A Punch in the Gut

Saturday was the 60-day reintegration event for T’s unit. I’ve had better days.

Like the time I had surgery on my eyelid with a local anesthetic. Or when I fell headfirst into a baling machine in Iowa.

Okay, that last one never actually happened, but if it had, it would probably have been less painful.

Reintegration events are designed to make Guard soldiers aware of their benefits and any changes that may happen to those benefits once the soldier comes off of Title X orders, as well as ensure that they get the help necessary to make the transition to being a normal person again. They happen at 30, 60 and 90 days after the soldiers’ return.

Coincidentally, those are the time frames in which drill would be taking place, were the soldiers drilling. When a Guard unit returns from a deployment, they are not required go back to their regular drill weekends for 90 days. This gives the soldiers a chance to settle into their civilian lives and jobs and spend time with their families. They’re supposed to have 90 days free of anything military, but they keep getting called back every month for these events.

Most of them are not happy about it and on Saturday they did not make much of an attempt to hide it.

I used to look forward to these kinds of things. I really did. In the Guard in general and in T’s unit in particular, the soldiers are spread throughout the state. I know very few of them and only some of the families, so these events are – I thought – a chance to meet the people T works with and their families.

There are two problems with this: 1) T isn’t the best at introductions and 2) Most soldiers I’ve come into contact with over the years are reluctant to even make eye contact, never mind have a conversation with me. Apparently I either have thousands of writhing, hissing snakes growing out of my scalp, I smell like a jug of milk that’s been left out in the sun, or I come across like an over-eager puppy ready to piddle on the floor with excitement.

Or, quite possibly, all three.

At this particular event, folks were supposed to show up between 12:00 and 12:45 for registration. T had a meeting he was supposed to attend at noon, so we had to be there at the early end of the window instead of when the window was slamming shut (my MO).

When we got there, T registered us, picked up our name tags and discovered that his meeting was cancelled.

Well, at least I didn’t have to hang out by myself for 45 minutes.

Instead, we made our way to a table around which a bunch of soldiers and one wife were sitting. As we got there, several of the soldiers greeted T. Not one of them looked at me, said hi or in any way acknowledged my presence. The wife never even looked up from her phone. I threw a few lighthearted comments into the banter, hoping for an in. Nope. Still nothing.

I got up and left the table.

So much for meeting new people. I tossed my name tag in the trash.

The day didn’t get much better. We immediately found out that the night before, several of the guys had gone out on the town and either started or finished something. One of them ended up in the hospital. This seems to happen every time we have an event. Some of the (usually younger) soldiers get drunk and rowdy and there is a fight. Often it’s a very loud and profane fight that happens at 2:00 a.m. in the corridor of the hotel.

This does not endear the younger crowd to me. I’m old. I’m cranky. I like my sleep.

The afternoon wore on and I squirmed through two sessions where the presenters did their best to engage an audience that was almost completely non-responsive, if not downright rude. Some of the leadership was just as bad. Frankly, I was embarrassed by their behavior. I mean, they get paid to be there. The least they could do was be civil. I’d settle for quiet.

To be fair, not all the soldiers were acting like punks. There are quite a few nice guys in the unit who were very pleasant. But for the most part, it was awkward.

Finally, we had a break and everyone crowded into the halls. It was then that the next bomb dropped.

Hmm, maybe that’s a bad metaphor to use with this group.

What I mean is, the next bad thing happened. I was chatting with a soldier and I asked about T’s upcoming training course.

Now, we’ve heard about 20 different versions of what this course will look like. First it was a 2-month course down in Fort Benning. Then it was a largely online course with only two weeks in Fort Benning. Then it was four months in Benning. I’ve been on a rollercoaster with this. My husband just got back. I don’t want him to go away again and certainly not for four months.

We decided that if it was for four months that I would go with him. Yay! I would finally not be the one left behind to do the housework and take care of the animals. I could go have a new experience, too! I started to look forward to it, even be excited about it.

Silly me. I broke Army Spouse Rule #1*.

On Saturday, the newest answer that we got was that it would be two weeks in Benning, a 10-day break, then two more weeks. Um, what? That’s the worst option yet: long enough to be a huge disruption (again!) in our lives, but not long enough for it to make sense for me to quit my job and go down there with him.

I never get to go anywhere. I wanted to cry.

As we continued talking, the subject shifted to work. This soldier had just gone back to his job within the last two weeks. As he talked about what that had been like, he reiterated something T has been saying for some time now: things aren’t as exciting back here and nothing I do will be as rewarding or make as much of a difference as what I did there.

I can understand that, I think. I mean, as much as I can understand it. But what really sucked was when he turned to another soldier standing close by and asked whether he missed combat, too. The other guy’s reply?

“Oh, I’d go back in a second. I hate it here. I fucking hate it.”

I must have looked like I just got punched in the stomach, which is exactly how I felt, because the kid then looked at me and said, “Excuse my language.”

Now, I make a concentrated effort not to swear on my blog, but in real life I have a mouth like a longshoreman, so it wasn’t the language that bothered me. It was the vim with which he said it. Like he really, truly couldn’t stand it here. Like he’d never be happy at home again.

He went on to explain that there everything was taken care of for him – his meals, his clothes, everything. The only thing he had to worry about was “staying alive”. But, despite his attempts to elaborate, I went on feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me. I can’t explain exactly why.

Maybe because I know my husband has expressed similar thoughts and I feel like I can’t compete with mortars and helicopters and working with interpreters to make real and important differences in the lives of other people. Maybe because I suddenly felt insignificant. Maybe because I knew I’d never experience anything even close to what these guys experienced or accomplish anything as amazing as what they did. Maybe because it churned up every insecurity I’ve ever felt about the (lack of ) purpose in my own life.

Maybe all of the above. I really can’t say.

All I know is that it hurt. And that I’d be quite happy to slip back into ignorant oblivion again. At least I think I would.

Did I mention that I was not impressed with this day?

The only two bright spots were:

1. K was there, as she always has been through two deployments, and she gets it. Like nobody else gets it.

and

2. George. You don’t know George yet, but you will. Oh yes. I foresee that George will factor greatly into my life now, and most probably on a daily basis.

I love George.

*Rule #1: Don’t. Make. Plans.

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9 responses to “A Punch in the Gut

  1. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I am so sorry you had to deal with the rug getting yanked out from under you like that.

  2. Ugh, that all stinks. From the ignorants to the punks and right up to the final kickers of the GA disruption and the vim & hatred. I can’t ever imagine having the kind of feelings that our troops have upon redeployment, and I can’t even ever imagine vaguely understanding them. It’s such a foreign concept for me to imagine being whipped away to an unsociable land where I was confined & in danger & unable to socialize in any way that is social to me. But I can also appreciate that our guys feel the way they do when they eventually become accustomed to this kind of lifestyle – no worries about what to wear or what to eat – decisions all made for them. “All” they have to do is accomplish their mission well. It still sucks from every angle as far as I see it. But I agree that it must be really amazing to feel that huge sense of purpose out there.

  3. My husband expressed similar thoughts when he returned from deployment- “I’ll never have that much responsibility again”, “I miss blowing sh*t up” etc. but that has dissipated as time has gone by. Now, he wants to avoid Afghanistan entirely when he previously said he felt like it was his duty to go there, too. I think that it’s just a normal reaction after someone spends a good chunk of their time elsewhere- no matter how screwed up the place is, it’s still their new normal.
    I hope you hear differently about the Ft. Benning stint. I’m here, ya know…and I think you should definitely head this way. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

  4. Double ugh. Remember you are worth 10XXXXXXXX (to infinity and beyond) in value. Don’t base your footprint on this earth by someone else view. Hold your head up high and hold “T” tight.

  5. I have never been to such events, but I’m so sorry that it was such an awful time for you. I totally know what you mean about not feeling like you can compete with the deployment environment. Every so often I catch snippets of conversations he has online with army buddies on Facebook, talking about being bored, etc. and it always hurts a little bit. But ultimately, they choose to be here with us and that’s all we can hang on to. That other soldier might have something totally different going on in his life, but T loves you and that’s all that matters. I know you know that but I also know it helps to hear it sometimes. :) Best wishes to both of you.

  6. Ew, what a crappy time. Seriously, there is loads of crap all over that one. And what 2 weeks gone, 10 days back, 2 weeks gone. Are you kidding me? Could they think of a more disruptive schedule?

  7. I’ve never been to anything like that. Sounds crazy!

  8. Getting caught up on your blog-

    I sent you a FB message in response. Mine was too long and too personal to post here. I guess that’s me though- not an easy person to shut up- LOL

    I hope you guys have a great Valentine’s Day!

  9. Sorry you felt so bad when that guy said that. But it is hard for them to be back. I’m sure he won’t feel that way in a few months. And not everyone has an awesome wife like you to come back to. Sorry you were sad though. :-(

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