So I wrote this last month for Veteran’s Day and then forgot to post it….so here we go.
There is this word in the English language that conveys so much.
It means one who served their country. In peace or in war. One who offered to risk their life so others could be free.
Then there is phrase in the English language.
Someone who served in a war zone to ensure your freedom. Everyone’s freedom. This phrase evokes so many emotions that it can be hard to put it all into words.
My life changed on April 4th 2005. The day I started basic training. I knew that during that training I would be physically challenged but what I didn’t understand is that I would be mentally and emotionally challenged. I also didn’t realize it then, but those challenges would see me through my first deployment.
February 1st 2006 I left for my first deployment to Afghanistan. Little did I know that I would not return until June 10th of 2007. (In case you think I typed wrong…no, 16 months was my first tour). That tour would take me up and down the afghan/Pakistan border. I would experience loyalty, fear, discrimination, prejudice and joy. Discrimination because when you deploy in an infantry unit where you are 1 of 8 females in a battalion of 800 males it can be easy to be singled out. But as any female in the army will tell you, it’s a boys club and you learn the rules quickly. However hard some of those struggles were, and trust me, some I completely brought on myself, I learned some amazing things.
First. That even war torn countries can be amazingly beautiful. I remember nights sitting on FOB Bermel staring into the sky and writing in my journal. There were millions and billions of stars. The air was clean and crisp and the sky, I honestly don’t know that I have ever seen something so amazing. It as if God painted a perfect sky for me each night. And during the day, the amazing Hindu Kush mountains that tower around you. God has created that amazing land.
Second, that I would never view the world the same. At that same FOB with the beautiful sky where I spent 3 months, I would experience some of the scariest and saddest days of my life. In 3 months we took over 200 rockets, we kept a tally. I knew looking at my calendar if we went more than 2 days without being attacked that day 3 would be spent in the bunker. I would lose a friend at the FOB and have to stand and salute as they took his body away. I learned the hard way what it would be like to feel taps deep down in your soul. It’s from those experiences that I would realize that PTSD, no matter how light or severe doesn’t always happen right away. And I would also learn that fireworks and crowds are just not my friends.
Third. That I am strong both mentally and physically. Up until the army I had had the flu once in my life. But ahh. That first tour. I got the flu 9 times and these wonderful things called migraines would begin. I learned quickly the meds that wouldn’t work or work give me a bad reaction. I would learn to see the headaches coming and try to no avail to get ahead of them. And lastly I would learn that multiple IVs really make you have to pee. Emotionally I would learn to trust few and believe even less. I would come to know that my section at Orgun-e with SSG Null and SGT Leaks would be the only two people I could trust wholly. I would learn that very few people have honest intentions.
Fourth. I would learn to control my motion sickness. Yes a funny one. I also learned that if you wear the motion sick patch multiple days in a row you start seeing double. For a girl who has never done any drugs or smoked pot, it was quite an experience.
Fifth. I learned the love of my family and the deep pain it caused my mom that I didn’t call her. I also have now realized how terrifying it must be to have both of your children deployed to the other side of the world at the same time. This lesson I learned the day logan and Kolten came into this world. I still remember seeing my brother for just a split second in Kuwait when I was heading to go on leave. The feeling of seeing my mom in Hawaii. And looking up from formation after that long and hard tour to see my mom, my brother, my niece.
Sixth. I learned what it truly means to wear a uniform. To sacrifice. To love. To honor. It is a lesson that is so deeply woven into the fabric of who I am there is no longer a distinction between who I am and how I served. When I think of myself, Soldier always comes in the top things.
Finally, I learned to believe in me. I learned through hard lessons that I was a good judge of character. I also learned that it is more important to be true to yourself, your morals and your ideals than it is to be the best or always right. I learned that I can do anything but I don’t have to do everything. I also learned that there is beauty in my failures and so much growth in those failures. I learned the value of loving me.
This Veterans Day, I salute all those who came before me. All who will come after. And all who are earning that title now. But especially to the female veterans, change the world, be a force for good and accomplish your dreams, I know that I am living mine.
“I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, ‘Mother, what was war?’” —Eve Merriam