Don’t worry everyone, I’m out of Afghanistan and getting closer to home. Unfortunately the longest part of this journey so far has been these last few weeks. I’m out of the routine I had in Afghanistan and living out of a sea bag with no routine and lots of traveling. Since June 26th I’ve been in the USA, yet I’m still TOO MANY DAYS away from home. At least I’m only one hour ahead in Norfolk rather than ten and half hours. Although I know these days will pass and I will be home again back into my routine with my family, it still seems like it’ll be a long time until I’m home.
When I left Qatar on June 21st there was an interim stop in Germany for six days. The purpose of this stop was to give us time to decompress before we get back to the States. We did things like have a beer (or three) and wear civilian clothes. They took us on two day trips, one to Kaiserslautern and the other to Trier. Germany is certainly not known for its food, but the beer more than made up for what they lacked in food. I did have a wasabi burger on one of our outings, which really hit the spot. I also ran most days and even got one swim in, in a twenty-five meter pool. It felt good to run outside in clean air and swim in a full length pool made for lap swimming.
There were a few things I noticed right away when I got to Germany. The first time I took a shower I wore my shower shoes to the shower and I had every intention of taking them off and well, I forgot. I was so used to wearing shoes to shower I simply forgot I didn’t need to anymore. Also I had to remember to have water with me again. I’ve carried a water bottle with me everywhere since high school. While in Afghanistan I stopped because the water is not potable so there are water bottles everywhere. I never needed to think about water, I always just had it! We were also laughing saying we’ll need to remind each other that the water bottles in the gas station are not free!
When I got to Germany I met up with three of my friends who were with me last year for training. After training they went off to Africa and I was off to Afghanistan. There is something really special about finishing this journey with the same people I started it with. We may have gone our separate ways for a year, but we’re all on our way home together a year later.
We left Germany late afternoon on June 26th. After an eight-hour flight to Baltimore and then having to wait in the Baltimore airport for four hours for our buses we arrived in Norfolk at 3:00 in the morning on the 27th. After a few hours of rest we started our check out process at 9:45 a.m. The process to get us out of here is slow and the best way I can describe it is elementary. Throughout the last couple weeks of traveling my patience for others has grown low. Now I’m going through a check out process created as a one size fits all solution. By this I mean for every piece of paper we fill out there is a meeting and they walk us through it line by line to ensure we don’t make any mistakes. So for something that would take me three minutes to do on my own, now takes thirty. For the remainder of this process, which will take way too many days, I’m turning off my brain. Someone else is doing all the thinking for me, so I’ll just surrender and let them. By five p.m. on that first day back I was ready for bed. I’m still waking up way too early, but eventually I will readjust to the time zone!
On my first night in Norfolk the Commanding Officer from my first ship the USS Essex, Captain Brian Donegan (retired), picked me up and took me to his home for a home cooked dinner. His wife Jennifer made an amazing meal with lots of vegetables, grilled steak, and blueberry cobbler with ice cream for dessert. I’m sure I wasn’t the most engaging guest because I was so tired, but their company and food was top-notch and I am so thankful for their hospitality.
Their hospitality continues while I’m here working on getting home. Yesterday Jennifer picked me up so I could do laundry. There was no where for us to stay on the base so they put us in a really nice hotel downtown Norfolk. This is nice except there is no laundry and I am not authorized a rental car. I spent Friday afternoon at their house doing laundry like a college student who came home for the weekend. Then they took me out for pizza. Next to the pizza restaurant was a grocery store. I had not been in a grocery store in a year. They noticed a huge smile when I walked in. I bought myself blueberries, blackberries, cherries, raspberries, full fat Siggi yogurt, and Smartfood cheddar popcorn. My breakfast the next day was one of the best I’ve had in a year!
As I was leaving Afghanistan my rug guy gave me a rug as a going away gift. It was all wrapped for shipping so I didn’t get to see what it looked like. I just put it in the mail and sent it home. The rug arrived the other day and my mom sent me a picture. He gave me a gypsy rug and it is really nice. I will not forget the kind Afghans I left behind!
So the time is going slow, but VERY soon I will be home and I can’t wait! #COUNTINGNOTCOUNTING