Its been over 5 years since I last posted in this blog, I have almost forgotten about its existence. As of today in April 2013, all US Troops are preparing to depart Iraq for good, Osama Bin Laden has been killed and Afghanistan is once again a pressure cooker. Wow, a lot has changed in the 5 years since I took off the uniform for good. Oh yeah, that's right, I should mention I am retired from the Guard now as well. I like to tell folks my wife retired as a military spouse and took me with her, but it was much more me than her. After 21 years in a fruitful, but stagnated career in the guard it was time to go. The people and culture was changing, the military I had loved was rapidly transforming and the last thing they needed was a chubby NCO sitting there while they all got ready to do their thing. Many of the troops that served with me as E4 - E5 types are now senior NCO's and the like and I wish them all well, it was a pleasure to serve with them.
A little more info about activities after the last post in September 2007. Well the last few weeks in theater were "interesting" to say the least. Awards and certificates were handed out, more last minute right seat/left seat training with our replacements. My tour ended the way it began, with me personally spending almost every minute training my replacement (instead of being trained) while a lot of others got to kick back and ease out of the routine. Then there was the unavoidable "hurry up and wait" for briefings and such and seemingly endless details to turn in, clean or clear buildings..and packing, lots of packing.
I know it wasn't necessarily the case, but it seemed like the 437th got picked on a lot that last month for crappy details and such. We had to share our PCB (which in all honestly was the least filled) with our replacements from the 8th HRSC out of Ft. Shafter, Hawaii. Overall a nice groups of troops, but they kind of annoying to some degrees, loud talking when they were getting up for PT while the rest of us were still in the racks, trying to low ball guys on buying stuff that we were leaving behind (a few of us even resorted to just giving our stuff away to the TCN (foreign labor workforce) so that the new guys wouldn't get the satisfaction of getting it. Briefings, packing, briefings, more briefings, more packing, some cleaning, and a lot of waiting. I must have sent 4 or 5 foot lockers full of stuff home in addition to what I carried home and what I loaded into the unit connex container. What I remember about the last day is this, it was bittersweet. I really, really wanted out of there and to see my family, but I knew I was leaving the Army for good shortly and this would probably be the last time I would be a part of something as big as all of my experiences at Arifjan. Strange but to this day I still miss some parts of it a bit, the camaraderie with my fellow soldiers and some of them as well. I have kept up with a few, but for most of them now I am another memory of their past that they occasionally connect with as they continue with their futures. Anyway, any tearful thoughts were squelched with baggage detail right before we left as we got to get hot, sweaty and dirty/dusty one last time before we left AJ as we packed duffles and such into buses for our trip to Ali Al Saleem airbase. Funny, some of our own folks had been in charge of running units like ours in and out of there for a year, and now it would be our turn.
The trip to AAS was also kind of surreal. It was like I realized that all of the sights I was seeing of the Kuwaiti landscape as we drove through it would be the last time I ever got to gaze upon it. Don't get me wrong, not going back to visit if I can help it, but still it was an experience I don't regret having. I watched Kuwaitis stare at our bus as we rolled through the out skirts of Kuwait City and wondered if they wondered about us, or even gave a damn for that matter. To this day I still maintain that the Kuwaiti government paid off Al Quaeda to stay out of Kuwait and let them make their money from us. How else can you explain the total lack of violence against Americans in the country while just a couple hundred miles away wholesale carnage against convoys was happening. I don't know, the Kuwaitis I ran into on MWR trips seemed nice and all but you always wondered what they actually thought of us and I, for one, always kept my guard up when off post.
|Just a little sandstorm at AAS my last day...|
AAS was a classic hurry up and wait, bust ass and hurry up again type scenario. We got there late at night and were immediately put on baggage details to unload our stuff from the buses. I forget the exact order of the events, but we either got our gear through customs check and then were left with our personal bags and got some sleep time or slept and then did the customs check. Either way everything was in the dark so it was either really late at night or early in the morning when we did it. Customs check was fun, kind of a "dump all of the stuff you jammed in duffle bags out, shake it out, and then stuff it back in as quickly as possible while under a time crunch" type feeling. My highlight is when they opened up my body armor and found 3 live rounds that had somehow gotten into my SAPI plate holder. No idea, must have been from Afghanistan. I thought I was done for but the Navy custom guy was more like "seen it before" move on..so I did. Had a day where we were waiting for a flight so people just hung out wherever they could with their carry on bag. We had a sandstorm that last day, to cement yet another reason why I was glad to be leaving in my head, so most of the day for me was spent inside. Many like me had laptops and finding an outlet to charge your computer was at a high premium that day before the flight. We finally got to get into "quarantine" which is where they shake you down one more time and put you into a fenced off area to wait until your final ride to the airport. It sucked. It was one of those almost there, but not quite moments. We had most of 9 hours there just waiting, sleeping in chairs and the like. Finally, another long roll call and multiple accountability formations, jam onto yet more buses in the stifling heat, finally get to the airport, board our plane and finally....take off!
|left to right...Renick, Underwood, Me, Ingram, Roberts, Wells, Streem and Goetke.|
About 6 hours later we landed in Shannon Airport, Ireland to refuel and got a few hours to stretch out legs. It was much more comfortable than the old East German airport I flew in and out of on leave. We boarded the plane for the long trip across the ocean back to the states, and I do mean long! I remember being so freaking cold on the flight back 36,000 feet above the arctic circle! We got fed a couple of meals provided from European sources which meant more sandwiches and chocolate bars,...but what the hell, it tasted good and if nothing else gave me something to do for a bit.
Finally, we touched down in the US at an Airfield in Indiana en route to Camp Atterbury (South of Indianapolis about an hour) and were relieved to find a contingent of our fellow Buckeyes from Ohio there to take us over from the "dreaded" 3rd PERSCOM folks. Oh, a sweet memory that is when we realized our tutelage under their control was at an end. Once back under our own control for our demobe processing things went much better. Like "old times" at Fort McCoy without having to worry about 3PC coming up with some insane requirement to fulfil. I remember one night we left the barracks after dinner to go walk around and get something to eat as some remnants from that unit stood outside in the near dark doing some type of gear inventory. Suckers.
Despite the interjection of common sense into our lives (and command) again, we still spent several days of being poked, prodded, surveyed, filling out forms, waiting in lines, turning stuff in and the like. I tried to convince somebody in medical that I had a constant ringing in my ear, but to each inquiry they just stuck me in a booth and had me listen for beeps as in any hearing test. I passed of course. To this day the ringing still comes and goes, a condition called tinnitus I am told. Also, I had to choose between being awarded a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal or a Afghanistan Service Medal. Even though I spent only a brief time in that country, we had officially been "attacked" where I was located and thus I received orders for the medal in Kuwait after we returned. I could choose one or the other, but not both. I chose the Afghanistan medal but have since regretted it since I have met many others that surely did more to deserve it. I am currently seeking to have it changed. Also, I found out that due to some new law, I was entitled to extra leave days that I was assured was correct and thus got additional terminal leave days after we got demobed. It was a lie apparently. A few years later I received a letter of indebtedness from the government saying I owed that money back. Then a couple of years after that I received another letter asking me to apply for a bonus based on multiple deployments (Noble Eagle being included in the GWOT service period) and received several thousand dollars in return. Uncle Sugar giveth, then he taketh, then he giveth again. To this day I still await another letter saying I owe them.
Finally we got to take a bus back to Columbus for our demobe ceremony. Getting off the bus we were instructed to stay in line all the way into the school that we were to have our ceremony at, but upon seeing my wife and Monica waiting for me I immediately broke and ran over and scooped my girl up and carried her into the school with me, several others also said screw the rules and did the same. To tell you the truth, what I remember about the ceremony was taking Moni with me across the stage to get some "parting gifts" from the guard, a bunch of local politicians I don't remember speaking, and then getting the hell out of there into the truck and leaving with my wife and kid...nothing else really mattered that day. Sure, I said some fairwells to some folks and all, but damn, I just spent a year closer to many of them that I wished, it was about ME now, not them.
I had requested to retire while deployed and had been given the choice either to remain in the 437th PSD and retire there, or to return to State HQ where I had been for various years in my career. I elected to stay in the 437th. Sound funny, but what they say about the men (and women) you serve while in "combat" with being close to you is correct. At that time they were my military family and were whom I chose to end out my 21+ years of service with. Over the next few months - the military requires a 90 day "cooling off" period after you come back to make sure you're "OK" before they let you leave - I attended drills with the 437th and did a few more mandatory post deployment briefings and activities, all the while knowing my time was short. My last drill day was kind of surreal. I just kind of walked around thinking about the previous 21 years of service and thinking to myself "after all of that, this is how it ends...with a whimper". I mean, I never thought I would rule the world in uniform, and there were a few reasons (both mine and other factors) that never saw me higher than an E5, but at some point I saw things ending differently for me. I kept thinking back to all of the soldiers I saw that retired at drill, who got called at formation to report "front and center" to be awarded a piece of colored ribbon, said a quick word, went back to their spot and after drill you never saw them again. Still surreal to think of all the faces I saw and how vividly I remember their names and faces. Some that retired at my current age when I first got in would be in their late 60's or early 70's now. Some, like my friend Stan Hopewell, died after leaving without anyone in the guard being the wiser or even caring. I guess that is how most of us go out anyway. Not everyone gets a heroes departure.
|Being congratulated on retiring by LTC Steve Stivers, now a US congressman|
I did get a medal that day, one that I would never be afforded a chance to wear officially again....a Meritorious Service Medal. Not too shabby I might add for a career junior NCO. Later I would receive, in the mail orders and a medal set giving my the Ohio Distinguished Service Medal for my 21 years of service, again not too shabby and I wonder which one of my former comrades had a hand in awarding that to me. I also got a cake and punch reception on the drill floor with the unit for my retirement. It was nice but being at the end of drill most folks were anxious to get out of there and just took off, still I really thank the folks that put that together even if in all reality they have forgotten the event at this point in time. Hopefully everyone that makes the journey to the end takes a moment to look back and remember everyone else they knew that came and went and realize how personal that journey is and how lonely it can be as well at the end.
And there I was, retired.
Bummer, or not.
I get most, if not all, of my weekends to myself now to do whatever I please for the most part. Don't have to worry about drills coming on important dates and whatnot. Sure I do have some commitments with family and other organizations I have joined and the like, but still, they are my choices. I was never forced to extend or reenlist over the 21 years I served, I just did. I figured a commitment like that is one that once made you don't walk away from and just kept going until it was time I knew I had to get off the ride.
Today I also manage another blog called Huey's Gunsight where I muse about firearms, the 2nd Amendment, the military and some other popular culture issues relating to them. I went back to school and got my bachelors degree, finishing up just as my GI bill benefits ran out....nice, left nothing on the table. I still work for the State of Ohio doing IT work and life is generally fairly normal, decent...and boring.
But boring is good. Boring is nominally knowing that tomorrow is coming and will again the next day. Its not looking for trouble and having trouble not necessarily looking for you. Its life, and its good.
Its been touted that those who have served in the military since 9/11 are the .45%. Meaning that only .45% of the population has served in theater or any capacity since then. I did not serve on the front lines, but still, I did more than 99.55% did and saw some spectacular shit in the process...and not all since just 9/11. I have seen the best, and worst, of myself while in uniform and while I probably never pushed myself as hard as I would of liked in retrospect while in, I know I sure as hell pushed myself harder than if I had never put on my first set of combat boots.
I don't ever expect that these words will come to light upon the eyes of anybody except maybe my family. Life is a lonely journey within ourselves that if we are lucky if we get to share with a few close and loved individuals. I hope my own daughter and her descendent never are forced to wear the uniform by cause of conflict. But if they choose to serve I want to give a faint reminder that while we do not have a long and distinguished line of veterans in our family, that once in a while maybe someone in our gene pool will swim to the surface and put on the uniform to do our part to maintain the thin line we have.
It is to her and them then that this memoir of sorts is written.