A four-day pass over the 4th of July weekend was a welcome distraction, but like lost souls, we soldiers cannot linger long in the human world.
Coming back to Fort McCoy on a beautiful July night, I feel a familiar melancholy, the sensation of leaving home after being reminded of what I’m leaving. Last time, I was leaving almost nothing behind; it was a clean break, a fresh start, a new adventure with the ending totally unwritten. Now, I am leaving something behind – a wife, friends, pets, a house, a job, things, hobbies, other trappings of the human world.
I’m not resentful, for I chose this path freely, knowing what it entailed. I’m not an embittered old soldier, cursing the organization that’s trained and paid me and given me these strange experiences. Still, volunteer or not, leaving home for a year is nothing that’s easy.
The next time I see my home, it’ll be blanketed in snow. Some are trying to time their leave dates so that it’s not so cold, but not me; I embrace the winter fully, as a full-faced reminder of the contrast between home and away. The blast furnace and the frozen north: the starker the differences, the stronger the reminder of what home truly is and that for all its thin comforts, Kuwait will never be anything like home. A scene from Apocalypse Now recalls this idea: They choppered in T-bones and beer and turned the LZ into a beach party. The more they tried to make it just like home, the more they made everybody miss it.
But what else can we do? We can no more stop trying to make our deployment feel like home than we can stop missing home altogether. And the sadness gives me focus, an emotional reference point to keep my bearings no matter how far from home, a reminder that I’m not a just a cog in the green machine of the Army.