Today I am faced with the task of picking a topic that I feel will connect with the many different students that may or may not choose to read my article. So I am choosing a topic that means a lot to me and hope someone else might understand why I chose to spend my time writing about the topic I did. I had my second of three re-integration “Yellow Ribbon” events on Sunday (today, for me). To the best of my knowledge, these events are mandated by the state in order to help deployed National Guard Soldiers to be aware of the different local, state, and federal benefits that are newly available to them once they get back.
To me, and I’m sure other soldiers attending UWM, these types of events are more about the simplicity of seeing the guys (soldiers: male and female, to be specific) again that I spent every waking second overseas with. I can easily admit to you that I didn’t catch Bin-Laden nor did we clear a single room. When I refer to “clearing rooms,” I mean busting down doors and checking buildings in order to search for Intel. In fact, as engineers, the closest we got to clearing rooms was the days we tore down the old, unused buildings in an attempt to condense the base. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t too bored while I was over there, and what I did over there is definitely not the case for many other soldiers that deployed. But, back to my original topic, I was happy to see my deployment family again.
It is weird to see them out of military uniform, too. It is very difficult to explain what I did while deployed, as I’m sure it is for every soldier on campus. This is not because I am trying to keep it locked-up, but because it took eight months of my life. It would take me at least eight months in order to describe my experience. To put it easy to those of you students who weren’t in the military, there were good days and bad days. Some days were very bad. Other days were so bad that the only thing we could do was joke amongst each other about the events that were taking place. Some days were plain-old stupid.
Let me tell you a story of one of these days. I was at a training event, practicing clearing rooms (remember, we never actually did this in real life) and I slipped and landed on my face. I ended up having to get stitches on my upper lip and couldn’t speak straight for two weeks. This was my very first day in the unit. No one knew me before that moment, but they very quickly knew of me after they heard of that “dumb kid” who slipped on a patch of ice, on break, and broke his face. That’s right, I wasn’t even in the middle of a training exercise. Side note, I earned the nickname of “Pretty-Boy Soldier” after that event. Because of this, every single day of my deployment went toward me trying to prove I wasn’t that “dumb kid.” I have many stories to come that will hopefully change your opinion of me, and other soldiers on campus who have experienced similar situations, as well.
One thing that I have learned from deployment and want to relay to soldiers, and non-soldiers, on campus is that life never stops. Although, when I was deployed, I felt like where I was at that moment was the only thing going on in the world. What I have since realized is that couldn’t have been anything further from the truth. When I look forward, not everything stops that’s behind me- waiting for me to look back in order to let it resume.
With this in mind, I have realized more than ever that after seeing the soldiers I deployed with at Yellow Ribbon, and felt I’ve grown closer with in some ways than my own relatives, and after making all those extravagant plans to hang out all the time once we got back home, life happened. Over there, we were kept in this bubble in which all we had was each other- so I got close to them. Now that I am here at UWM, I don’t have them anymore. I have to grow to accept that I won’t have them here for me, any more than I can say I have the memories we’ve shared. I miss them, but life must go on.
So here I am today, eating a succulent hamburger in which it sat upon a buttery toasted bun accompanied by fresh lettuce, slice tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and a seal encompassed by chipotle mustard. I get to read plays in order to participate in a discussion of what I read for Theatre Analysis class, and that’s my homework. I get to fall in love if I want to. Forward: this may have happened, too… and I can live without the constant worry of informing my team leader of my whereabouts (it’s a military thing). All in all, this feels like a dream. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel right.
Since being in Afghanistan, I feel like that’s where my life belongs now. I know there are people over there right now too, so I can’t help but feel guilty that I get to enjoy the pleasure of everyday life here at UWM while some of them may not even have time to remember what a lot of those pleasures for them were. Who knows, I may not be quite done with what’s over there, either.
To the other soldiers attending UWM, never lose hope, and never lose that sense of fight in which you gained from the military; and to non-soldier students at UWM, in whatever you do, never go a day without having something to fight for. I feel if we can do this, we may all be able to go about life in a more positive and productive way, possibly making UWM more positive in turn- but who am I to draw such conclusions?
Have a safe and awesome Spring Break UWM!