Good question, no easy answer. My time in Afghanistan has been everything I expected it to be, but nothing like I imagined. I realize that may not make sense, but trust me, it is exactly that.
I am like many other Soldiers, we would like nothing more that to stay close to home and live a ‘normal’ life. However when our nation goes to war, we feel compelled to join the fight and do what we have trained for. This creates an internal struggle – we want to go, but we want to stay home. Should we volunteer to go or should we wait until called? This choice even more difficult when it seems as if everyone else is going, yet you are staying home. It is if you are being ‘left behind’. How can you let your friends go without you?
But it is seldom within our control. Imagine, if you can, the feelings you go through when you decide you can’t be left behind. You put your name on the list to choose going to war over staying at home, yet you hear ‘thanks for volunteering, but we don’t have an opening right now’. Talk about a blow to the nads! After all, you know that you are every bit as qualified as at least a half-dozen of the Joe’s that are going, that don’t want to go. Why can’t you simply trade spots? You are simply told you just can’t, that’s why…kinda like a parent that responds to their kids with ‘because I am the parent’. No real reason, it is just the system.
What about me, did I get picked or did I volunteer to be at this place at this time? The answer is both. I have been a Soldier since 1983. I like it and I am generally pretty good at it. I was dedicated to the Army and eagerly sought opportunities to train and then to put that training into action. I volunteered to go on every deployment I could: Desert Storm, Honduras (Joint Task Force Bravo), Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan to name a few. I wasn’t looking forward to being away from my family, but it was my duty to put my training into action and support my nation to the best of my ability. Despite my many attempts at volunteering while on Active Duty, it wasn’t until I was in the Minnesota Army National Guard (MNARNG) that I was able to join the fight.
We received the notification for our mission in Bosnia, as part of the Stabilization Forces (SFOR) in early 2001 (before 9-11). I quickly volunteered and was selected to go. Finally I would be doing something besides ‘practice’. But our rotation would not begin until fall 2003. It wasn’t a full-on combat mission, but it was better than training. I spent 6 months there and I had a very bad experience. Not with the mission, but the with the organization I was assigned to & some of the other Soldiers in that unit. I almost left the Army when I got home; which is why I did not volunteer to go with the 1-34 BCT to Iraq. That was a ‘good’ mission – going forward in an active combat zone with a Heavy Brigade Combat Team (HBCT). Exactly what I had wanted to do since I joined the Army. But after my Bosnia experience, I needed to decompress and get my bearings back.
By the time the 1-34 BCT actually left in late 2006 I was feeling pangs of regret for not jumping on that train, but by then it was too late, I was in a position which precluded me from joining the team. I did the next best thing, I ensured everyone knew that I was ready, willing and able to fulfill a deployment mission. I was not selected to join the MNARNG’s Combat Aviation Brigade or Division as they went forward. However I was activated for stateside duty. When the 34th Infantry Division (ID) deployed to Iraq, I was sent to work full-time at the State Headquarters in the Twin Cities. I had to leave my home & job for 15 months, but I wasn’t sent overseas. Some may think that would be better, but I would have rather went overseas.
Later that summer (2009), I was selected to go on a mission with an Active Duty team (known as a Red Team) to support the 34th ID for the rest of their deployment & the first half of the follow-on division’s deployment; but it was not good timing for the MNARNG, so my boss declined to let me go. The next assignment the Army selected me for was as a liaison officer in the US Embassy, Pakistan. Not the combat mission I wanted, but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The timing worked for the MNARNG and my leadership agreed to release me to go. It wasn’t the best timing for me as I had only been home & back to work for about 9 months. I was also at a place in my personal life that my wish to stay home was infinitely stronger than my excitement to deploy. But of course there was no way I could, in good conscience, tell the Army ‘Never mind, I need to stay home’.
Reluctantly I began the process to go to Pakistan for a year, leaving in less than 4 months. Then no more than 3 weeks later, while I was in DC for Army stuff, I got the good news/bad news call; your are not going to Pakistan in May, but you are going to Afghanistan in October. I was relieved for 3 reasons:
- I had an extra 5 months at home.
- I would be serving with fellow MNARNG Soldiers.
- I would be doing ‘real’ Army stuff in the combat theater of operations.
However, I still wished I could just say no and stay home. But, I swore an oath a long time ago to do what I was asked to do…so here I am. Depending on how you look at my path to here, I volunteered, but I was ordered to go. As I so often hear: It is what it is.
Five years from now I will be thankful for the experience.
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