Posts Tagged ‘retirement’

It’s a Lonely Life

Posted: August 16, 2013 in Uncategorized
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While I have not quite reached the goal line yet in my career, hell, I have not even hit the Redzone yet, I am starting to see the end come near.  As the end grows closer and closer I have been more introspective.  Part of that introspection revolves around all the time I have spent away from my loved ones.

I was not married when I enlisted.  As a matter of fact when I met the tiny enchantress who would become my wife, I had absolutely no desire for a relationship, never mind a long distance one which would turn into a marriage just six months later.  Seventeen years, two kids, too many pets to remember and all those years I left them by themselves in Fayettenam, we are still together but living apart as they settle in our final home waiting for my impending retirement.

I spent the first eight years of my career training and waiting for what soldiers do, go off to war and fight for their country.  The last 11 years it feels like I have been away from them more than I have been with them.  Granted the last year has been by mutual design rather than good old Uncle Sugar’s ever present requirements, but it still just adds to the melancholy of it at times.

The life of a soldier is filled with ever-present surrounding of teammates, many of whom fill the void of family by surrogate.  They become your brothers and sisters.  They are around during some of the most intense times in your life and despite the differences between you, understand the life like only a fellow veteran can.  In many ways they they know you better than your loved ones do.  Many of us, by circumstance or inability cannot make the transition back to the ones we leave behind, no matter how well they support us when we are gone.

I have been fortunate to have a wife who has been able to live our life without me being there.  She has raised our children, kept our home, completed two college degrees, moved across the state and done all those things normal families share equally in each and every day.  Many of those I have served with or been leader to have not had the same benefits that I have.  Through good times and bad they have been there over and over again.  Even today when I get my occasional weekend reprieve with them it is still more about me being there with them and trying to let me enjoy what will be my home than anything else.  In the short time we have had our new home it feels more like one than the empty nest that I spend most of my time in and have done so, when not deployed for close to two decades.  It is warm, inviting, safe and filled with those who love and miss me.

We see many ugly things in our careers. The ugliness is not all death, neither that which we visit upon our enemies, nor that which can befall our closest comrades.  The ugliness can be the policy, the politics, or seeing the inability of leaders who send you into harms way to make something out of the sacrifices.  It is the disappointment of the short memory of the populace you defend to see what the cost for their freedoms has been to us and their inability to do for themselves rather than hold their hands out.  It is seeing my fellow veterans fall to their own demons or take it out on those around them because it is a sign of weakness to do what they need for their own stability.  Yet, in all that ugliness that is out there I have been graced with a force of nature in my family that both draws me to it and constantly reminds me that I would give all I have to insure they can live all their natural days.

I miss the days when we used to write letters.  Email, social networks, text messaging and all those other “conveniences” has removed some of the personal from our lives.  In 12 years of war we have moved from waiting for the resupply to see if we have a letter or package waiting for us to 144 characters of abbreviated language.  We have evolved, much for the better, some for the worse.  In all that change I have felt lonely but never alone.

In my wife and children I have home.  It is a lonely life being a soldier, especially, because in many ways it is our own selfishness that leads us down the road we walk.  We choose to stay in knowing what we sacrifice and leave behind.  We also know at the basest levels of our desires what it is we need when we come back and selfishly seek it out.  It is only in a family that can accept that, whether they understand it or not, that we can define what makes us whole.  I can exist and survive on my own.  I simply have no desire to do so.  I have run every gamut of emotion that comes with a family and would not replace it for the world and would be a much lesser human being for it.

So, while I am occasionally lonely, I am never alone.  I do not think every change in this world is for the better, but I will roll with the punches as they come even after I get to live with my family again, in our home.

Love you guys.

 

 

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There is a reason why someone can retire from the military at the ripe old age of 38; simply put, war is a young mans game.  Each and every year we go past that age, you lose a little something more.  It probably is not even readily apparent, and for those who seek out the hardest, toughest assignments, the thought never even crosses the mind.  After all, someone who chooses that route has a little something more to give.  They are blessed, militarily, in the same way that elite athletes are; they have something that is not shared through the common ranks of their peers.  Elite members of the military may seem to contradict my earlier statement, but it in reality it does not.  It just happens in a manner that is proportionate to their peers, despite the fact they operate at a higher level.  There are some other components that are learned of the art, it comes with the age and maturity.

This was a trying week all around.  The end of the week could not come soon enough and once it did, the physical, emotional, mental, and for lack of a better term, spiritual, senses were ready for the early bedtime that came.  I say spiritual because there was definitely a lack of center, the part of me that is me, that cannot really be described, but is such a vital part, was out of whack.  A great part of that was rectified with more sleep than I would normally get, a light breakfast and a couple cups of coffee  Just a few years ago, the ability to run for days on end would never have even begun to tap my reserves.  Now, I realize how much more work I need to do in order to make sure those reserves are actually there.

I recently had the privilege of seeing the younger generation make their way into the breach.  Some, if not most of my civilian readers may not understand why I say privilege, you may not even get it after a thorough explanation.  Simply put, it is an honor to see those you have helped train and watch excel to carry the mantle forward, to place as much, or more, of themselves as you have into the profession of arms.  It is humbling to see those who are now doing what you once did, day in and day out as they now answer the nation’s call.

For every facet of Army life that you give yourself to, something is taken.  Time away from family and loved ones, for many of us that has been more of a constant in our lives than has making it to important events.  Every ounce of energy that you put into your physical self eventually results in injuries and sidelining.  At some point principals you hold deep come into question and you begin to wonder if you are making a difference what you do.  Wounded friends and fellow warriors can only go to so many memorials before the faces of loved ones stick with you long after the services are over.  All this and much more adds years to your biological age, so even at the young age of 42 it is quite possible to feel much older, and even suffer the effects of someone with more years under their belt.

Back in the early days of my career, the Army at least, paid lip service to the mental health arena and there was very little scientific reasoning behind physical fitness and nutrition.  In that regard it was always, a balls out run and haul as much as you possibly could.  Equipment had no tailoring for different body types and often caused as many injuries as did the actual physical activity.  It was not uncommon to see “Old Sarge” retiring with a limp and in need of his VA benefits because he honestly did give his all, right up until the end.  It is less so today, meals are prepared with a better output in mind.  Physical training and equipment has undergone numerous changes based upon scientific studies and more mimics that of college level sports programs and civilian equipment.  Mental health is, or should not be, the same socially stigmatizing effort that it once was.  There are numerous programs and opportunities available for anyone who has the strength to want to make themselves better.  In some cases prevent what they may be self aware enough to recognize before there is a problem.

I joined the Army when much of this was very rudimentary at the least.  Over the last decade I have been able to take advantage of the changes, but at times it has been a rough road from the early days and the damage done back then.  As I close in on 20 years and look at the couple more beyond that, that I will do, I realize that it is time to take advantage of the other opportunities I am given.  It is time to look at developing the skills I avoided for many of the last several years.  There are many facets of the job left that I have not experienced, nor did I ever dream that I would want to.  I will have plenty of skills when the time comes to leave, the military has many marketable skills that go beyond the use of weapons and violence.  As blind of a career as it may seem from the outside, the ability to think and learn is cherished among warriors and leaders as much as the ability to put your martial skills to use when called upon.  After all, no one is actually at war every hour of every day, each and every one of us has something (sometimes somethings) we need to do in order to make this thing work.

I have experienced tired at more levels than I have ever thought could possibly exist.  I have come back after days on end of constant movement and being switched on to the environment around me to the point that what little hair I have on my head has hurt, collapsing on my uncomfortable bunk without the desire to wash the days of grime off of me for fear that it would wake me up too much to want to sleep. I, however, have no regrets over any of it.  Given the choice, based off of what I know today, I would have joined at 18 instead of 23.

There are many young soldiers, Marines, airmen and (hehe) seamen who have never known the military without a war to fight.  Many of them will not serve a day of their careers without the global threat of terrorism to send them off to war.  It is an unfortunately needed career that can have many rewards.  The time spent fighting for your country does have a certain draw to a certain kind of person when it comes to longevity. it is a calling, a calling that will eventually take its toll.  There was a saying when I came in that there are “bold soldiers and old soldiers, but there are no old-bold soldiers”.  With age comes wisdom, a wisdom built from a healthy dose of experience.  Your fears come not only from the unknown, but from the exposure you receive.  The best learn how to live with that fear and to not make the mistakes that succumbing to it can lead to.