I’m going to just put this out there and take a guess that MOST of you reading today have never received a letter from a deployed soldier.
With less than 1% of the American population actively serving, I think that is a fair assumption. Many people have no direct link to the military, and thus in over a decade at war many individuals have not been directly impacted. The word “deployment” is very abstract, perhaps only understood through the lens of movies or television representations of soldiers, their families, and the war experience. For those of you that have been following me for awhile, you’ve seen it through the additional lens of My personal experience as the wife of a soldier.
But what about a soldier’s point of view?
Wouldn’t that be an interesting perspective?
That is why I am so excited about this new series of letters. It is a chance for people to see the experience of deployment through a new lens.
I met my friend, R., when I was a young teenager. He is a couple of years younger than me which, as you know, when you are a teenager a couple of years might as well be a lifetime! Although we weren’t very close personally because of the age difference, he and his family were friends of mine and we were involved in some community theater productions together. They were all very sweet and kind, and just the best sort of people you could ever hope to know. After I got pregnant as a teenager and kind of fell off the radar I lost touch with a lot of friends, including him.
Fast-forward nearly 14 years. He’s a graduate from West Point. I’m a military spouse. And through the Magical-ness of FaceBook and it’s All-Seeing-Eye, we reconnected.
R. has been deployed three times. During those deployments he asked those who were interested to send their email addresses, and he would write home to those of us on the list en masse. His emails were fascinating to me. My husband isn’t a big talker, and while his job and R.’s job are different…they are also still both soldiers and both spent time in a place that so few of us can really begin to understand. It was information and perspective and insight that I really valued, getting to hear about things from the Soldier Side of the experience. Seeing how much he changed over the course of three deployments was also remarkable.
A couple of weeks ago it occurred to me that what my friend had to say was really too valuable to keep to myself, or the small group of people on his email list.
It occurred to me that what he had to say deserved a wider audience. And while I don’t have thousands of readers I figure if I can share it here with you, and you can share it with your friends, and they can share it with some of their friends, a whole lot of people could benefit from hearing what he has to offer about his experiences.
So I wrote to him, and asked him what he thought about sharing his story.
He thought it over, and I am thrilled to say that he agreed to allow me to share those letters here!
Over three deployments R. wrote 14 letters.
I will be sharing them with you, with his permission and editing, every Monday for the next 14 weeks. He has removed or changed names of other soldiers, except those Killed in Action, and his unit’s identifying information. Otherwise, the letters are how we received them.
I hope you will take the time to read his words and allow them to give you new perspective and insight as they did for me. Certainly it is just one man and one version of the experience, but I still believe it has great value to those of us who have never been an active duty soldier.
Letter #1 Welcome to Afghanistan
22APRIL2011 – Deployment 1
Hello, Family and Friends!
Well, I’ve been in Afghanistan for a few days now. I’m still waiting for a flight to our next base, which is where we’ll find out what our jobs will be and where we’ll be working. The movement from Fort Campbell here was surprisingly smooth. Eight hours from Campbell to Germany were lovely, then a three hour layover in Germany. I’ve decided that means I can say I’ve been to Europe. Then eight more hours to an air force base outside of Afghanistan. A few hours after that, we boarded an air force plane to Afghanistan! We’ve been at the airbase for a few days now; hopefully we’ll get out soon. Our original flight was this morning, but it was canceled, so we’re hoping to get word of a reschedule soon. I’d be pretty happy to get to work!
It is very dusty here. I don’t know if that’s how the dirt is naturally or if the transient area’s gravel surface is the real culprit, but there is dust EVERYWHERE. I keep trying to find the bunker on which K. took a picture a few months ago, but since the entire base is ringed by mountains and all the bunkers look the same, it’s tough to find the right one. Hopefully soon I’ll be off doing an actual job. I’m a little afraid I’ll get stuck doing something like our civilian buddy; it would make me REALLY happy if I could actually be on an intel staff somewhere. Time will tell! Whatever happens, the goal is flexibility.
Part of the feeling I have gotten so far is that I’m surprised by another facet of army life I really enjoy. I never really thought about the idea that the army is a job where you get to “see new places! See new cultures! Get life experience!” or anything like that. My motivations have been more historical and political in nature, I think. But as we flew over western Asia and I looked over the countryside, I realized that, intentionally or not, I was really gaining some cool life experience. When we flew into Kyrgyzstan, I thought to myself “When would I EVER go to Kyrgyzstan on my own?!” I love documentaries; that is no secret to anyone who knows me. Sometimes, I feel like my eyeballs are like the cameras capturing stock footage for some documentary. I glimpsed out a half-pulled curtain on our bus in Kyrgyzstan as we drove to the containment area and saw an old Kyrgyzstani (sp?) soldier slowly flash the bus a peace sign and then disappear into the distance. I feel like that’s the kind of thing you watch in slow motion as a voice-over talks about the number of American soldiers who have passed through that small country over the past decade to fight this war on a national geographic documentary; instead, that’s just a small part of my life now.
I feel like I have a million things to say, while at the same time nothing to say, so I guess I’ll leave this for now. I don’t have the time or reliable internet connection to add the people who asked to be added yet, so if you’re forwarding this to someone who asked to be added since the first email, I’m sorry I couldn’t add you yet!
I miss all of you and I love you; thank you for your words of encouragement and for your prayers. I hope this finds you well!