Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tales from Afghanistan, Chapter 15: Coming soon to an embassy near you?

So for just about the entire time I’ve been a Marine, I’ve wanted to be an Embassy Guard. For the guy who wants travel and adventure, it’s basically a dream job! 3 years, split up into 2 different countries for 1.5 years each. Well I decided out here that I had waited long enough, and started the request process. It goes through 4 levels; Company approval, Battalion approval, approval from Embassy Guard screening interview, and finally approval from HQMC (Washington DC). So I got my Company and Battalion approvals, and just finished my screening interview. They approved me! My request still has to go up to Headquarters Marine Corps, but that’s the final step! If everything works out, in July I will be in Quantico getting pepper-sprayed in the face and other fun training, and out of the country before the end of the year!

More good news, I have less than a month left! Well, less than a month on this FOB. Once I leave here it will take a week or two to get home. Here in the next week or two I have to pack everything up and start sending stuff home. I’m not looking forward to living out of basically a backpack for 3 weeks, but it means I’m coming home soon! And I’ve started my planning for after I get back home too. Some fun runs; 5k, 10k’s. If I get orders to the Embassy School I probably won’t have time to work up to half or full marathons, but it would be nice! Making plans to see family and friends has been fun too, but my command needs to stop changing our leave dates! And there are those tattoos I’ve wanted to get for a while too… Lot’s of fun stuff to look forward to!

It’s been getting more and more crowded here, as people start arriving from the smaller positions to pack their stuff up. Pretty soon our replacements will arrive, which will be nice but will mean this place is SUPER crowded. It’s already hard enough to get gym time in, but it will be almost impossible soon. All small sacrifices to make though, to come home so soon.

Well that’s really all I have to report right now. Packing up and making post-deployment plans has been the big focus for everyone lately. I’m hoping to hear back in the next few weeks about final approval for Embassy Guard Duty, keeping my fingers crossed!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Tales from Afghanistan, Chapter 14: Roads less travelled.

Nate's blog: Feb 3

For those of you that are close, you know that we are now almost done with the deployment (and that I’m coming home a little early!). As of today, I’m 75% done with this deployment. At times it has gone by quickly, other times it’s been very slow. This is my 5th deployment, and I can honestly say it’s been unique among the others. Thinking about this, the 5 deployments, the nearly 3 years of overseas time is what inspired this update.

We recently had a meeting where our 1stSgt was telling us to tighten up, that we were almost done with the deployment, and to keep from screwing up for just a couple months longer. This is normal, but what really struck me was when he mentioned that most Marines here would probably not see Afghanistan again. With the drawdown, our withdrawal from Iraq, and planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, it certainly seems that way (and with my Embassy Duty request I’m definitely not planning on coming back!). But to no longer have deployments, it just seems so strange. It is by no means fun for us, but at the same time, it feels… normal. For the civilians reading this, friends, family and supporters, what do you imagine when you think of Iraq, Afghanistan, of us troops out here? It must be so strange for you, imagining us in these faraway lands, doing things we can’t talk about, in a place you can’t see, in a culture so different; it may as well be another planet. Do you imagine the firefights, the patrols? Do you think of Marines sitting in a fighting hole in the rain, cold and wet but on the alert for enemy activity? Or the group of Marines in a bunker late at night, swapping jokes while they play poker and drink flavored water? Do you imagine us doing the mundane things, shaving, showering, reading a book? While you are at the movies, there is a Marine sitting on a rock cleaning his weapon. While you are eating that pizza you just ordered, there is a Marine eating an energy bar before he heads out on a patrol. When you hit that snooze button to sleep an extra few minutes, there is a Marine who is getting his legs blown off by an improvised explosive device. And for those of you with dubious morals, while you are cheating on your Marine, he is looking at that photograph of you in his wallet, wishing more than anything else in the world, that he was with you.

It’s a unique world us Marines live in, a cruel world and a hard life, but it’s the life we know and have known for over 10 years. I will never forget the first moment of the Iraq invasion. It was like a movie. Just before sunrise, my platoon and what seemed like a billion Marines, tanks, and aircraft, waiting for the order to cross the border of some dusty, insignificant looking piece of land to bring war to our enemies. It was so quiet as we slowly moved towards the border, it seemed like you could hear a pin drop, like the whole country was holding its breath. Then as soon as we crossed that invisible line of sand and dirt, someone above flipped a switch and the quiet was replaced by complete and utter chaos. Since that unforgettable moment, the chaos has continued to this day, and still has not run out of steam. Since that day, the Middle East has not been some obscure location on a map for us; it’s been our second home. The sandstorms, the camel spiders, the local villages, the firefights and ambushes, it’s all as normal for us as your daily run to Starbucks. While I am very happy that I should not be coming back here, it’s hard to believe that this is really the end. No more 30 hour flights, no more getting smashed in Ireland (oh how I love that airport pub!) or Germany, no more weird pills to protect us from foreign diseases. No more watching camel spiders and scorpions fight, or videotaping the massive sandstorm as it rolls in. No more excel “deployment trackers” (Marines know what this is), Dear John letters, and no more pooping in bags. No more dying would be the best part of this. But with all of this being over, what is a professional warrior, a Marine, to do?! I plan on moving on in my career to more adventures, working on that degree, and spending more time with my family. But years from now, while I am on a hike with my wife’s family, or going bar hopping with my sisters or doing last minute Christmas shopping at Arden Mall (which finding parking then is basically the same as a deployment!), I will think back to these times. I will wonder what happened to those FOB’s we stayed and fought at, I will wonder if that airbase still has that amazing coffee shop, and I will wonder if that fighting hole I dug to protect me from scud missiles in Kuwait is still there. I’ll wonder if they ever rebuilt that fence we blew up in front of a tank statue that one of my Marines thought was an enemy tank advancing on us early in the morning, and what that kid did with the satellite dish that he was dragging across the desert. And I’ll think about those post-Iraq adventures in Australia; snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, and discovering Jager.

In some ways I feel bad for our friends, for our family, our loved ones. These warriors, us Marines, are all sharing in the same collective experience. Laughing, fighting, bleeding and bonding in these foreign lands, we are living a lifestyle that no one who is not one of us can understand. These experiences that our closest relatives, parents, siblings, or lovers can never be part of; it separates us in a way. When your son or daughter, husband or wife, brother or sister leaves to come here, they come back a little different. Sure we look the same as when we left. But we really aren’t. This place changes us, for better or for worse, we come back a little different every time. And every time we come home your world is just a little bit stranger to us. The songs are weird, that top movie you saw 3 months ago, we didn’t even know was out. People dress a little bit differently, and you all react to the sound of a car backfiring much differently than we do! But while the Middle East is a second home, it’s an abusive home haha that I am looking forward to leaving. While I can’t wait to come home and share a few drinks with my Marine friends, laughing and joking about our deployment shenanigans, I’m really looking forward to getting back to being me again. Not me the Marine, but Nate, the guy who loves to run, who jumps when he is excited, who watches scary movies and loves a good margarita. The guy who goes on frozen yogurt/coffee, “book dates” with his wife and lounges on the couch with her drinking wine and watching the latest episode of Archer, and who looks forward to the day when he can color his hair again. 

I’ll be home next month now, and I cannot wait! It will be weird to never fly in an Osprey again while wondering if an RPG is going to blow us out of the sky, or spend 7 months without a rifle in my hand. The weirdest part of all though will be wearing civilian clothes again for the first time in 7 months! I’m ready though, to move on to the next adventures of my life. While I can’t promise I won’t look back at this strange country on the other side of the world as I board that flight out of here, I can promise that it will be with a smile on my face.