Reintegration

This post has been a long time coming, and to my devoted readers, my profuse apologies. The last few weeks of the deployment were especially hard, and extraordinarily busy. I will spend a few moments there, and then talk more about my reintegration to civilian life.

After I last wrote on November 1st, we celebrated the Marine Corps birthday. For those of you who do not know, the Marine Corps first came into being on November 10, 1775. Being the dedicated historians steeped in tradition we all are, Marines celebrate this birthday every year – regardless of where we are. There is always a cake, usually a ball with great ceremony and dress uniforms. But there are also stories of Marines being flown cake out to remote locations, deployed across the world (“in every clime and place”). It is a special day to remember we are Marines.

So a deployed birthday had always held a special place in my heart. For this particular birthday, we had a cake (miraculously acquired from where I don’t know) and the Commanding General was good enough to give each of the Marines two beers. Yes, really.

We did not get beer for the 4th of July, or Thanksgiving, or any other holiday, but for the Marine Corps birthday, we get two beers each. Does that tell you how important it is? We also made a day of it – got the full day off and some music to go with our beers. I have not seen a sight like that in my life, and do not expect to again anytime soon – 80+ Marines, in camouflage utility uniforms, beers raised high (after 6 months without alcohol) and dancing as if they are back home on a Saturday night. Great night. (Don’t worry – we had Marines who were NOT drinking watching the weapons.)

Before we knew it, it was Thanksgiving. We were planning for our redeployment in earnest now (scheduled for first week of December), and for turnover with our replacements. More gear was starting to come in, and we were expecting several General officer visits. Amidst all this, Camp Leatherneck tried to make the holidays a bit more festive. There was holiday music in the messhall, decorations around camp and even rules on Christmas trees in your rooms! It was very nice, but I would have preferred that we not be festive at all. Being so far from home, I would have liked to pretend that the holidays were not happening. Thanksgiving dinner was as good as it could be, with all the usual meats and trimmings. But the egg nog did not taste at all like egg nog! 😉 I’m not sure what it was, but I’m certain it was better that I didn’t finish drinking it.

Then our replacements started to arrive. We began conducting turnover and getting ourselves ready to go home. We sent home what we could not or did not want to carry, and gave away items we had collected (blankets, tea kettles, plywood desks and folding chairs). Our flight to the Transit Center in Manas, Kyrgyzstan departed on December 7th. We would wait here for the connecting flight to North Carolina. I couldn’t believe it was really over. It was surreal getting on the plane, leaving all my responsibilities as company commander behind. We had worked so hard, done so much, and just like that, we were done.

The Transit Center in Manas allowed two alcoholic drinks per day per service member. What is it with two drinks, you ask? It was more than one, which would have seemed a bit stingy, but less than three. After seven months of not drinking, any more than two drinks would have been more than anyone could reasonably handle. So it was a very smart policy. And yes, we locked up our weapons as soon as we landed in Manas!

Just a couple of days in Manas (and four drinks later) and we were on our way again. That surreal feeling had stayed with me since I gave up the keys to my room in Afghanistan, and followed me all the way until I crossed the line into the state of Virginia. Back at Camp Lejeune, the active duty Marines immediately received four days off before having to report back to work. My 90 reserve Marines spent two and a half days turning in gear (I think we set a new record), completing medical and administrative requirements, so they could get home as quickly as possible. Returning so close to the holidays (we landed at Camp Lejeune on December 10th), we wanted to do everything we could to make sure they got home before Christmas.

By December 14th, all the reserve Marines were home, and it was time for me to head back to Virginia. As I drove up I-95 in my shiny new (cobalt blue) Honda Fit, I thought about the deployment. {long pause for reflection} It had meant a great deal to me to be a good company commander. I knew I had made a lot of mistakes. I also knew that I had fought hard for what I believed in, that I had tried to focus on some key things for the Marines, and that we were tremendously operationally successful. I was very proud of the turnover that my Marines gave to the incoming crew. They had a solid process, and knew what they were doing. I was very proud of the awards that we gave out the last week in Afghanistan, and very proud of everything they had accomplished. So perhaps I was successful, or at least as successful as I could have been.

The whole first week I was home, I slept. I was exhausted – physically, mentally and emotionally. And the friend with whom I was staying was kind enough to let me sleep – no questions asked. I flew to Colorado to spend Christmas with my best friend and her family, and then spent New Year’s in reflection. I had so much to think about.

My reintegration into civilian life had realistically begun the moment I left Camp Lejeune, but I don’t think it really began until mid-January. Once I settled down to begin life again – this time as a full-time student – I felt the transition.

Some things have been easier than others. I stopped swearing pretty quickly, which surprised me. But it seems like I only swear when surrounded by Marines – then it comes back all too easily! Returning to a regular routine proved slightly more challenging. The holidays made it difficult.

I am fortunate to still live in Arlington, so I am back with my 5 AM crew at the Pentagon Athletic Center. It felt like home returning there the first morning, and I loved seeing everyone again. Many did not know where I had been, so when they asked and I said, “Afghanistan”, they were surprised and immediately grateful that I was home safe. And they have held me accountable for showing up at the gym each morning!

Not feeling guilty about not being deployed was something I did not anticipate experiencing. To be back amongst civilization, and have everything at my fingertips again (fresh eggs, a bathroom connected to the rest of my living space, yoga class, a gym) took some adjustment. Then I thought of all the Marines still at Leatherneck. I thought of all the ones still at forward operating bases (FOBs) in Helmand Province and how much they all just wanted to come home, too.

I discovered via Facebook (how would we live without it?) that there was something called “R.E.D. Fridays” or “Remember Everyone Deployed Friday”. It’s a great reminder, which I occasionally re-post on my page.

I remember them every day.

This was a long post, and a long time coming. It’s taken me a while – literally and figuratively – to come down off the deployment. I feel like I’m nearly there. School is wonderful. My friends and family have been amazing and tremendously supportive. I am moving on with life.

I found out a couple of weeks ago that my unit (R4 Operations Group) was awarded Marine Corps Logistics Unit of the Year for 2013. That felt really good.

 

  

 

 

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