer types in Afghanistan. He's done some fantastic posts, sharing the experience and the frustrations wonderfully. His "Illum, Illum, Where Art Thou?" should be required reading for battalion commanders deploying to Afghanistan.
I've had the privilege to get to know Vampire 6 over the past months not only through his posts but also through emails and a brief phone conversation that he squeezed into his leave. Vampire 6 is now back in The Suck and posting again. I told him that when he got back it would feel different, and he told me via email from FOB Bermel that he feels it, but can't put his finger on it. It took me back to my own return, fresh from the normalcy of home, family and the mall.
The change... Afghanistan feels different; but I'm convinced that it's inside us. Coming home hits the reset button. Riley had us on trajectory. First there is the shock of entry... like jumping into a pool. The mind is busy with accepting, reorganizing reality. The job takes over, a comfort level is established. There is the relief of competence... the deepest fear of any Soldier is to fail his comrades, to be that guy. We hit a comfortable stride in the marathon of our deployment. We begin to feel nearly at home in the stark poverty.
Leave, and home, are a distant dream.
More after the jump...
Then, in a blur of misery and warped time, we are home. The reality of home hits us and we are comfortably numbed. It's so real, so comfortable, so normal. We get our first taste of being the ghost; walking among our fellows who have no clue that less than a hundred hours earlier we were walking in a country that we can describe but never convey. Harm's way was just where we went to work. No one can look at us and just know. It's like having a secret. We discover that most do not care. Seeing our friends, it's like it always is with old friends; like we had seen them last week. Except we have seen something that has changed the way that we see everything. It's not PTSD. It's having our vision changed by knowing something that we will struggle to put into words completely. Those of us who write about it have a blessed outlet. Those who can't or won't try to express it will suffer for it.
We feel what we knew we had been missing, but like the taste of certain foods, it's better than we had even remembered it; being around those who love us unconditionally and for whom the dust and rocks and varying looks from bearded men are still alien. We realize our personal isolation while in country; part of a team that we will remember forever and for whom we will always have a special bond that only happens under such circumstances... but we are isolated from the presence of our family. Our solitary journey home in the company of so many others had only driven home that isolation. Our team soldiers on while we make our pilgrimage.
When we return, the spell is broken. The rhythm that we had found; the stride is changed. It's like pausing for lunch in the middle of a marathon. The rhythm will never quite be the same. It just feels different. This is the phase that no one told us about. The reset button has been hit. Home has now changed the way Afghanistan looks and feels.
But Afghanistan has changed the way that the world looks and feels. Home will never be quite the same, either.
Godspeed, Vampire 6.
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