I am home!
The last month in Afghanistan stretched on, with the end so close in sight. During this time back in America, the government shut down due to a lack of agreement in our nation's dire financial state. I still received a paycheck, but many of my friends who are government employees did not.
I have horrible compassion fatigue. I am not the same eager, bright faced nurse who arrived six months ago. I still do my job, but I'm on auto pilot. Now that I'm home, I need to not see patients for a while. I'm taking leave, and told my supervisor that I'd like to work in the post anesthesia care unit for a while. All you do there is help patients recover after surgery. That's about my speed right now.
About two weeks before we left Afghanistan, we moved into transit barracks. Instead of six girls in a room, there were eight.
When our replacements arrived, we had never felt more happy and relieved. I vaguely knew the new girl who was replacing me. My friend and I put together a welcome pack for them, complete with hair sprays, dry shampoo, cosmetics, lotions, etc. you know, the things we worked so hard to get people to send us since we couldn't buy them here. We just wanted the new girls to be all set up. That is, after all, what soldiers do. We look out for each other.
The trip home took a week. We stopped in Kandahar, Kuwait, Germany, New Hampshire, and finally Ft Bliss, Texas to turn in our weapons and gear. For a week, no one slept more than a few hours at a time, as we were constantly on the go, getting off one C-130 to get on another C-17 and finally onto normal, commercial jets.
Coming home was wonderful and stressful and overwhelming. When we landed at a small airfield in New Hampshire, we were greeted off the plane by a hundred or so veterans and volunteers. They had pizzas, donuts and coffees spread out for us, and let us know how proud and happy they were that we were home. Seeing all of the veterans welcoming us home made me proud to be an American soldier.
I am home now. For the first time since I left, I took a shower without flip flops on, in a bathroom that was right next to my room! I drove my Jeep, afraid in the heavy traffic, but I did it! I only ran over a few curbs! I look at everyone, from the jerk that just cut me off on the beltway to the McDonalds employee who takes my order with a scowl and I think they have no idea how good they have it.
I think back over the last ten years. I was a naive, young girl when we invaded Iraq. My tour was cut short when I came home to a dying husband. I spent ten years building up a solid, professional career as an Army nurse, while my personal life crumbled. I was a train wreck on the inside, despite my put together exterior. Coming to Afghanistan at the end of our conflict was like closing the chapter to a story. I can move on, and I want to.
I never went outside the wire. I was a cozy little "fobbit," but still experienced the atrocities of war through our patients.
As for my comrades, we all went our separate ways, like when you step on an ant mound and all of the ants run in different directions. I'm due for a move soon myself, though where I'm not sure.
Finale to a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier