Sunday, March 12, 2006

Were you ever Afraid?

I have been drunk now for over two weeks, I passed out and I rallied and I sprung a few leaks. -Jimmy Buffet -

After two weeks in Germany completing the mandatory reintegration tasks and various administrative functions I found myself at Frankfurt International Airport waiting for the 10 hour non-stop flight that would take me to Denver and finally re-unify me with the other half of my soul.

Scanning the departure board for my flight I was suddenly struck by one of the many stark differences between the civilized world and the war zone. In contrast to the past 14 months of fighting, bartering with, and coniving the Air Force for rare seats on flights from Purgatory to Hades which may or may not depart at the whim of the flight crew, I was overwhlemed by the steadily clicking board indicating dozens of flights departing frequently and punctually to Rome, Amsterdam, New York, Paris, and other destinations all over the world. I thought about how I had whisked over the 100 or so kilometers of autobahn to the airport in a under an hour and recalled how we had waited days for Jingle trucks to struggle over Afghan roads for the same distance. It occured to me that it hadn't been so much a geographical move of a few thousand miles that I had undertaken in early February as an advancement through time of a few centuries.

Even in the 21st century world of civilian aviation, our Lufthansa 747 didn't depart as scheduled, but the time was made up enroute and we slid on to the DIA's runway as scheduled 9 hours later. After waiting what seemed a veritable eternity for my lone checked bag to materialize, I made my way to the customs agent.

"What countries have you visited since leaving the U.S. on this trip?" asked the agent without looking up.

I wanted to laugh.

"Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan, and Germany."
The agent peered up at me over her glasses

"Business?"

I displayed my ID card.

"Welcome Home." she said with a smile handing back my passport.

When I finally stepped through the doors to the terminal, I was promptly charged by Max with Pam only a step behind where hugs, kisses and tears that had been reserved for 7 months finally poured out.

When we could finally move again, we walked only a few feet more into the terminal where cheers erupted from my immediate and extended family who had seemingly occupied the entire north end of DIA by force with flags and banners. Two Denver PD officers were drawn by the commotion and started asking a couple of questions only to find that one of these men in blue had been one of my instructors while I was a ROTC cadet back in college. The retirement lifestyle had not agreed with the old Master Sergeant and after a short stint with the Sheriff's department had convinced DPD that his talents were being wasted and has been wearing that uniform ever since. Quite a feat seeing that I graduated college in the 80's.

There was a quick dinner with the family at the Cherry Cricket so I could remember what a smothered green chile burrito is supposed to taste like, then finally back home.

The days since have been filled with wedding plans, train rides to and from Glenwood Springs, hockey games, multiple taste tests to ensure they haven't changed the recipies for Guiness and Fat Tire, and a lot of doing nothing.

During one of these moments of doing nothing when Pam and I were sitting on the front porch watching the sun set over Pikes Peak she suddenly asked me if I had ever been afraid. The answer; the honest answer; was 'yes', but not when someone looking from the outside might have thought. The fear hadn't come when riding in Blackhawks or Chinooks over inhospitable terrain, or when crouched in concrete bunkers with rockets exploding around us. I remember that I genuinely felt the cold touch of fear on my heart while staring into the absolute blackness of a Salerno night and realizing that that darkness held people close at hand that wanted to kill me. Having grown up in the security of America's borders, this thought had been only an abstraction to me as I'm sure it is to most Americans.

I had thought back to another night nearly 4 years earlier when I had felt fear of what the darkness held. I had watched the horrific events of September 11th on the large screen TVs at the Merrill Lynch Campus in South Denver and had felt the same shock, horror, and disbelief that each of us did. Driving home that night though, I had crested the top of an exit ramp on the far eastern edge of the Denver metropolitan sprawl when I had been struck by the absoluteness of the dark. From where I sat that night, I should have seen the lights of dozens of planes either landing or departing from DIA but instead there was just the suffocating blackness of an empty sky. It was the first tangible evidence that I had seen of that day's events and I had been horrified at what the darkness held.

So now as I find myself in a supermarket aisle standing in awe of the hundreds of choices of deodorant or cereal that I have, my mind drifts back to thoughts of Afghan children selling trinkets outside the Bagram gate or of throwing bundles of supplies to beleagured families in the mountains of Pakistan and I realize how fortunate I am.

It is not though, until I think of the my comrades still half a world away standing in an absolute blackness that holds people close at hand who wish them harm; knowing that they continue to stand there so that you and I may never again share that feeling here at home, that I realize how truly blessed I am.

6 comments:

JJ said...

Welcome home...job well done. Thank for sharing your experiences with us. Please continue your blog, it would be a loss for us not to hear more...

Kim said...

Again, welcome home. Please do keep writing...

Cheryl said...

Welcome home and thank you for your service. We are spoiled thanks to men such as yourself. Since I began reading blogs, such as yours, and recognize the danger we face from the Islamists, I began to understand how precious our freedom is. God bless our military.

Helga said...

Welcome home and thank you so much for your service AND your blog! I´ve enjoyed reading it and hope you keep on posting, greetings from The Netherlands

Bob said...

It's great you're home with your family. Thanks for your service and for keeping us informed while you were there. I also hope you continue your blog

southerngirlpls said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us and thank you for serving our country....I'ld love to hear how you are doing since you've been home! Take care and God Bless, you and your family are in my families prayers!