Friday, August 17, 2007

A couple weeks at home

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I feel I am in the Vietnam of my era. Though I only meant that comment in regard to the conflict itself and not the treatment of soldiers, I failed to clarify that. I received a lot of comments and words of encouragement after that and I must say that I am so grateful of the support we soldiers are receiving. I have just returned from my two week “vacation” back to the US and I must say that I was constantly welcomed with smiles, handshakes, and hugs and thanked for my service to our country. As I began our journey home we stopped in Kuwait for a day for out processing. It was such a pain that I wanted to write about the hassles and hardships. I wanted to complain about the very long, hot day, stuffy conditions of the processing tent, 150 degree heat, pain in the butt customs procedures and other things. We finally left Kuwait and stopped in Ireland after nine hours for a short stop before heading to Dallas which was another eight hours I think. All of that changed however when we landed in Dallas after an extremely long, exhausting two days.

As we landed in Dallas, they met us at the terminal as we pulled in with water trucks and sprayed the plane down in a “salute” to the service men returning from abroad. As we gathered our gear and headed through the terminal to the customs area, I was honored and amazed at the welcome we received from hundreds of passengers and workers as we were routed along the top of the terminals in a glass walkway. Employees came out of stores, an old man in a wheel chair stood and cheered; children waved flags and held signs that said “Welcome Home – We Love You”. Average Americans, veterans, policemen; everyone seemed to stop what they were doing and waved, clapped and cheered.

I am usually sedate when it comes to receiving praise for my service and offer a smile or nod in a humble way as I do not feel worthy of such admirable recognition. That day though, that welcome overwhelmed me and as many soldiers hurried by to get first in the customs line, I took my time and waved, smiled and pointed to the crowd below; feeling obligated to try and make eye contact with everyone. I laughed as I felt much like a beauty queen in a parade. I wanted each one of them to know I saw them and I cared and I appreciated their “gift” to me that day.

As the four hundred or so of us were ushered through customs much like a herd of cattle, we came out into the lobby to go home or catch another flight. This time we weren’t hovering above the crowd, we were in it. Dozens of people gathered around to shake our hands, pat our backs and thank us as we left. Again, I felt so moved I had to shake every hand, smile and look each one of them in the eyes as I thanked them for being there. Though some soldiers again brushed by with more important things on their minds, I wanted to give the greeters there my undivided attention. As we got outside it was getting hot and young adults smiled widely as they handed out cold bottles of water. Several of us gathered around in small groups waiting on shuttles. One of the soldiers walked by and commented he never wanted to shake another hand again. I was infuriated, but was so caught up in the moment I didn’t stop to discuss it with him or tell him how I felt about his ungratefulness.

Even our small, short flight from Dallas to Fort Smith was pleasant. The flight attendant was cute and gave the soldiers a little more attention it seemed; both of us. She smiled and thanked us as well and I enjoyed it. When we landed, my family was waiting anxiously. My children smiled, my mom and sister cried; hugs and kisses flowed freely. Outside, my new Mustang Convertible was parked at the doors to carry me home.

Some soldiers say that it was too hard to go home. Some say they will never do it again and that next time they will go somewhere other than home. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t change a thing. I had a great time with my children, visiting with family and friends and feel refreshed. I was in a dark place before I went home and feel at peace and renewed. I know bad times will come again and I will enter dark places in my mind before this is all over with, but for now I have peace, love and fresh memories that will last a lifetime.