“You’re on.” It’s two simple words over the phone. Two words that interrupt the flow of everything around you. Time slows. The voices around you fade to a white background buzz.
All the feelings, sights, smells of deployment crash over you in one sneak attack wave. You feel your mind and body shifting into the gears of your other life. The landscape around you changes from the safe and routine to the tight downward spiral of the C17 Globemaster on its final approach to the forward deployed airfield; the cold, crisp air mixed with JP8 fumes bite your nostrils as you step off the ramp; the early morning sky painted pink on gray as the sun rises over the mountains in the distance. Your mind is racing as you begin the overwhelming checklist of everything that needs to be done before you deploy. Who’s going to watch the dog? Do I keep my lease? I’ve got to cancel my gym membership. You are re-shuffling the ever-growing list for the third time in 30 seconds in your mind. The disquiet brings you back to the present. You’re at work. A co-worker is re-telling a story about, “that one time…” to your boss and a few guys standing around. You wait for his story to end. Your face gives the news first. “What’s up?”, your boss inquires. “It’s official. I’m deploying.” “Well, ok…”, the when, wheres, and for how longs are filled in. “I’ll run it up the chain. Thanks for the quick heads up. And you told me you felt like this was coming several months ago, so good on you.” “Bro, it was good working with you”, a co-worker chimes in. You’re not sure if he’s been fatalistic about your job or your life. Your boss deems it to be your job. “Do you want your job back when you return?” The absurdity of the question catches you off guard. “Well, yeah…yes! Of course!” “Ok.” While a veteran himself, he’s unaccustomed to the intricacies of managing employees who still serve. It’s a valid question, but absolutely unsettling; one that puts you back to your checklist.
You remember the excitement you felt the first time you were mobilized for a combat rotation. You were like a race horse in the chute, chomping at the bit, waiting for that gate to open. All you wanted to do was serve. Things were different then, more romantic. You had dedicated years to being a master of your craft, and war was that craft. Life could wait. You still have some of that excitement, but it’s metered with the pragmatic sensibility that comes with hard-learned experience. Your mantle is adorned with the black bracelets of friends you will never see again. Your family has grown callouses on their emotions to your in-and-out presence. Your peers have moved on to successful ventures out of uniform. You have reluctantly followed suit and, with some transitional bumps, seem to be making a good go of it. Your life is on track…and now the engineer is switching tracks.
But this is what you want. No one is forcing you to keep that uniform in your closet. It’s become a part of your DNA. What started as a means to pay for college so many years ago has become a part of your identity. Your service has shaped your values, given you unique perspectives on important issues, paid your membership into club that requires no meetings or handshakes. You love serving and being part of something that is bigger than yourself. If the mobilization was to answer phones at a CONUS based headquarters, you would still do it…not without complaint, but you would do it. You hope that your time isn’t being wasted on this mobilization. You hope at the end of this trip, the impact you made will be worth the interruption in your life that it bought.
The Lighter Side of the Trip
Sometimes, deployments aren’t just running, gunning and herding cats. Some of the things that you see in countries that are still thousands of years behind modern science and…logic, deep gene pools and creative processes are not common, so naturally we have to fumble with our cameras or phones to snap pictures because people at home wouldn’t believe it unless they’ve been there.
Just one more trip…