Monday, March 12, 2012

Where's My Soldier Hat?

Humanitarian Assistance Mission, Near Bagram, Afghanistan, 2006
They say the unexamined life is not worth living. I wonder how many literary works start out that way. I can't help it... it just keeps going through my head.

I now find myself wanting to blog again, wanting to talk? write? vent? rant? share? discuss? Just put out to the world the things that are going through my head. It's almost like, if I don't, I'll go crazy 'cause it'll all just be stuck in there... then I'm alone in all this -in my thoughts, my ideas, my beliefs... my crazy.

Last week, my dear friend, Lex, died very suddenly. I'm not quite ready to write about it but he used to check in occasionally and would worry about me. When I stopped blogging, I stopped updating people... and well, I got so busy 'networking' for AWV that I rarely had time to catch up with myself, much less my 'real' friends. I feel immensely guilty for this... but that's another blog I won't be posting.

As I consider my faith and beliefs and ponder on mortality and the hereafter, I can't help but feel that he's with us now in what Martha Beck calls the "everywhen." He's everywhere, all the time... but if he's anywhere - he's definitely reading our blogs and checking up on us.

So yes, dear Lex, I will blog more. I promise.

I woke up the morning after hearing the news of his jet crashing, to a phone call from my 1SG telling me that not only am I definitely deploying (there had been some questions) but our dates were also being moved up by nearly a month, forcing me to not only cancel previously scheduled speaking engagements for AWV but also cancelling my trip to New Zealand where I'd hoped to spend my Alive (aka Big Bang) Day. (I bought the ticket in the chance that if I do deploy, I'd like to spend my last couple of weeks of freedom in my happy place.) I'll spend the six year anniversary of the suicide bombing in Afghanistan on orders prepping to head back down range. Awesome.

Now before y'all chime in with, "you volunteered," I will say that yes, I'm well aware that I not only enlisted but I REenlisted. I've volunteered for several tours over the years, to include the 32-month tour (deployment included) with 10th Mountain Division. I even tried to deploy again in 2007 (was too soon after last deployment), then again with an invite from Group (BNs couldn't take females BUT THEY CAN NOW, YIPPEE!), and I tried to put together a packet for the CSTs (my contact "didn't get around" to finishing it.) I've tried AT LEAST twice to go as a contractor but all of these times, it never worked out.

As disappointing as it sometimes was, I started to realize that maybe I wasn't supposed to be in Afghanistan. The thought even crossed my mind that I was trying to run away from what I was supposed to be doing which was, I thought, starting AWV.

It's always seemed like the AWV "river" I was on was not only carrying me down so swiftly but it was doing so at such a speed that it was all I could do to keep my head above water. I didn't know what I was getting into and I learned everything as I was being swept away. I couldn't even swim because of the rapids. It was like rolling through class IVs and not being able to see what the next hazard was on the river. In that situation, all you can do is ride through them and hope for a break or an eddy you can swim to. Then when you get to one, you're too exhausted to do anything but try and catch your breath. There's no time to reflect on what just happened because before you know it, you're in the whitewater again.

Not that I was a victim, but I didn't feel like I had a lot of control over where I was going. I knew that if I'd wanted to, I could have gotten out at some point but the resistance, sometimes the effort, isn't worth it. When there's that constant, ever-present feeling of *knowing* that you are exactly where you're supposed to be, doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing, you can get sort of miserable trying to do anything else. The river is unforgiving when you don't go where it's trying to take you. I know. I did try to avoid getting caught up and suffered greatly!

Now the river has revealed it's next hazard and I've misjudged the distance because it's coming up faster than I feel like I can be ready for. I won't even get into what this means for the others that have families to leave again...

The news of deployment changed everything.

For the first time in a long time, I'd chosen to have a serious relationship with someone I cared a great deal for. It felt right... real. Like it was finally, my time. I ended it instantly. I will not deploy and put anyone through that. I'm all too aware of what deployments do to the parties in a relationship and I won't put either of us through that.

Aside from just the relationship, I was starting to feel like I was coming into my own with the organization. We're putting together a rock-star team of advisors, volunteers and finally... board members(!).

And my family. For the first time, my sister and I will be deployed together. (She's going later.) I fear what this will do to my mother and baby sister. It's going to be really hard on them. I don't even want to think about it.

I felt like this year was really taking off. I was starting to see a culmination of sorts, like it was all coming together. All of the work we'd put into AWV... the experts were coming out of nowhere, the support, the momentum! We were selected as semi finalists for 2-years of funding and professional development support for a prestigious start-up fellowship by Echoing Green. I'd hired an executive/life coach to help me make huge strides with residual issues I've fought against myself with (fear of failure/success, etc.) Things were turning around and I was seeing measured progress every day. I still am.

More importantly, things were starting to feel manageable. Like the waters were going to be calmer but even if they got a little crazy, it wouldn't be chaotic. I was feeling ever more confident in myself and my team's abilities to work with the flow. Please don't get me wrong, I still feel this way but...

The deployment news has forced me to question all of that even though I still *feel* everything's going to work out swimmingly. When I got the call, I thought, "You know, of all the times I wanted/tried to deploy and couldn't go, I'm finally in a place where it's not the best timing. Because of that, this time, it'll happen." Because that's when it always happens, isn't it?

So this is the first time I'm being "voluntold." Sure, I could "choose" not to go but most of us know that even as they require you to sign your volunteer statements, it's not really "volunteering."

I used to think that my purpose was to take care of soldiers and to be the best NCO that I could be. Going over there used to be as much about my hopes and dreams for the people of Afghanistan as it was about taking care of the soldiers to my left and right, but now I see what we're doing to our soldiers and it makes me feel like my purpose is to be here, deployed to DC.

After a decade of conflict and all that's followed in its wake, I'm not even sure *I* know what we're still doing there. (And if any of you know me, you know that my saying this is quite a departure from my previous opinions...)

I don't know how I'm going to morph from being an advocate, someone who speaks up and voices things on behalf of others to the person who just shuts up and takes it. And it's already started; I was told the other day, "...Take your advocate hat off and put your soldier hat back on." I don't know if I can do that. I'm kinda thinkin' that they're one and the same damn hat.

What I do know is that I'm going to try because that was the commitment that I made. If I don't go, they'll send my sister or someone else's sister/brother/son/daughter/friend/mother/father in my place. That one reason alone, is reason enough for me to make as much of an effort as possible to "put my soldier hat back on" because I can't quite reconcile in my head, the greater good in that equation. A few of you have said that my "greater good" is to stay here and do what I do but it's not for me to judge that what I do is more important than what anyone else does. I certainly don't see my life or time here as more valuable than anyone's.

Sorry to end on another cliche' but - I do believe that everything happens for a reason. I do know that we don't always know what those reasons are and that sometimes we never know the "why" but I'm also fabulously awesome at making the most out of every challenge and opportunity that comes my way. I don't worry about AWV at all because I suspect that this deployment will do nothing but bolster my resolve to carry out its vision and mission.

I just worry about our families... the single parents, the children, the soldiers on their 4th+ deployments, and the loved ones that have stood by us/watched us go through trying times recovering from previous deployments. I'm worried about a lot of things and these worries are so much different than they were the last time I deployed... but that's another story...


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