Sunday, February 21, 2010

Getting emotional about being in the military

There is an ebb and flow to my participation in the military- some of the high demand periods come from roles that get offered or assigned (such as a recent assignment to command a rear detachment of an MP battalion) or from the occasional officer education assignment (such as a recent and ongoing program that is referred to generically as "Intermediate Level Education", an expected experience prior to promotion to Lieutenant Colonel).

So I've had a good bit of military "in my face" recently, easily the most since my return from the Iraq deployment back in April '08.

But I typically have had a bit of separation between those experiences and the personal or family life- I, like many guys, have the "compartmentalization" thing where when I put the green on, I'm somehow able to focus fairly well on that. Conversely, when I'm not wearing green, it is a challenge to think in the military world beyond discussions with inquisitive non-military types.

I didn't participate in any real public ceremonies from the redeployment, haven't marched in any 4th of July parades, etc. Really, I've only had 2 experiences since I redeployed where my two worlds came together, and one of them was this past week.

The first experience was probably over a year or so ago when I was asked to speak at my son's scout group's court of honor close to either Veteran's Day or Memorial Day. I spoke briefly about their need to recognize that they need to prepare themselves to serve- family, church, community, country.  It was good for me to think about it- probably much more meaningful to me than any of the young men who participated in the event.

This past week, I got a call from a church friend, he asked me to participate in a flag dedication ceremony at a local middle school. I was there along with a Marine gunny sergeant and a Navy chief (both in dress uniforms) and a retired Air Force sergeant, and a number of local fire and police officers.  I haven't worn a dress uniform in years, and it would be quite the undertaking to try and put one together at this point... figure out what ribbons I have and where they go.... make sure I get the polish right on buckles and leather....

Anway, I was there in my digital camouflage- feeling a bit like a "rag bag", a little self-conscious given that I wasn't in dress uniform as the senior officer in the group (but not self-conscious enough to fix my uniform, apparently...). As the ceremony proceeded, it became apparent that part of the ceremony was to honor the Marine gunny, as he had built a bit of a track record with the middle school providing service and mentorship to the students, as well as participating actively in the community as a member of the police force, including SWAT work, so I'm guessing he's Guard or Reserve. They played a quick powerpoint video with music- the "I'm proud to be an American" folksy type music, showing photos of his couple of tours in Iraq and other law enforcement and military type images and photos.

I almost started crying as I stood there at parade rest.  I was proud of him, proud of myself, proud of these kids showing the respect that they did to the flag, their country and their gunny sgt. I was sad as I thought of those we left behind, of the many lives destroyed in horrific ways. Just an overwhelming emotional wave as I stood there and as we listened to the words, the music, as we saluted the flag.

I've had a number of times that emotional reaction has happened to me since the deployment- a tribute to troops at a fireside event at a scout camp, a musician performing on stage at UNC-Charlotte dedicating a song to military personnel, watching a show about the USO supporters at a Maine airport and the dedication they show in greeting redeployed troops and wishing departing troops well. It even happens from time to time as someone sends me an e-mail with a video or even just a few words of reflection and gratitude for military service.

It exhausts me every time it happens. I worry about being too emotional on one side, and on the other,  I worry about forgetting or becoming so desensitized that it stops meaning so much to me.

There's a bit of a paradox in trying to put it all behind me, but not wanting to forget the ways it has changed me for good. I still struggle to find the balance.

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