“For every member of the armed forces, there are 200 civilians.  0.5% of the population of America is all that volunteers to defend its borders.”

After being deployed in support of Operation New Dawn in Iraq, I have finally returned home.  But before Uncle Sam lets us go, they must first “demobilize” us.

Basically, they must slowly reintegrate us into society before they let us go.  The whole crawl walk run idealogy, so to speak.

During this whole process, we must continue to refrain from the consumption of alcohol.  Also, we are not permitted to leave the base.  I have been in New Jersey for a week but I haven’t even seen my own house yet.

But what surprised me the most was the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans.  They came out to greet us when our plane landed and told us that they understand how hard it is to come home from a war and adjust to life here in America.  We got off the plane, entered a chapel, and there they were late at night with macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, hamburgers, and beverages.

What nobody ever really talks about as a soldier is the amount of overwhelming generosity they receive from strangers.  One time when I was at the airport in Atlanta, I had dozens of people offer me drinks and dinner.  While I was eating at Chilis, one man dropped a twenty dollar bill on our table, and before we could even use it to pay, someone else had covered our bill.  So me and my friend were stuck looking at this twenty dollar bill, wondering what exactly we should do with it.

“It’s not for us, but rather for them.  It makes them feel good. So whenever anyone offers you anything, take it,” said a friend of mine, who had more time in the military than me.

Then, a group of college girls gave up their first class seats for us.  People often wonder what its like to be a celebrity.  As a celebrity, people want stuff from you.  They want an autograph, or maybe some sort of acknowledgement.  But as a soldier, people want to give you stuff.  It’s backwards.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a celebrity, but I would imagine its the opposite of what I feel like when all sorts of random people come up to me to either shake my hand or offer me something.

I’ve never made a girl feel nervous before, except when I sat next to one on the plane wearing my uniform.  She was a college student about a year older than me, and she was always playing with her hair or giggling.  The pilot made an announcement on the plane, acknowledging my presence as I was returning home for my two week rest and recovery break halfway through the deployment.  Everyone on the plane gave us a round of applause.  I thought I was dreaming.

I must admit, it is quite difficult to be ripped out of this country and then thrown into Iraq.  But it is even more difficult to be ripped out of Iraq and thrown back into this country.  While I attempt to rekindle bonds that have gone cold over time, it is a strong reminder of one thing – “out of sight, out of mind”.  I forgot how good women can look, how green grass can be, and how cold New Jersey is in the winter time.  I forgot what it feels like to have a cell phone and internet 24/7.  More than anything, I forgot what it feels like to be free.  Ironic actually, because I’m a guardian of freedom according to the soldier’s creed.

The doctors think I’m nuts, but what they don’t realize is that I’ve been that way since day one.  When I was a baby, I did run into a wall, which explains the scar on my forehead.  Maybe that also explains my extremely impulsive personality.

I cleared the medical process, but with a few bumps along the way.  The doctor thought I was a likely candidate for alcoholism.  My first response: Aren’t we all?  My second response: I’m in college.  Needless to say, I’m almost home home.  I just don’t know where to pick up the pieces.

Ultimately, I realize that I am alone in everything I do.  And if I should become a washed up, crazy, alcoholic of a veteran, well then I hope someone slaps me and tells me to snap out of it.  The only reason most people talk to me now is because they feel that they owe me something.  Well, let me tell you folks, you don’t owe me anything.  I was the idiot who signed up.

I told myself that if I lived through Iraq, I would say what is on my mind and not fear judgement.  When you face possible death for a year straight, you really have nothing to lose.  Life is too short, and I certainly can’t afford to die with regrets.



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