01 September 2011

Struggling Within

Serving in the military, especially in combat, is all about personal sacrifice. We serve because we're willing to put someone else's needs before our own. We serve because we are passionate about the people with whom we share this experience. We serve because we are proud to do our nation's work. I feel confident in saying that those things are true about me. Most of the time.

But I can also confidently say that there are times when I invest a lot of time questioning why I have spent 10 years of my life waiting for the many special and rewarding moments I've found in Afghanistan. I've never been patient, but I waited 10 years for this, and yes, it was worth it. I spend even more time questioning whether 6 additional months away from my husband and all of reality is a price I'm willing to pay for the first job I've ever had that I find truly rewarding.

A lot of amazing things have happened this past week. As it turns out, leading a team in combat is just about the best experience I could have imagined, say nothing of the actual work we do. No, we're not shooting at people all day, but I do have the right team with the right vision to make a huge difference. By huge I mean we could leave a lasting, personal impact on 5 - 7 Afghans, which is a significant success story. We're willing to take risks, be creative, and reach out in ways that Americans have not in the past. I know I will leave here with some forever friends. I've already made a few. And I also know that I will embark on some amazing adventures. But can they replace what I'm missing back home?

We went to the firing range this week, and somehow I let the guys on my team challenge me to a shoot-out with our rifles (M-4s), which until a few days ago scared me to death. The key to physical leadership is apparently to be yourself (remember that advice?) because I accepted the challenge, destroyed the targets, and beat the guys at their own game, much to their surprise. It was a good moment. But that adventure wasn't about proving myself at all. Not the way I felt like I had to when I was at training. That adventure was about being comfortable in my own skin, and about leading in my own way. In that moment, I never wanted to leave my job in Afghanistan.

But even after those moments, it's amazing how much I'm still clinging to creature comforts, like any semblance of privacy. I have my own 8' x 10' metal container. That's my only space in the world right now, and today I heard that we're getting roommates. First of all, no. Second of all, no. And third of all, there is no freaking way I am staying here for a year in the world's smallest space shared with another person after knowing what it's like to have it all to myself. No.

Or at least that's my first reaction. Now I'm trying to be rational. So today's difficult decision stems from this new, altered version of the reality that may become my living situation. There are so many sacrifices I am willing to make here, and risks I take without giving them a second thought. I'll be the first one to volunteer to lead a mission to a local orphanage to take books, toys and candy to Afghan children who may never otherwise experience such pleasures. Risky, but rewarding. I'll walk around an Afghan base in civilian clothes because it makes the Afghan women who work there more comfortable. Risky, but rewarding.

But as soon as someone threatens to take away the little oasis into which I have transformed my room, all bets are off. Then I start weighing whether an extra 6 months here is worth the time away from Rob, the time away from traveling, the time away from some of my favorite people in the world who happen to live in Germany, and the many other comforts of home. But are they, those comforts, more important to me than my work here?

I'm not sure yet what the right decision is for me. I know that Julia wants me here, and that I can make a huge difference in her life in 12 months. I know that my team wants me here because I think they share my vision for what we can accomplish here together. But those are other people's opinions. I need to make my own decision on this one, and that today is the struggle within.

28 August 2011

Janie's Got a Gun

Two years ago today I had just celebrated my 30th birthday. Rob and I had recently suffered a miscarriage that tried our relationship in ways we could have never imagined. And I was just beginning the most demanding job I've ever had working for a boss who I was fairly certain I would despise because our character flaws were so alike.

One year ago today, I updated my Facebook status message to say this: "Lisa is ready for a new job, please." Rob and I had just moved from a beautiful, very obviously German town into the megatropolis that is the largest American community outside of the United States. I'd just started another new job, this time with a female boss who provided me with daily evidence that she was indeed the devil incarnate. I experienced the closest thing I hope I will ever know to a mental breakdown and the aftermath. And that boss I had one year ago expected to despise had somehow transitioned into one of my closest friends and mentors.

And then there's now. In a lot of ways if feels like someone finally handed me a roadmap and a compass and said "Why don't you take those 32 years of life experience and put them to good use?" In reality, I guess that's quite similar to what really happened ("Here are two guns, a bulletproof vest, and a helmet...go find your way through Afghanistan, and inspire some people along the way, would you?") My roadmap and compass have not been things, but rather people. And experiences. And a few bouts of good old fashioned luck.

It's been ages since I had quality girl time...early April to be exact. That means for the past 5 months I've been around boys nonstop...mostly younger, extremely sweet, and totally...male. They helped me unleash my inner badass, but it's really the amazing girls in my life who have been the litmus test as I've found my way back from what felt like the dark side. And this week there was one girl in particular who reminded me that the transition from girl to badass warrior and back is both possible and, wow, is it ever fun.

I met Jane in San Antonio last November...not even a year ago, and somehow it feels like we've known each other a lifetime. In December we met again, that time in Paris then Berlin as she wove her way through Europe on her annual holiday. We spent Christmas Eve at Bikram Yoga in Berlin (while my husband worked back home), had dinner and wine at my favorite restaurant, and enjoyed hours of conversation in the hotel lounge. She's more like me than any of my other girlfriends in ways that define our personalities...we're adventurous, independent, meticulous, confident, and compassionate (but we pretend to be compassionate only at our own convenience, therefore fooling no one).

Jane spent this past week with me at my base in Afghanistan (she was in training here), and has now headed to her own deployment location elsewhere in the country. She, like me, came from a part of the Air Force where leading convoys isn't normal operating procedure, yet here she is doing it. She, like me, went through Combat Skills Training. And she, like me, will be out here for a year living a life that is at the same time more complex and more simple than anything we've ever known.

Friendships like the one I have with Jane inspire me to do something with my life that matters in ways that are important to me. We have a tremendous connection in the lowest maintenance format you can imagine. In Afghanistan, I'm doing something I truly believe in, and I know that she is, too...that's a big part of why we're here. So even if she and I inspire just a handful of Afghans over the course of a year, we'll call that a successful tour. In my book it's already a successful tour because I go to work every day eager to do my job. To be perfectly honest, I can't remember the last time I felt that way...and now that I know that feeling, there is absolutely no turning back.