Today I find myself at a crossroads. I have received my orders for my post deployment duty assignment. It’s a sort of homecoming for me. Career minded soldiers in the military bounce from place to place hoping to return to that favorite base; a place where we have been two or three times before and identify it as somewhere we call home. I got what I wanted. What I also got was a guaranteed deployment next December to Afghanistan.
The job I have will be cushy. No more patrolling the streets. I’ll sit behind a computer in a fortified, air conditioned building, next to a giant mess hall with all the fixins, watching my weight slowly climb as I drink Diet Coke and eat little bags of Salt and Vinegar chips.
My second deployment is wrapping up; the next one will be my third. It will only be 6 or 7 months (when I tell my civilian friends this they say, “Only?”) depending on when I arrive, but it will be 6 or 7 more months, away from my wife and away from my kids.
What the Army doesn’t see is the 2+ years that I spent traveling around the country over 200 days per year prior to this deployment. What the Army also doesn’t see is the 9 month long school they sent me to, which I could have moved my family to, but really, who wants to uproot their family from home, school, and work for only 9 months? Combined with the 3 months of training and 12 months of deployments when it is all said and done, I will have spent nearly 5 years not living with my family, seeing them in sporadic visits and long weekends.
The Army doesn’t see the school and the traveling as being away from home, they only see the deployments. My last deployment was in 2003, so, as the war goes, I had plenty of time at home, but to my family, I was always gone.
With over 20 years in the Army, I have the option to retire. If I retire now, I will have failed to meet my personal goal of making the rank of Lieutenant Colonel which is still 5 years away. Fortunately my wife is always kind enough to remind me that I started out as a smart-assed Private, I’m a smart-assed Major and my peers are 10 years younger than me.
The Army is the only thing I know. It’s a lifestyle and a provider. It is its own microcosm of cliques and politics. It’s the big, green machine that keeps on rolling with me dead or alive, as part of the team or not. As long as the United States is a country, there will be a United States Army.
And so I am met with a decision…WE are met with a decision. My wife, my kids and me: What does dad do next? There are lots of ideas I have tossed around in my head: Fireman, Racecar Driver, Spiderman, and Astronaut. None of them realistic, but still a guy can dream.
Things I like to do: Flying, writing, teaching, selling, and of course, soldiering.
What will pay the bills if I change jobs tomorrow? Retirement pay, teaching, selling stuff, and of course, soldiering.
What will afford me time with my family: Retirement, writing, teaching and selling stuff?
And so, the Iron Camel finds himself, looking in the mirror, facing a transition. As men, we strive for titles. Those titles give us our identity. It defines success or failure in life and lets others know what we provide for our families.
My title was defined by my job (Helicopter Pilot), who I worked for (the United States Army), and by my rank (Major Gafney). If we decide it’s time for me to retire from the Army, my titles will change to Retiree, Veteran, and Mister, but I will always be “Dear” to my wife, “Daddy” to my kids, and “Jimmy” to my step-kids.
Anyone know where I can find a job teaching how to write about selling stuff when you retire?