Military and Police

Bringing the Troops Home

With the talk about our troops finally coming home from the seemingly endless wars abroad, I thought it appropriate to reconnect with a letter my husband Jon wrote back in 2012 while working as a contractor in Afghanistan. It is my hope, and I am sure the hopes of thousands of families that their loved ones won’t be writing letters from far away. Those letters were a lifeline and are always a way to stay connected. But it would be so much better to actually be together physically, not only on paper.

President Trump has made moves to bring our troops back from Syria and Afghanistan. It doesn’t mean we will not still have people deployed. And, after all, like the letter says: it is a volunteer force. But still being apart is tough. Please read the letter below I received from Jon. He was in Sharana, Afghanistan and was running the detection K-9 program on that forward operating base (FOB). It was a personal letter to me, but I think it sheds light on what we all go through when our partner is deployed as well as what they go through every day. He is home now, but reading this letter brought those times and a good amount of tears to me when I reread it.

The Things You Miss

Here on the other side of the world, the days are normally pretty busy. This goes for me as well as all those that share this little corner of conflict with me. Many things are really the same here as they were at home there in Texas. The morning starts here just like it does there with some small differences. Those differences, when you think about them, bring into sharp focus just where we are. You get up, get dressed and go to work. No real difference there, except those small things again, things as simple as the clothes you wear.

It starts with flame-resistant t-shirts and shorts because explosions tend to have fire associated with them. Then there is, of course, the outer layer with all the patches and identifying logos because it would be a really bad thing to be mistaken for the bad guys. Boots to protect the ankles, rocks, and stuff you know. Kevlar vest with ballistic plates, about 40 pounds. Gloves with hardened knuckle caps are a must. A tourniquet, weapon, and ammunition are always present. Ballistic eye protection and this is not optional at all. They look like pretty cool sunglasses actually.

At night you have to wear the clear ones as they are required anytime you are outside. Ballistic headgear (helmet), water bladder, flashlight, knife, camera, writing pad, flex cuffs, chemlights, in both red and green to mark positions for the medevac (something you really hope you don’t need), a radio, foldable water bowl, 30 foot leash, 6 foot leash, and a Kong (dog reward for when he finds something).

Of course, my four-footed partner has his own gear to wear. Depending on the mission there may be more, but normally he will wear his own Kevlar vest, doggles, harness, and collar. After you get all this gear on and situated, it just reinforces what a strange place you are in. The sights and sounds all remind you that you are here and not home. But, as I said you stay pretty busy, so you just go on and do your job like normal, but it really isn’t.

Something that is the hardest for all of us is the separation. I see the young soldiers; compared to me they are all pretty young, struggling with being away from home, being away from normalcy and family. The young couples separated before they have even started their lives together. Speaking strictly for me I’m lucky. In fact, I’m more than lucky, I’m blessed. When I took this adventure, we talked about it a lot. We had a choice to do or not do this. We had a choice to be apart for a time where most, if not all, of the service members here don’t. They are told to go, and that is it. They have to deal with it, and many times they are sorely unprepared. Yes it is a volunteer force and one of the best prepared, best educated, and best-supported forces we have ever had, but still, these are mainly young people that have to deal with very, very adult situations. It is a lot to ask.

For me, I am lucky. You have always seen this as just another deployment. I have been out of the Army almost 16 years, but the skills we had honed when I was active duty came back quickly. I say we had honed because family members that are left behind when a soldier deploys are just as much on the mission as the soldier is. It may be different, but they are part of the mission just the same.

Birthdays, school plays, proms, births, holidays, anniversaries, vacations all get missed. All are celebrated apart. You and I have decided that the day is not important. What I mean is the actual day like Christmas or a birthday is not really important. We will celebrate it when we can. It is the celebration, the event that is special, not the date. It is a coping method that has worked for us.

Speaking of that, May first is a special day. It is our 29th anniversary. I’ll be here, you will be there, but we will be together nonetheless, and we will celebrate it when we can.

Yes, it is the small things and sometimes the not so small things we miss.

Well, it is 0-dark thirty and raining here. Time to put on my gear and go to work.

From here in soggy Afghanistan,

PS:  Good night dear, sleep well, and happy anniversary.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Dr. Katherine Harris

Dr. Katherine (Kat) Harris is a veteran spouse, expat, and former military contractor with over 20 years of expertise in military/family transition, career counseling, higher education, organizational strategic planning, and international relations. She has conducted seminars and workshops for many Department of Army commands, plus many non-profit and community associations. She served as a translator and liaison for American, British, French, and German civilian/military communities in Berlin and Helmstedt, Germany. Academically, Dr. Harris holds a Bachelor of Science in Management Studies from The University of Maryland European Division, a Master of Arts in International Relations from Boston University, and a Doctorate in Education from Rowan University with an emphasis in leadership and higher education in a global context.

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