Our lives begin to end the day we begin to remain silent about those things that matter
November has seen my journey come full circle. I began this journey with only the pack on my back and I come home the same way. I gained much along my rout: gear and experience are the two most notable. This all began on a sunny day in September 2010 when I left home, walked away from my known safe place and ventured into unknown areas. I walked the airport, through the masses of people, alone. Little fear of where I was, fear of where I was going. Today I return, the tools of war removed, the only lasting proof of where I was and what I did are the memories and the clothing I wear. Today I return to you. I return to the same airport, under the same sun, carrying the same contents in my pack. This time I am cautious of who is around me, cautious of the new place I am going: home.
I said good bye to my team, my family, like an onion is peeled. People departed in ones and two’s. Strong and loving embraces, thanks for keeping me safe, fighting tears. Then in a blink of an eye, gone. Lost in the sea of people in an airport. Those you depended on to protect you, keep you safe, are no longer by your side. You are alone in that sea of people and you stick out because of your uniform. The uniform does no good here, blending in is not possible, you wear the cloth of a small fraternity. Who is there to help you, there to hurt you? The skills you used to stay alive are useless here. The skills you need to live, to move forward, you last used 14 months ago. We were told nothing is easy in Afghanistan, remember? Today I find simple things are not easy here either.
I am looking forward to spending time with Connor and Grace. I have known Connor for 6 months and have been gone 2.5 times longer than I have known him. I am looking forward to doing some simple things with him. Swimming, eating ice cream, reading, and catching lizards in the yard….
I arrived into Orlando on Monday evening around 9 PM. I walked the airport, rode the tram, and walked a bit more. Ever looking for things out of place, all in a land I have not been in for 14 months….
It was then, as I laid eyes on my friends and family that I realized something about coming home. It wasn’t about me. Never has been. Its about returning home and owing it all to the people who helped me survive. It is about those who stay behind and those who will never get the chance to walk an airport, stand in front of their family and say, “I am here, it is done.”
We were told that 11.2% of the nation served in the armed forces over a four year period during World War Two. 4.3% served in Vietnam over a 12 year period. Today a simple, yet effective 0.45% have served in armed conflict. This is one-half of one percent that protect the golden doors. I am glad to be part of this unique and tempered fraternity.
Through the years our veterans have left, done their job, and returned. Some were welcomed home, others were ignored. They have all crossed the churning seas of danger. Some avoided storms, some sailed right in. Some navigated rocky shoals, never getting caught where they didn’t want to be while others were blown completely off course by waring storms. They all battled the dragons in the sky above and serpents that swam below. They faced fiery breath and piercing claws and avoided drowning at the hands of chaos and confusion that surrounded them. Survival was achievable because of a common idea we clung to: preservation of freedom against all threats foreign or domestic.
In war, truth is the first causality
Today I arrive at my destination. A shore I have been sailing towards for 14 months now. Today someone somewhere is born and they will answer the calling to serve and they may not come home; because of their sacrifice I am here today. Our journey is the same, our distant shore is identical. Through the trials and tribulations of life, that distant shore, it is has always been there, just across our Rubicon.
Freedom is never free