30 Days Out
No matter how tough or weathered the lieutenant, I’m willing to bet there’s not a single officer in the United States Army who doesn’t feel a jolt of lightning strike his chest the first time he’s addressed as “Sir” by his men. One of my closest mentors described the sensation of assuming Platoon Leadership as the feeling of being the father of a young child who reaches up for your hand before crossing the street; suddenly, you feel eight feet tall because that child has no one but you to protect them. In the summer of 2009, 5th Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division out of Ft. Lewis, Washington will leave for the Kandahar Province in Southwest Afghanistan. I am 23 years old. I am an Armor officer, serving as a Platoon Leader in an Infantry unit, on a platform that has never entered Afghanistan, in a Province that serves as the ideological hub for the Taliban.
I’m about 30 days out from my deployment, enjoying a few weeks of leave with my
family before I leave for my full year away. Everything around me is normal and life seems to go on as usual; but for me, things are much more…deliberate. Every word said to my family and friends. Every bite from my favorite pizza in the North End of Boston where I go with my family on Saturday afternoons. Every stride I take on the Longfellow Bridge on my morning runs over the Charles River. Everything has much more meaning because I’m not sure if I will ever be able to experience these sensations again. To the unaccustomed military reader, one might think that I’m scared of being killed or maimed in combat. In reality, my fears have nothing to do with losing the physical ability to have these experiences. My fear is I will come back from Afghanistan a mentally and psychologically different person who can find no joy in these simple pleasures.
I worry that my sister won’t have her fun-loving older brother to brighten up her time at home. I worry that I’ll go to parties and outings with my friends, and I’ll be the wallflower with nothing but painful memories seared in his mind. I think it would be a shame if I returned to the states as the exact same person with no lessons learned, but I fear losing my unique identity and zeal for life, as I’ve seen happen to others.
I have one more week of leave before I travel back to the bright blue skies of the West Coast to prepare my bags and equipment for deployment. I’ll reconnect with my soldiers and Platoon Sergeant. I’ll check the boxes on the “good leader to-do-list” – show up with a confident smile, let my men see my concern for their welfare, make sure our families are prepared to let us go. But right now, my mind is on one thing – and that’s the home cooked meal my mom is making for me for dinner. The home cooking of a loving mother is one of the most poignant childhood memories for any young adult returning home. During the time I’ll sit with my family and share this meal, I can forget that I am the primary caretaker of my men and only revel in knowing everyone I love is safe and happy. I’ve got 30 days of normalcy left, and I plan on milking them for all they’re worth.