In 2011, I finally returned from my deployment to Afghanistan. I was incredibly excited, beyond words happy. All I wanted was to be with my friends, my family, my dogs…eat my favorite foods, get things back to normal. It was what I had been waiting for! But that excitement actually turned on me. Quicker than I would like to admit, I found myself missing the military. I felt a little lost without my team, like there was this massive void in my life. I am writing because I want to honestly share that coming back home can be difficult, but adventure travel and scuba diving are things I have found that help me fill that void.
It all started back in 2008, when I made a decision that I had been contemplating for most of my life. That year, I finally signed my name on the line and joined the ranks of the United States Army. I secured a position in an Airborne Infantry with a unit that specialized in Long Range Surveillance (LRS) that was part of the Nebraska National Guard. I was sent off for nearly five months of training and then introduced to my unit. During training missions, I quickly made friends with one of the best group of guys I have ever had the privilege of serving with. We trained together and learned to work as a team in some pretty extreme circumstances. We learned to go days with hardly any sleep, jump out of planes, and march further than seemed possible with rucks that weighed as much as a small car. Just when we thought we had it all figured out, in true army fashion, everything changed and we relearned it all over again. The real skill in the Army is staying flexible and not blowing your top as you get jerked around. The long hours, changing timelines, and frustration over never knowing what was going on seemed to bond each soldier together. All of this proved to be invaluable training.
In 2010, my unit and I deployed to Afghanistan to aid the local army and police forces. The unit was divided into small teams and we operated independently. I was lucky enough to earn a spot as a Designated Marksman and I spent much of our year-long deployment as a gunner in a Humvee when we were mounted. My team did our job of mentoring the locals and we used our training and the bonds we formed with each other to get through the deployment. The training kept us on point when we were running missions and our friends made the year bearable. It was these friends that kept each other sane, or as sane as possible, and helped to motivate you when it all seemed pointless. The training, the brotherhood, and a little bit of luck all worked together in our favor. I know how lucky we were to bring all the guys back, especially for an infantry unit. We had some close calls, but in the end we came back together.
In 2012, I transferred out of that LRS and moved to Hawaii. I joined a field medical unit and met a whole new bunch of soldiers. Again, I was fortunate to serve with an amazing unit. I never got the chance to attend the Army’s medical training so these soldiers took me under their wing and showed me everything they possibly could. I was taught on the fly by medics that knew their trade and performed it with the utmost professionalism. I will always miss the Infantry, but there is no greater gift to the grunt on the battle field than the guardian angels in human form, Field Medics.
However, one thing I didn’t expect was that very quickly I started missing the military. It’s the strangest thing- you want to be with your friends and family so much when you’re away, to be in the country that is yours, eat home-cooked foods and have the things that you love around you. But then you start to think about deployment, start to miss the team and the action, the simplicity, and to some extent, you want to go back. That feeling has never really gone away. Whenever I see my old buddies on Facebook posting training pictures, I feel a little twinge of pain that I am not there with them. Each soldier finds their own way to deal with this feeling and for me it has been working in adventure travel. Constantly moving and taking jobs as an adventure guide, jobs I didn’t even know existed, has helped to scratch the itch. I love the challenge of living and working in other countries, pushing myself mentally and physically, speaking new languages and working outdoors. I have been very lucky to make a life for myself that keeps me happy.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case for soldiers. Our unit had its share of guys who struggled when they came back. Trouble at home, with the law, and even worse. It is tough to see the guys that helped you through a deployment come home and struggle. We do our best to help each other, but it is nearly impossible when the guys get so spread out. Although I found my way to deal, it hurts to see my fellow soldiers hurting themselves. I know what I am doing works for me right now, but in the near future I want to be a bigger part of helping fellow veterans cope and find the peace we all deserve. I hope to build the skills that will allow me to be a bigger help to my brothers and sisters in the very near future. Until then, I will just keep traveling, working, and finding ways to give back where I can in the present.