Since it’s our anniversary weekend, Hubs asked to take over the blog for the day and share his story. I hope you enjoy it.
Sorry for the blog takeover folks but bear with me and it will hopefully be worth your time. My wife, Jen, writes this blog to give her accounts of life as a military spouse and mom. Milspouse is the moniker and Jen has owned it for the last 5 years. It’s also been that long since I’ve also been a milspouse and on the occasion of our fifth anniversary I figured I’d take up a blog entry to share just how much those five years have meant to me.
My story would start in December 2008 (that’s six months before I met Jen). I was a 24 year old tank platoon leader in Georgia and had just returned from 14 months of combat in Iraq. I left for Iraq at 22 and returned at 24. I had been training for that deployment for 5 years prior to that, 4 years at military school and one in Army training before my unit went overseas. The sum total of my efforts, the long nights with the books, hours on the track and in the gym. Doing everything I could to get a position that would put a gun in my hand and bad guys in front of me. During the 14 months of the deployment all the hard work paid off. I led a platoon of 4 tanks and 14 Soldiers partnered with the Iraqi National Police, together we killed insurgents, dodged IEDs, and ran civil military operations to boost the Iraqi economy. The months settled into a boring routine punctuated by days of danger, horror and exhilaration. I, myself counted three times when the distance between my life and death was literally inches. In the end my Soldiers and I left our tiny part of Iraq better than we found it. Mission accomplished, years of sacrifice and months of danger were well worth it. Our nation and our fellow Americans were surely proud and grateful.
I starting to have doubts before I even left Iraq. I remember I was at Baghdad International Airport sleeping on a cot in the transient tent and it hit me, I was homeless. I meant that figuratively and literally. Literally, because in few days I would return to a country where I had no place to live. Figuratively because in a few days the Soldiers of my unit would go back to their families and I’d be without their company that I had relied on for over the last year. I was struck by a desire to stay in Iraq since it was all I knew about adult life.
My homecoming was the next kick in the nuts. The Soldiers of our unit arrived at Cottrell Field in buses. We unloaded our buses behind a row of pine trees so we could form up to march out on to the field. The families and loved ones of the unit were in the stands across the field being encouraged to whoop and holler by an officer from the division staff who assured them increased volume meant we would march faster. The scene was incredibly emotional, military families were about to reunite after long months apart. It was like a Budweiser Super Bowl commercial, just with less country music. I was devastated by the experience. There was no one in those stands for me. I was home and now “homeless.” I took charge of some Soldiers organizing luggage to distract myself. I retreated from the real world into my identity as a Soldier.
I spent the next few months in Georgia lining up my next assignment. My unit was reorganizing from tanks to light infantry, so we tankers were being sent off as fast as possible. The Army had decided that my unit wasn’t needed anymore. Meanwhile, I saw friends and classmates making steady progress into their adult life. Some were engaged, a few married and one or two were parents. I was sitting in a too big apartment alone with my Netflix subscription and a six pack of icehouse tall cans. I felt like I had wasted my time. I had sacrificed in vain. I didn’t have the language then to describe what I was dealing with then, but now with a few years distance, I can see that I was in mourning. I was mourning the loss of my young adult life. Months after I had come home it was clear that no one actually cared all that much about all the sweat and sacrifice.
I was incredibly lonely and I knew I was in a bad place but I wasn’t about go talk to a doctor. That was still a taboo in the service at the time (although it thankfully changed soon after). So I resolved to handle it myself. One night, I heard a car backfire while watching a DVD. It sounded like a gunshot to me, even though part of me that that was silly. So I compromised with myself, instead of hiding or trying to arm myself I’d keep watching my show, only I’d just lay on the floor under the window so I was less of a target. So there I lay watching a DVD: handling it.
I started put my all my hopes into my next assignment. A new unit, a new chance to make a difference and justify all my hard work and sacrifices. Spending all that time fantasizing about how good things would be in a few weeks left little time for me to be lonely. I even worked out a deal whereby my little brother would come out and live with me. It was gonna be a win-win since he’d get a jump start on his adult life and I’d have someone to fill up the second bedroom.
I arrived at Fort Knox a month before Jen and I’s first date. I was assigned as a troop XO, a second in command, in charge of supply and admin issues. Jen was our squadron’s medical platoon leader. When my troops needed medic support, I would submit my requests to her and we would attend the squadron resourcing meetings together. I was able to get her phone number while exchanging emails for one such meeting. That phone number saved my life.
I’ve had enough suicide prevention training now to know how close I was to actually killing myself. I had a plan worked out, which is about one note away from an irreversible decision. I was so convinced that I had wasted the prime years of my adult life fighting a war that no one cared about. I had trained since 17 for that hollow purpose. Very quickly after arriving at Fort Knox, the fantasy life I had generated for myself I’m Georgia fell apart. The unit was a training outfit and instead of fulfilling some noble purpose serving there, I was cog in a machine that was training young men to go on to waste their young adult lives as I had. I had become part of the machine and was doing to others what had been done to me. The disillusion and lack of a new assignment to put my imagination too was too much. I was over it. But I figured maybe I’d give that medic platoon leader call before I went through with it. What did I have to lose?
Jen saved my life. I found in her a kindred spirit like I had never before know. She understood the military. Hell, she even knew about tanks since she was assigned to the training unit. So I could talk to her about my experiences and not spend the whole time explaining the acronyms. She let me know exactly how much BS she’d put up with and she was super hot. Somehow I managed to get her to like me back. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone. I started to have hope in the future again. I began to slowly realize that the best years of my life hadn’t been wasted in foreign desert but rather lay in the years ahead. I felt complete in a way I didn’t even know was possible.
So, I don’t talk about coming back from Iraq much. It’s a dark time and I don’t think many people would understand. But now on our fifth anniversary I wanted to tell Jen and the blogosphere my side of the story.
To wrap up, I want to write some words to my wife:
Jen, I didn’t tell you but you saved my life. You are the most beautiful woman in the world and you make me feel like a complete person. You taught me to hope again and with your love we’ve started our family with Piglet, Blueberry and Macadamia Nut and I’ve been blessed with the joys of fatherhood that I couldn’t have imagined. I love you so much and I now think that the best years of my life have been the last five. At least so far.