01 December 2011

Please Come Home for Christmas

I consider myself fairly well grounded, well traveled, and relatively stable. Usually. The past few weeks, wow, I've been all over the place to the point that I'm now physically ill.

Loren and I have been sharing some interesting conversations about the transition from war to peace. Until now, quite honestly, I had never really considered it. I mean, every day here I run convoys in combat. The month of November was the first month in quite some time where the bad guys in Kabul didn't mount a spectacular attack on Coalition Forces. I'm now down to an undisclosed amount of days in Kabul, and it's undisclosed because no one (including me) knows when I'll be out of here. But it will be soon...relatively speaking. And the reality of my transition from war to not-war is really sinking in.

I haven't lived in the real world for more than eight months. For the past eight months, I have been focused on my physical safety in combat. I spent almost three months picking the brains of some really smart people as I was preparing, then five more months employing those tactics on the roads of Afghanistan. The last few weeks out here are notoriously dangerous...it's easy to lose focus, start daydreaming about home, and for something bad to happen. I've done my best to take every precaution so that I don't pose a risk to either myself or my team, and I have to believe that after all this time on the road, I can trust my instincts and I'll know when something just doesn't feel right...either with myself or the situation.

But the reality of the situation is that in the next few weeks, my life is going to be drastically different than it is right now, and I will be drastically different than the last time I lived in that house, in that town, and in that country. I'll be able to have a glass of wine by the fire, which is one of the winteresque memories that keeps me sane out here. The thing I fear is being alone.

For eight months, there was always someone physically next to me while I went through a huge spectrum of emotions. And when I get home, it will be just me for about six weeks, working through the freedoms that arise when the U.S. Army releases it's stranglehold on me. I'll still have people "next to me" as this all transpires, but my support system in Germany isn't at all comparable to the one I've had out here.

Just as there were so many firsts while I've been out here, there are now so many lasts...and most of them are liberating. When I get out of the truck later this week, that will be my last ride in a M-ATV. My last time wearing the world's most uncomfortable headset. My last bland meal in the Dining Facility. My last night living in a shipping container.

The thing I am not looking forward to, however, is the feeling of isolation that I think may come with a return back to home where there isn't the rush of daily life-and-death decisions. Where the camaraderie I've grown to love will be gone. And where watching women with endless amounts of potential find a way to start living dreams they never knew they had is no longer a daily event.

Yes, there are things I will actually miss about being at war. In time, my non-war life will again become normal. And for the next few weeks, I'll be riding the tidal wave of transitional emotions, and I'll be thankful for an outlet like this one. And I'll certainly be thankful that I'll be home for Christmas. And by home, I mean back on the Mosel River in Germany with some of my favorite people in the world.

29 November 2011

Starting to Say Goodbye

It's been a turbulent past few weeks around here. Perhaps that's the understatement of the deployment. First I was staying here until the end of June. Then I was staying here until the end of December. Now I'm staying here a handful more days and then I'm on my way back to Germany.

As you can imagine, this was less than palatable news for Julia, who now fondly refers to herself as my Afghan sister (which I love, by the way).  It's also been less than joyous news to share with the Afghans with whom I work here, and I haven't even started telling the women.

Julia and I agreed that I should do something personal for the women who have made this deployment so incredible, so together she and I wrote a letter of thanks (in Dari):

سلام و احترامات خود را خدمت تمام خانمهای قوماندانی تقدیم میدارم
خواهر های عزیزم مه بسیار خوش بودم که میتوانم یک سال باهم همکار باشیم
مگر از طرف فنکس گفته شود در یک هفته باید برم میخواستم بسیارکمک تان کنم
مگر از این که وقت کم دارم باید بورم. مگر از همه شما خواهش دارم که
متوجه یکی دیگر باشید مه از همه شما بسیار خوش هستم میخواهم به یاد
من هر یک شمبه لباس نظامی تان را در جان تان کنین. و تشکر از همه چیز
همرای خود تمام یاد های تان را میبرم مه همیش برای شما و فامیل تان
دعا میکنم که صحت مند باشین
   با احترام خواهر شما

           لیزا باربار

And here's what we said roughly translated into English:

Hello to all of the women who work at Headquarters XY (my sisters),
I would love to keep working with you and helping you, but unfortunately I do not have much time. I have been ordered to return to Germany very soon.
I am very proud of all of you. You are all doing a wonderful job. I have a request for all of you...please take care of each other and if you want to remember me, wear your uniform every Sunday even when I am gone.
Thanks for everything and I will take the great memories we shared together with me forever.
I will pray for your success and for your families.
Your sister,

Each woman will receive an envelope with her name on it, and enclosed will be the letter and a picture of me in my American uniform wearing a head scarf, since that is how they all remember me. I will pass out the envelopes on Sunday when I see the women at our last meeting together.

The end crept up on me so fast, and I still have no idea how to process it all. But I'm sure in time I'll sort through it all, and what I've said to the women is so true...I will forever cherish my memories of the beautiful women of Afghanistan and of the Afghan National Army.