Thursday, January 04, 2007

Final Post: One Year Home

New Year's Eve brought both revelation and resolution for me this year. There I stood, in the middle of ordering a coffee, when a newspaper headline blasted me with emotion.
Several minutes later, having cried all of the makeup off my face, I realized what was happening: December 31st, 2006 was a one-year anniversary. It was New Year's Eve 2005 when I departed active duty to join my family, return to Bemidji, and herald the beginning of 2006 among friends and familiar faces. The one-year mark should have brought warm feelings and the joy of being home (so I thought), but it wasn't that easy for me.

I ached with gut-wrenching pain over post-mortem photographs of a dictator executed for crimes he committed two decades before the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I ached with the pain of knowing that one of the Iraqi men I grew to regard as 'brother' is still stuck -- with his family -- in the throes of central Baghdad's sectarian violence and collateral damage. I ached, suspended, powerless -- observing an anniversary, bombarded by the feeling that I had done nothing to positively impact the world during my twelve-month deployment. I know better, but it was my moment, it was me closing 2006.

This is my last post on "Keeping the Gate." I thank anyone who has stopped by a time or two and all of those who stayed faithful to know me, see me, while I was gone. I take these moments to document some of the characteristics of my first year home and honor the difficulty of the passage, concluding by laying it to rest as officially 'in the past.'

I had an Army physical yesterday, conducted by a now-civilian Air Force veteran, female retired officer. This woman is clearly tough as nails but has somehow retained her compassion. I was moved at my core to have brief heart-to-heart exchanges with her about common traits between our respective military experiences. She asked me during the exam how I was adjusting, some questions about the nightmares and insomnia I reported, and brief compliments about how well-balanced I appeared to be. It was our brief exchanges that helped me realize how far I've come since returning home one year ago.

Some high(low)lights:
  • I began with drastic insomnia and violent nightmares, 4 to 6 nights per week
  • lived in my own apartment, directly across the hall from Mom in Indiana
  • tried to maintain and grow a romantic relationship begun while deployed
  • had the biggest walk-out, gloves off, fight with my family ever (can't even remember specifics now)
  • by April I started to 'dig deep' and drive toward positive living
  • I ended the relationship but not cleanly; we spent most of '06 negotiating
  • finally got to see Fiona Apple (and Damien Rice: bonus!) in concert; I went solo
  • went home (to Bemidji) for the summer
  • quit smoking and started again at least four times
  • started work at a department store in Bemidji for about two months
  • found solace in bonfires, mowing the lawn, and the company of old friends
  • Fourth of July was phenomenal: fireworks over the lake, family, motorcycles
  • started reading in my free time (fight club, world is flat, 1984, davinci code)
  • learned how to knit (mom says 'finally!')
  • moved to Columbus, Ohio with Abe and Jenn, planning on starting school
  • school plans fell through due to residency requirements too entangled with National Guard
  • spent September through November attempting to support mom in new teaching endeavors and conducting family research on our respective mid-term election ballots
  • tumultuous relationship negotiations finally ended and I got a job all in the same week
  • I voted, vocalizing my concerns from a distinctly Iraq-War-Veteran viewpoint
  • saw both Grandmas over Thanksgiving, overnight at Michigan Grandma's
  • home for over two weeks in December for fun Christmas memories
  • sugar cookies, wassailing ;), decorating, shopping, theater, and watching every movie version ever made of A Christmas Carol!
  • worked New Year's Eve at my bar tending job; hugged Abe and Jenn at midnight
Tears surface in my eyes, recounting the memories from this year! I am broke. It doesn't take a lot of arithmetic to see that I spent much more income than I generated during 2006, but I would do it all again given the circumstances. I spent 2006 getting closer to the family I had left home during my deployment; together we worked overtime to build new, beautiful, non-war memories. I enter 2007 optimistic, centered, and healthy. I have my own apartment in Columbus and no day job -- hopefully that will improve! I build more trust and friendship with Abraham and Jennifer (my bro/sis-in-law and apartment complex neighbors) every day; we lean on one another, and the fellowship we share is so rewarding.

I am grateful that I came home; I am grateful for all the support I had while deployed. It is time to lay this blog to rest. I leave it available, a record of events. Those of you interested in following my other blogging adventures may find me at Republic of Conscience or Lunacy Revisited. I remain sincerely yours,


Thursday, August 31, 2006

The War Tapes

See it? Anyone?

I haven't yet, but I WILL see this film. Just released, approximately two weeks ago, The War Tapes is a documentary film about the Iraq War. Three soldiers provide footage, interviews, commentaries on their twelve month deployment to Iraq.

My veteran 'expert' opinion based on the trailer alone is that this film will do one thing for every viewer: it will provide a window into a world where few outsiders choose to go. As soldiers, we are always performing; it is our trained duty to do so. No embeded reporter, public affairs person, or "official" release will convey the minute details of heart-rending dilemma and turmoil facing soldiers in daily deployment happenings. The two minutes and nine seconds of trailer had me feeling my veteran identification like I never thought I could from a film clip. It was the fear, the anxiety... that feeling that something big is going to happen any second now, but not knowing when that will be, or who will be limbless or dead when it's over. Just the trailer footage is froth with that sort of anxious anticipation. Even in the moments when a crisis is present tense, there is anticipation -- and dread -- of another.

I would love for every family member and friend to join me in finding an opportunity to watch this film. Our country has 138,000 soldiers in Iraq right now, some of whom have deployed to Iraq for numerous rotations. Minnesota currently has approximately 2500 National Guard members deployed. I beg you: educate yourselves in as close to first-hand knowledge as you can get. Make yourselves feel, for ninety short minutes, a taste of this war that many of us take the option to forget -- or never know in the first place. Draw from understanding not the certainty of conclusion, but partake with the film's protagonists in the horror of bloody stalemate. This impact is wordless. and thick. and suffocating in its lack of resolution. As soon as I can, I will be watching. Join me?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Coffee for Veterans

...writing the post title brings wandering thoughts to mind about the possibility of opening a little coffee shop "for veterans"... but that's not what this post is about.

There is plenty to tell about what has taken place since coming home from Iraq the first of the year. I can't fit it all into this post. My lingering participation with the military through the Minnesota National Guard has been challenging in so many unexpected ways. I feel out of place; I have far less responsibility now than I did while deployed; and the whole "periodic training and readiness" seems such a farce. For example, quarterly performance reviews by my supervisor are based on six to eight days, the number of drill days in a quarter. I get preoccupied with the simultaneous waste and enrichment brought on by deployment, absorbing a year and a half of my life. I find myself turning that over and over in my mind whenever I have to "go back in" monthly. I was in Minneapolis for drill this last weekend, and I'm not sure if anything else could have gone wrong!

I booked a hotel in an suburb I thought was close to the unit armory -- nope. I was a twenty-minute drive away, but I didn't realize this until I had reached the hotel at 2 a.m. Friday/Saturday -- one full hour of frustrated, lost searching for it. We (I brought Jenn with me -- a very pleasant aspect of the trip) opened the trunk only to discover that I had left my garmet bag, uniforms, boots and head gear at home -- 4.5 hours away! Luckily I had a "field" uniform stuffed into one of my bags. I did my best, Sharpie marker for rank, missing patches, to salvage something wearable for the weekend. I lost an ID (found it), the hotel dropped my wake-up call the second day (causing 45-minute late arrival), and I was kept awake the first night by loud moans from the next hotel room over. I couldn't believe how consistently clumsly, forgetful and unorganized I was for 48 hours straight. All of my idiocy was countered only by good company and family support...

Jennifer and I went out Saturday evening -- first to Nordstrom's at the MOA for frangrance sampling. What fun! We went from there to TGIFriday's for exquisite food (Key Lime Shrimp for me) and drinks. Has anyone heard of a Colorado Bulldog?? Sunday, Abe came south to join us, where we enjoyed dinner prepared by Jenn's sister and conversation with her folks. I followed the dinner with coffee at Carabou with my friend Tom.

It is so easy to feel like the struggles of coming home are imaginary. They are every-bit my issue, but it's consoling on occasion to talk to someone else whose "uphill battle" originates from the same source as mine. There was an hour of conversation about current happenings, getting into school programs to resurrect our post-secondary and graduate pursuits, and "staying positive." I felt refreshed. It was a good day. Whether I like it or not, the military is a part of me. I'm dealing with that now, nearly eight years after signing up.

I no longer wish I was back in Iraq. I'm weaning myself off from wishing, gradually replacing it with equal parts doing. I QUIT SMOKING!! One goal down, dozens to go. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Sometimes I miss the airfield

the one with the helicopters
where we kept company with
O'Douls and chips and salsa
and sometimes a DVD on the player
there was no movie rental place
just a dusty warehouse
Walmart-like store
where we could buy them
I miss the romance of escape
the fact that there was something
from which to escape in the first place
and loud generators
people dying
and loud helicopters
incoming rounds
and the promise of home
just around the corner
what an odd interim to fill
what a reservoir of anxiety to spill
washing myself with it
on the north side of the airfield
watching constellations
and flares
coalesce into memory
and hope


I've been home for about twenty weeks now. I have an apartment and more time to catch up with family than I could have imagined. I'm still living on the money I saved while deployed and planning my next move. I edit here and there, dance in the livingroom when no one's watching, brood, cry, laugh, watch movies, read read read -- blogs, newspapers, and books -- plan, drink coffee, and celebrate waking up daily in the most comfortable bed on the planet.

I have full time just-in-case employment lined up to begin during the August/September timeframe in Indiana. Meanwhile, our "clan" appears to be reuniting in Minnesota again for most of the summer. I'm so excited. I am finally going to camp out regularly... take a trip to REI or Gander Mountain and BUY STUFF! I have been meaning to equip myself for camping excursions for years, and I'm finally going to follow through.

I am aiming for a more purposed educational pursuit as early as this fall. However, typical deadlines for fall registration have passed, and I have lots of research ahead of me if I want that to be even remotely possible. I haven't been publishing via blogs for nearly two months, but I have been reading. I posted for several weeks on a new blog (genius drivel), begun in participation with Mary's composition class at Purdue. I'm sure I will get back to that, give it a makeover, and/or resume this blog with some modest changes.

Watch for me. I'm here. I'm tired, and I thought the easy part would be coming home.

It wasn't.

God bless the military service members who are still in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and the hundreds of thousands who are still on their way -- and give them strength in reserve to fight the battle ahead of them, the battle of coming home. All the way home.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Still in Shock

This just in...

Google 'failure' -- DO IT! The first result of the search is George W. Bush's biography!

(Info via Jesus' General tracked back to Political Adolescent)

Apparently, the mention of the GW-Google connection was only made in concert with mention of a fake profile of Supreme Court Justice nominee Alito, which the henchmen have yet to find! It's funny but with potential for offense. Follow links at your own risk ;)

Germans Have the Best Ads

Got this on the sidebar of the "Sleepless in Munich" (Schlaflos in Muenchen), a podcasting site that, incidentally has decent commentary and pretty good music -- all in German, of course.

... it's merely an ad for the "South German Newspaper, Germany's Big Daily Paper," with a free 2-week trial subscription...

but it's funny. it sends me into this daydreaming spell, wondering, what kind of marketing team associates some dancing buffoon with advertising a daily newspaper?

Whatever it is they're smoking... passing some our way might help!

"Lurker": Pejorative Term??

...Apparently one reader at Paper Napkin thought so. Funny, but it's not clear from context whether this individual was actually a "lurker" herself! Crazy. Hey... I didn't invent the term. Look it up (I used -- the entry I saw even explicitly addressed the blog "lurker" definition as non-pejorative!

Incidentally, I decided that viewing only one source for this definition was insufficient. I love Wikipedia's thorough explanation on the topic, references dating back to early '80s message board sub-culture, and separate categories of lurkers!

I'm moderately tracking the National De-Lurking Week movement. We're about half done. All I can say is, 'FOR CRYIN' OUT LOUD, PEOPLE -- IF YOU HAVEN'T POSTED ON MY SITE YET, F-ING DO IT!' Simple rules: 1) Everywhere you "lurk" in the shadows, reading/listening but never speaking/posting yourself... now's the time; 2) Everyone who posts to your blog -- particularly due to the de-lurking movement -- respond in kind and return the favor on their blog.

Supposedly this whole thing was started through Sheryl at Paper Napkin (I initially caught wind via dr. b) a year ago -- god, time flies -- and it was originally only a day. Honoring the weight of purpose in de-lurking, bringing all of you wallflowers out of your comfort zone, we needed a full WEEK. It sometimes takes more than a day to lure a turtle out of her shell.

Thus... in honor of this whole De-Lurking thing... whoever you are, however long you've been lurking in the shadows of my blog... LEAVE A FRIGGIN' COMMENT! It doesn't have to be deep, profound, or otherwise rewarding to the rest of us. It is simply meant to demonstrate the existence of yet one more human in this mix.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I'M HOME!!! ...finally home...

I'm home I'm home I'm home!!!!!!

Now, I ask myself: What exactly do I mean by 'home' anyway??

Well, first of all, I'm talking about the United States versus the Middle East. There's something about our ground that feels like home, and that feeling is ever-more profound with the longer absence.

I felt myself breathe -- breath with no explosions -- breathe with no generator noise -- breathe in a hug, a long one, OUT OF UNIFORM, without giving a damn what anyone else thought or who was watching or about getting back to my ever-so-important, Uncle-Sam-waits-for-none job -- breathe in love -- breathe hope -- breathe home -- B R E A T H E -- calm -- weep randomly -- shed anxiety -- shed fear -- shed every-other-word cussing -- ring in the New Year -- ring in some other random midnight with a glass of wine and good company -- WEAR GIRL CLOTHES!! -- take a bath -- carry a purse (but not a gun) -- use eye shadow -- walk to the bathroom naked -- feel carpet between my toes -- dance in the living room -- sing in the shower -- wear whatever I want to exercise -- eat great cheese and drink great wine -- hug my best friends -- play the piano (ah, ecstasy!) -- kiss the ground -- breathe -- breathe in this air that is so much home and so distinctly not war -- breathe with no explosions -- breathe with no generator noise -- know that I never have to go back -- ever


Choking up. Tears come not unwanted. So glad I'm home. So glad I can look up from this and see beautiful Mary across the room, working at her own desk, productive and powerful and beautiful.

This is the schedule we followed to leave our duty assignments and come home...
  • 25 December -- Left Iraq on Christmas Day (what a great gift), arriving in Kuwait
  • 26 December -- Wheels up from Kuwait to Ft. Dix, New Jersey, via stops in Budapest (fuel only) and Shannon Ireland (two hour break in the Shannon Airport)
  • 26 December -- Landed on US soil, frustrated/overwhelmed that my miscalculations about time, months before, now meant that Mom was at the MLA conference in D.C. when I landed, unable to contact me or reunite
  • 26-27 December -- traveled by bus at the control-freak insistence of our brilliant leadership from Dix to Camp Atterbury, Indiana (12 hourse)
  • 27-29 December -- expedited processing plan for exit processing and out-briefings (started two hours after arriving on the overnight bus trip, by the way)
  • 30 December -- bus to Indianapolis airport (3 a.m.), fly to Minneapolis, but to Montevideo, MN (southwestern rural town)
    • I must mention at this point that there was an incredible reception by the local population upon our return. The local radio station was making a big deal of the hometown hero thing, and the rural roads entering the town were lined with people waving signs and flags for the five miles approaching the city limits, as well as peppered along the in-town parade-esque route we followed. I'll make another post about this experience -- absolutely incredible.
  • 30-31 December -- "Home Station" activities, briefings, 'Welcome Home' ceremony, ad more chaplain briefs. Again, due to a timeline shifted considerably earlier than anticipated, I had no family at this event. It was ok with me in concept -- we ALL hate those bullshit events anyway -- but I couldn't wait to see them, didn't realize how much my stomach was in my throat, until it wasn't anymore -- Mary showed up to pick me up and WHAT A REUNION! (Check out her post about this whole process.)
  • 31 December -- drive the five hours back to northern Minnesota, talking, catching up, holding, breathing -- ring in the New Year at Bridgid's Cross Pub in Bemidji with Abe, Jenn, and James

We laughed, cried, had an impromptu Christmas celebration and dinner, packed up, rested up... Then Mary, Brad, James and I left for Indiana.

I'm at Purdue now! I'm taking two undergraduate classes and still trying to figure out how the hell I'm going to get this tuiion reduced down from non-resident (ouch!) rates that I'm nonetheless willing to pay. I'm excited to be here; I'm keeping the pace at a "slow" sprint -- you know, slow enough to feel myself breathe, but just barely -- typical me, and I'm ok with that. What I know is that I'm not dulling my senses -- I'm taking home in, to its fullest extent. I wouldn't miss this for the world! I finally get to breathe. I'm finally home. thank you all for all of your support, prayers, and love across the miles. It will never be forgotten.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Holiday Shout-Outs (Family Edition)

The best way I know how... I'm wishing all a Merry Christmas.

I'm bitter this year. Very bitter... but the taste of home is in my mouth... anticipation -- oh, sweet anticipation!

So, in the spirit of the season... I have a couple shout-outs to make:

My family at home:
You've been there for me this whole year. We've shared, we've cried, we've laughed. Thanks for the wonderful break when I came home in May/June, and thanks for keeping the light on for me.
-- Mary: YOU ROCK! I couldn't ask for a more inspiring woman in my life. I couldn't design more animated, rewarding conversations. I guess relationships with women of power, strength and wisdom (not to mention courage!) have their perks. I know you'll be there when I get home, no questions asked, and that is priceless. Thank you. I LOVE YOU TONS!
-- Brad: Thank you thank you for the steady, behind-the-scenes you, that you still somehow managed to convey across 9,000 miles. The packages, phone calls, financial overwatch... the love, the apartment furnishing... I love you, Dad. Thank you for being there.
-- Abe and Jennifer: I "lump" you together, not because I think of you as one, but because your individual support of me has so gracefully intertwined this year that I can't quite seperate you in my gratitude, my merry wishes, and my hopeful anticipation of hugging both of you at once. What a delight to have "siblings"-- married -- supportive -- beautiful -- and inspiring! Jenn, thanks for keeping me posted on all the hard work you've done in preparation for Grad school. I'm endlessly grateful for you letting me piggy-back! Abe, thanks for the trust we've built. It was there beneath the surface, it seems, but it really came out to shine this year. The money-juggling is the icing on the cake! Thanks for being available for the car stuff. It matters. I'll see you two again soon. Very soon. Love you!
-- James: (once again you get the "last but not least" theme, just for nature of being youngest! someday you'll think that's great ;) I love you. I love you. My "baby" brother. We celebrated your 21st last year, and I won't QUITE make it home for your 22nd, but I'm awful close. Keep the candle burning. I'll be thinking of you on your one-more-year-older day! I love you and I can't wait to hug you again. Soon, sweety. Soon. (I'm laughing right now, picturing your 'this is Boris' telephone voice!)

Bob: I'm out of words. Our phone conversations, though few, keep me breathing sometimes. I feel your devoted friendship even through months of silence. The silence is there. Mostly, it's a side effect of the mission I've been given, but it will be over soon. Thank you for praying daily. Thank you for answering the phone every time I call. Thank you for being there. I feel you. And it makes a difference. Merry Christmas. I'll be home soon.

Rich: I love you. You made it to my shout-outs because you've been so instrumental in anchoring me through this deployment. It's almost over. We're on the home stretch... literally. A lot is left to mystery right now, and I'm okay with that. We have goals to pursue, checklists to follow, but I know this: you're with me as I continue on, and I'm with you the same. We've shared so much, and I look forward to more. I'm looking forward to reunion. Looking forward to your hands on my face, my arms around you, and your cheek touching mine. Merry Christmas. I love you... ttmab!