Dear Me in the Spring of 2007,
In a couple days you’ll be leaving Iraq and be back in the derelict barracks at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. The ones that were not suited for human habitation and slated to be torn down prior to the President calling all of us back in from the Individual Ready Reserve to come back and train up with Civil Affairs to fight in some jack ass war.
There will be seven less people on your floor when you come home from when you left. That sucks. The guy who snored all the time didn’t even go to Iraq. The Chief Petty Officer who tried to drag you off the top bunk your first night in the barracks then apologized when he stood his face to your chest actually got sent home from Iraq. Vacho, Freeman, & Mahaffee got killed. The quiet sergeant whose name you can never remember lost an arm and got sent home early. S____ was a chicken shit that got himself reassigned to a cush office job and somehow got to leave country early. Technically, Y_____ should be in the barracks, but he married the MWR Bartender at Ft. Bragg before y’all deployed, ran an illegal beef jerky operation through the post office selling to Iraqis, got a Bronze Star for merit just like you did, and is now at his new home with the bar tender. So eight. Eight empty spaces.
There will be moments, entire days or weeks even, where you want to scream at people. Moments where you miss like hell being in Baghdad with your team, even though when you were in Baghdad, you missed like hell being at home in the States. People won’t understand what you went through or that you can hate being at war, not even understand why we went to war, but miss it all at the same time. How do you explain the thrill of being shot at to anyone who’s never experienced the rush of combat?
If I could tell you anything about the coming home though: give yourself and others plenty of grace.
Grace to you because you don’t know how to be anymore and your life at home got put on pause so you could go get fucked with by an ever changing mission at war and an enemy who didn’t care what the mission was—they just wanted you gone. Grace because its ok not to know what to do next and grace because you had to work hard to excel at what you did in the military and you’re going to have to work hard to excel now that you’re back home. Why would you want anything easy anyway? That’s not why you joined the Army in the first place—for the easy path. No, you wanted the challenge. Grace because its ok to have conflicted emotions about the war and coming home and wondering if the roles were reversed, what kind of Iraqi you would have been. Grace because its ok to wonder why you lived and others who ‘had more to live for’ didn’t, because people love you to and they loved them, but you’re alive and you’ve got to deal with that reality.
Grace for other people because if they didn’t serve or enlist it wasn’t because they hated soldiers. Grace for other people who never went to war but still have challenges and difficulties and hard lives. Grace for the people who piss you off when they say ‘Welcome Home’ because they’re honestly glad you’re back, even if you wish you weren’t. Grace for people who don’t understand where Iraq is on a map or the difference between Sunni or Shi’a or who don’t remember the Karbala attacks because honestly, if you hadn’t had to go to Iraq, would you know? Grace for your friends who missed you and thought of you every day you were gone, but don’t know how to explain how glad they are you’re home and how scared they were, you’d never be.
It is likely going to get harder before it is going to get easier. Do not give up. Find a new hobby, something you can pour yourself into that makes you feel like the best things in your life aren’t behind you but can be in front of you. Discover what you’re passionate about and fuck the nay-sayers. You want to become a potter after you went to war? By all means man, go throw clay.
Stay close to the men and women you served with and don’t be afraid to cry. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Dial it back on the booze—there’s no answer at the bottom of the bottle, or the top. Don’t do cocaine. It’s really fun sure, but the consequences are too high and they’re not worth it. You lived through a war, don’t get killed at home.
Don’t worry so much about plugging yourself into school right away or trying to find the right job. You’re single for God’s sake, let yourself experience some beauty first and see where that takes you. Walk the Appalachian Trail, be a climbing bum, push chairs at a ski resort, be a raft guide, buy a van and drive to the tip of South America, ride a horse through Yellowstone, move to New Zealand and let the answers come to you. You’ve got plenty of time.
Don’t be a dick to the girls and guys who try to love you. It’s not their fault you went to war. Don’t be afraid to tell other men you love them and tell them often.
Remember you’ll make it to nine years after you got home and that any day now; you’re going to be a Dad.
Above all else, remember that life can be wonderful, beautiful, and is well worth living, even if at times it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
Love you man.
Me in the winter of 2016
Post by Stacy Bare, Army Vet, climber and proponent of using nature to help heal veterans. Follow him on Twitter @MissionOutdoor