We’re into our fourth month here and things are still plodding along. I’ve settled into a comfortable routine now – Fridays are movie night, Saturday is my day off and it’s also Mongolian (MANgolian) night at the Zone 1 DFAC, Sundays we play Cosmic Encounter before everyone else watches the Vikings lose once again. Hours become days, days become weeks, and time ticks away steadily, just as planned. I’m familiar now with the method of accelerating time in a place like this.
I begin to wonder, though, whether I’m a little too good at such techniques. We have six or seven more months here, which means another 25 weeks of heads-down living, a lifestyle defined by living in a cave and counting time by the menus posted on the DFAC walls. After this, more Army schools lie ahead for me – some perhaps as long as eight months – where I’ll have to further hone my time-passing techniques.
It begs the question: when does it end? Passing the time is an essential skill for any soldier, but when does the countdown clock end and real life begin? Or does it mean that, as a soldier, one is only allowed to live in the spaces between deployments and schools and training, spending the rest of the time just trying to get by?
I’ve thought about this since, just like last time, this deployment represents a transitional period for me, both in my life at large and in my career. I’ll likely pursue the path of the warrant officer after this trip is done, but down that road lies more long schools and more time to kill. I have at least another ten years in this man’s Army (many more if I remain a full-timer), but what does that mean? It’s easy to just get carried along with the current in this organization, just grabbing opportunities as they float by; indeed, that’s part of the appeal. But where does it lead? For example becoming a warrant officer is great and all, but is it a means to an end, or is it just “as long as I’m here, might as well carry a coffee cup everywhere and get saluted occasionally”?
This deployment raises these kinds of questions much more than the last one, because it’s so much more mundane. It’s an office-job deployment for almost everyone except the bare handful of the brigade who’s actually on the road, and though it should be historic being here for the end of the Iraq war, I can’t help but feel like it’ll be a giant anticlimax. When the last convoy crosses the border in December, I don’t think there’s going to be some Empire Strikes Back-esque celebration (“the last MRAP is away. The last MRAP is away.” *cheers*). Instead, the end of eight years of war will probably be met here with a collective shrug. And that makes it all the more difficult to be here – after all, if it’s just business as usual, and we’re all just pushing papers and making PowerPoint slides and making work for ourselves, what are we even doing?
For some of us, our entire careers have been defined by the GWOT, and soon it will be over. The end of this war, and winding down in Afghanistan, combined with impending budget cuts, means big changes for the National Guard. What will it mean to be a Guardsman in the post-GWOT world? Will it go back to the good ol’ days of drinking all weekend during drill and going to “summer camp” once a year, coolers in tow? Or will it be something different altogether, something we can’t predict?