Thursday, June 14, 2012

The End – “Good bye and thanks for all the fish” (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, 1979)

Well it is here, the end of another deployment and my last one before I retire.  While I am extremely happy to see it come to an end, it would not be complete if I did not take the time to thank those people that made it go by a quickly as it did.  It just seems like yesterday that I boarded the Chinook helicopter out of Iraq in December.  Now I am packing up and waiting for the bus to take me to the last plane I will board as a soldier heading home.  There I will spend the next two years getting ready to retire after 20 years thus fulfilling a promise I made to myself to finish what I started.

First and foremost, I must thank my lovely wife Patty.  She has been there for me on all three deployments.  While most of the time she has railed loudly about how she wants each and every deployment to be over so we can be together, she has provided me the strength to keep going and finish this journey.  As I am not as a prolific writer as I would like to be, she has also been the editor of many of my papers and blog entries.  She will admit though, the amount of editing she has had to do lately has become less and less, I still rely on her to make sure I get my point across.  Thank you Patty and I am eternally grateful for you being in my life and the even though this journey is ending ours is just beginning.

Secondly, to my friends and mentors Nancy “aka My Girlfriend” and Kem Hauge, for the support you have given Patty and me over the last 8 years since we first met, THANK YOU.   You are two of the kindest and giving people I have ever met and don’t think I can ever repay you for it.  Our Friday night dinners and drinks are the one thing that we all could count on and look forward to each and every week.  From the food, to the martinis (oh the martinis – extra cold and dry for Nancy) to the conversations those are some of the best memories that carried my through this deployment.  THANK YOU THANK YOU.

Thirdly, to all my friends in National Guard units that I have had the pleasure of serving with thank you.  While we may not speak for a while, there is a special bond between people that have served together.  You understand what each has gone through during those times and the challenges we faced.  We can take comfort to know that we survived and made it home.  Your impact on me did not go unnoticed and I salute you and thank you.

Lastly, not all the people that have made an impact were positive.  All three deployments have had those individuals that had a negative impact on others and me.  While I am not going to name names I am sure if those people actually read this blog they may think I am talking about them.  If they think that then they are probably correct but you will have to ask me directly to know for sure.  However, they also need to be thanked.  Thank you for showing me what not to do.  Your lesson, while unknowing to you, was appreciated.

So this is it, the last entry in the series.  However, it will not be the last blog I do.  All that is left is the say “good bye and thanks for all the fish” - For Now.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Leave – Two types – One you want to take one that you hope to Never Take

Well it is here, time for my mid-tour R&R leave.  I am really looking forward to taking this break from the desert.  Right now the temperature is starting to climb as is my blood pressure but that is for another time.  While I contemplate my leave and how excited I am about it, I am also taking time to reflect the other type of leave I had to take during this deployment.

Most people do not know that the military offers several ways for soldiers to get a “break” from the mundane day-to-day effects of military life.  Being deployed does not change that; it just offers a little more complexity.  There is the traditional leave (civilians call it vacation), but the outcome is the same.  You get away and enjoy some much needed down time in order to recharge your batteries.  Just like everyone else you sometimes need a vacation from your vacation depending on what you do with your down time.  The other way to escape is with a “pass” Just like the days in High School, it allows you to take a quick respite from work and reset yourself.  I have been offered this several times but the areas that they can send me only offer a different base nothing really exciting so I have declined.  The outcomes are the same for both leave and pass, to get you away from your company for a quick break.  However, there are times that you did not plan to take leave or pass but have no fear the military has the remedy for that.  It is called Emergency Leave/Pass.

So what is the difference?  As the name implies something has happened that requires you to leave the area and address the emergency.  So what is classified as an emergency, typically it requires a Red Cross Message.  Basically someone back home has called the Red Cross to inform the unit that Soldier so and so needs to come home because something drastic has happened.  Well yours truly had one of those drastic things happened this deployment that required me to take Emergency Leave.  Most people reading this will know what happened so I will not bemoan the issue.  Suffice to say it is a message NO ONE ever wants to get.  It affects everyone in the company and even if you had a huge blow out with someone in the company early that day, this type of message puts everything into perspective really quick. 

So here I am getting ready to go on leave and realize that I will also be seen as “lucky.”  Why?  Because I will get to leave the desert twice in the deployment, however I don’t feel “lucky” at all.  I am grateful that I get away twice because being my last deployment the less time I spend in the desert the better.  However, going home for my rest and relaxation is bitter sweet.  I know that my wife and friends will love having me home and I will be busy.  I have a wonderful leave planned but know that there is still a dark cloud over my head.  All because of my emergency leave.  I try not to dwell on what happened but others in the unit do not give me that luxury.  Comments that are said either to me or behind my back when people don’t think I am listening resonate their true feelings.  It is like I was given something that everyone should have but the truth is you can have my emergency leave and I will take what was lost from you and see if you feel the same.  My guess is that you would not want to trade with me but I could be wrong (not likely).  So this leave that I am about to take will truly be a Rest and Relaxation leave.  I plan to have as much fun as possible and not think about the desert or what awaits me upon my return.  I do know that I am thankful that the military has an emergency leave policy and that I was able to see how efficient that policy is executed when fellow soldiers that truly care initiate it.  For those that think I am “lucky” I would beg to differ.  If you never have to use emergency leave in your career then you are the lucky ones.  If you want proof ask anyone that has had to use it.  Most would have like to have never received the Red Cross message tell you to come home.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Groundhog Day Effect – it happens to all deployed soldiers

There are many surprising similarities between the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day and each one of my deployments.  To define the Groundhog Day effect you have to know the movie.  Every day Bill Murray’s character wakes up on February 2nd in Punxsutawney, PA where he is a reporting on Punxsutawney Phil coming out of his hole to predict if there is going to be 6 more weeks of winter.  In contrast, in my own life there is no actual groundhog to determine if there is going to be six more weeks of this deployment.  But I assure you – there will be six more weeks and every day will feel like Groundhog Day.

Eerily similar to the movie, each day I wake up to the same music (not Sonny & Cher) and to the same exact routine, surrounded by the same exact sights, sounds, people and routine activities.  No matter what I do, I will wake up each day and it will be Groundhog Day.

I’m not alone.  The Groundhog Day effect is a stark reality for every deployed solider regardless of their specialty and we all know it.  In fact we all joke about it because let’s face it, if you can’t keep a sense of humor over here than your deployment will get the best of you.

So how do I fight the Groundhog Day Effect?  By doing the same thing that Bill Murray did; finding things to do that distract me about where I am and for how long.  This is a lot easier said than done – but not from lack of effort by the US Army.  We are all provided ample opportunity to combat the monotony every day.  The question becomes whether or not you personally want to take advantage of these opportunities or would you prefer to muddle through Groundhog Day – every day. 

It has been my experience over the last three deployments that no matter how much we try to prepare soldiers for the repetitive Groundhog Day Effect, vast majority do not heed the warnings and end up being a victim of boredom.  Why?  Because they spend their entire deployment glued to their Xbox 360, PS3, or whatever gaming device that they own and brought with them.  While this provides a temporary distraction, gaming ends up being just as cyclical as watching Punxsutawney Phil and it does not defeat the Groundhog Day Effect.  Some soldiers try sleep as a strategy, but alas this is also an ineffective defense because it only delays the effects.

So what are the symptoms that you are becoming a victim of the Groundhog Day Effect?  Everyone reacts to this effect differently but some commonalities that I have experienced are:

1.    Irritability at the littlest thing – like a shoe being out of place

2.    Overtired – Getting too much sleep will do this

3.    1,000 yard stare – an emptiness in the eyes

4.    The feeling of going “stir crazy” – this is due to not leaving your living quarters

Take charge of your own life and learn what you can do to effectively fight monotony.  The key is variety of distraction and engagement.  If you step outside your comfort zone every day, and find new things to do, you will find that time moves more quickly.  Here are a few strategies I use:

1.    Engage in community (try Starbucks for a start).

2.    Get out your quarters every day (DFAC does not count). 

3.    Attend an MWR event!  Enjoy a concert and remember that you may never get the opportunity to see some of these performing artists again and its FREE. 

4.    Take in a movie also FREE and first run movies are common.

5.    Blog – keeping in mind OPSEC (loose lips people!)

6.    Take a class.  Learn something.  Make use of your time on deployment

All of these outlets allow you to mitigate the effects of Groundhog Day and who knows maybe just maybe you will forget for that you are far from home and missing you family and friends.  At the very least, you’ll walk away with some irreplaceable experiences.