For me personally, the value of blogging has been in reflecting upon, making sense of and organising the deployment in my own head. Coming home and readjusting is a part of that experience. I now feel the need to rule a line under it all with one last post.
The timing is right for a few reasons. Firstly, I am at the end of a period of transition; lots of leave and months of training for my next job. I’m also now much more comfortable with what I saw and what I did over there than I was in my first weeks back. Most importantly I need to be more focused – my new ship and my family need me in the present with an eye on the future.
Every year I live seems to pass a bit quicker than the year before – but I am truly astonished that more than six months have passed since I returned from the dust. I’ve written on a few occasions already about the distorted perception of time while deployed. If it was stretched out over there then it snapped back like a rubber band in my first months home.
The journey out of theater was quietly emotional: anticipation of reuniting with friends and family; relief to be returning safely; satisfaction of achievements; pride for completing my active service. I say ‘quietly’ because, like pretty much all of my time away, I experienced this more or less alone. The flight out of TK really drove that observation home to me. I was wedged into a full Herc’ with redeploying diggers. I watched the excited young soldiers sitting adjacent and across from me talking and laughing and looking back over the pictures on their cameras. I watched this camaraderie with benevolent envy.
I had a short stay in Al Minhad on the way out. I swapped weapons and armour for wallet and keys. The sense of being disarmed and vulnerable lingered for weeks. The camp delivered debriefing and administrative services professionally and thoroughly. When I finally boarded the charter-flight I felt well-prepared and ready to go home.
I was too excited to relax on the long flight back to Australia. The commercial charter was comfortable and the service was okay. In spite of the cabin crew’s earnest hospitality, it still felt like a budget carrier. I remember thinking that a QANTAS flight might feel a bit more like Australia and that the extra cost might have made returning servicemen feel more appreciated.
Sadly, my first impressions of Australia were not positive. Everyone had to disembark for a few hours in Darwin. I wasn’t expecting a band and banners but there was nobody there to say ‘welcome home’ as we disembarked. A simple smile and a handshake from a politician, a senior officer or even a pretty girl with an accent would have meant so much at that moment. Even worse, the first Australians we met were po-faced airport security and NT police officers herding us through the x-ray arches. Soldiers returning in uniform were even made to remove their boots. I was appalled but mindful that this was nothing compared to the vitriolic repatriation of the Vietnam War generation.
Five stops after leaving Leatherneck, including Darwin and Townsville, I made it home. The airport reunion with my family and friends was my happiest ever. Mum and Dad had driven several days to give me hugs as I came through the gate.
I drove my jeep from the airport with a very nervous best mate riding shotgun. Springtime Sydney was stunning in the late afternoon light. A recent shower had cleared the air and washed the city. Jacaranda blossoms crowned the leafier suburbs purple all the way to Kirribilli. The most familiar sights, fragrances and sounds seemed fresh and new. A significant chapter was closing but it felt more like a beginning than an end.
Lifelines tossed months ago were within grasp today; a pretty pile of care packages in my KAF pigeon hole. After nine months of hinting, pleading and ranting, the clerks here still cannot get it together. Birthday letters, cards and gifts found me nearly two months late but rescued me from a really bad day.
Trixie; your glitterbomb functioned with maximum effect due to my excited unwrapping within the confines of a dorm room. Several SF troopers will need kit reissues lest they sparkle like bedazzled tweens. I read the newspaper entirely and of course I love the picture and frame.
Wa and Na; so nice that you remembered my manly admiration for the Phantom. I felt like a schoolboy at camp last night reading comics before bed while my room mates faffed about with the lights on.
Lisa; that was the longest and most thoughtful letter I’ve had all year. I wish I’d received it in enough time to write a proper response. I hope you’ll settle instead for a catch up over dinner when I get back.
Dazz and Fozz; I’d be listening to your mixed tape now if my headphones hadn’t been stolen. I also appreciate the gesture of posting your beautiful wedding invitation when we will be sitting down with cold schooners in no time.
Kind thanks once again to everyone who sent thoughts, wishes and appreciation in little parcels of paper and cardboard over my deployment. You’re aware that I’m away from home but you may not realise that I’ve been embedded with the Americans and cut-off from Australian support all this time. Your care packages were material connections to home and nourishment for a wandering soul.
My tour of Afghanistan is almost complete. I left Leatherneck a few days ago and have since been debriefed by the Australian one-star. I’ve been putting off writing until I feel something about all of this.
I’m usually sentimental about such things but I left my room, my camp and even my trusty bike without so much as a pause. Many of my team are like family to me but – to be really honest – any sadness in saying goodbye is yet to catch up. For two days I’ve had little to do but reflect. What I’m coming to realise is that ‘nothing’ might be the lasting feeling and might even be normal in this situation. The handover process was as much about me letting go as the newbie getting spun-up. In less than a week I’ve gone from super-informed, hyper-busy and uber-responsible to being a uniformed bum.
I still hate KAF. I hate being a listless waster even more . I had planned to finish A Tale of Two Cities this weekend but my Kindle was damaged on the flight up here. I can’t watch a movie on my computer because I’m in a dorm and my Bose headphones have gone missing. Telephones and internet have been cut (but reconnected if you’re reading this) because of recent, sensitive events. All that is left to do is re-clean my weapons and drag my bags to the check-in. I can’t wait to be reunited with loved ones but right now the overwhelming need is to be somewhere other than here.
I am very grateful to be going home. It has been a terrible day for the Australian contingent. Lest we forget.
‘Good morning Sir, ladies and gentlemen. No report today except to announce that Australia’s World Cup campaign has ended one week prematurely. At this difficult time, I request you recall the sensitive and sportsman-like manner in which I broke the news of the US and UK departures. I will redeploy next week to help my nation heal.’