Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Transition

It's strange being back. The transition back is always the hardest for me when I'm returning from a foreign experience. I've had three major foreign experiences so far: one to Brazil, one to Iraq, and one to Afghanistan. These experiences have taken me from what I know, who I know, and most of my familiar ground.

The reason that it is so hard coming back is that so many things have changed and so many things seem to be the same that they often mix. When you leave, in your mind you freeze the world as it was when you left it, and many of the people you know freeze you in their mind as well, but both of you know full well that a lot has changed. When you actually get back, it is such a mixed up feeling that you never get used to.

Because of your mixed up emotions, you seem to a lot of people to be either really hot or really cold as far as emotions go. To some you may seem a little insensitive because you don't show signs of missing them like you should, and others are weirded out because you missed them so much or they have changed so much that you tend to overdo it when you see them.

For example, I could never get over how much bigger and different my nieces and nephews were when I returned from Brazil. I was gone for two years and it almost seemed like my nieces and nephews that I knew had disappeared forever and someone else had simply taken their place. My friends and family hadn't changed that much, so it was easier to sort of slip back into where I left off with them but all of my familiar conversations were now two years old.

Often times so much is so similar that your mind quickly returns to familiar memories and it almost seems like no time has passed. I actually don't like that, and I'll tell you why. Take this recent trip to Afghanistan, for example. It almost seems like our time in Afghanistan was just a dream. Here we are, back in the same looking barracks and everything, and it's as though no time has really passed. However, I have grown a huge amount and have really learned a lot, not only about equipment or tools or things like that, but about myself and what I can do. I feel like I was a better person at the end of my deployment and that I was so much stronger and decisive than I was when I started. I even came to respect myself more and had more confidence in myself and my abilities because I did some things above what I thought I could and set my sights higher. I also felt like I had some pretty good perspective and saw the world through different eyes and hoped to continue on like that.

The bad thing about coming back is that when you get back to familiar ground, you tend to return to how you were before. On top of that, people also try to treat you the same as you were before you left. Those new strengths and that new confidence you gained seems like it was in some other lifetime, and the experiences seem more like something you just read about in a book. You lose that perspective and that focus you had, which is what it means to grow. It’s no use learning new things if you never use them after all is said and done. If you give that perspective up or let someone take it away from you, then you are back at square one.

I've had some interesting experiences with all of this. I was always the nerdy little kid and one of the scrawniest in my class, regardless of what class I was in. Often I was awkward around people and pretty immature in a lot of ways. Since high school I have learned a foreign language (which my junior high Spanish teacher told me I would never do), organized a multi-city event in a foreign country, served as a team leader on a special security team at the beginning of the war in Iraq, became a computer forensic technician and later a senior forensic technician, became a team leader/deputy section chief, and now I can say that I have served in both of the main active battlefields now that I am returning from Afghanistan. I have handled explosives and a huge array of weapons and special equipment and have become with several different tactics, techniques and procedures of various military occupations and special groups. To top it all off, I married one of the most beautiful girls that ever went to our high school (I personally think she is THE most beautiful) and have two kids that I am very proud of. The bottom line in saying all of that, is that I've grown. I've had some life-changing experiences and am not the same person anymore. In spite of this, probably most of my peers will only ever remember me and treat me like the kid they knew me as when I graduated. This, my friends, is the greatest challenge in progress and retaining growth: People can only become what they believe they have the potential to become, so you’ve got to forget the limits and expectations that you and others used to have of you and always set higher goals with the real belief that you can reach them.

Well , that’s what I hope to remember during this transition. I don’t want to lose what I’ve learned and the perspective that I’ve gained. Luckily, I’ve kept a pretty good journal for the most part and have a wonderful wife that helps me. Anyway, just remember that I’m still going through that transition phase, so don’t hold it against me if I act weird.


Annie said...

Well I am certainly glad you are back safe and sound!! Hopefully we will be able to see you all in a little while!!

JeriLynn said...

Welcome home! I'm sure this is something Brit will enjoy reading. You have some great wisdom there! I'm glad you're back safe and sound. You'll have to let us know if you've decided to stay in the Army or not!