I was so sad. I flew from Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul to Bagram Airbase yesterday. I was genuinely sad to leave. The emotions were real and strong. Please know that I am over the moon excited to go home, but something about being here has changed me and leaving Afghanistan after being here for a year was really hard.
As I reflect on the sadness I think it’s because of two things. The first one is the friends I’ve made and the way we come and go from this deployment. In the past when I deployed with the ship, we all left together and came back together. We pulled in from the deployment and shared the moment of coming home together. Then we would go our separate ways, but it didn’t seem so much like an end but a happy start to the next chapter. With this deployment to Afghanistan we are all coming and going on our own schedules. As I leave I’m leaving behind good friends and there were friends who left before me. I am coming home from this deployment by myself. It all just seems so much more permanent and sticking. This deployment has a finiteness to it that hurts a little more than the end of others. There is something sad and unsettling knowing that many of these friends I made over this year I will probably never see again. And it hurts having to leave some in the fight while I go home!
The second part of my sadness is leaving the Afghans I got to know over this last year. I am sadden that there are such good people living in such an unsafe place. During my last week one of the Afghans, Amir, who owns a coffee shop on base invited me to Iftar. Iftar is the special dinner they eat to break the fast each day of Ramadan. The wife of one of his employees made the dinner and it was so delicious. I was honored to be included in this celebration and will miss these people.
This leads me to a long over due update on the Afghan Girls from Free to Run. First of all I want to thank everyone who to contributed to the GoFundMe campaign I created to raise money to buy the gear they need to participate in their races. All of you helped me raise $2300 and I was able to purchase everything needed plus a few extras. They were delighted and I am glad we were able to do something so simple yet so impactful for these women of Afghanistan. I handed the runs over to two very capable and lovely women who will continue to bring the girls to the base to run every other Friday. This program has been so important for both the women of Afghanistan and the military personnel. For the women they are given a safe place to run while being supported by another group of runners that includes men who are bringing them up rather than bringing them down. For the military members on the base we are able to see the goodness in Afghanistan rather than the negative we see otherwise.
Without a doubt it’s time for me to go home and I know I am ready, but it can still be sad to leave something knowing it will be forever. I rode my last ride on the Watt bikes and after that last ride I threw my shoes away. I’ve had those shoes since I was 17 and over my time here they rotted away and there was basically nothing left of the back of the right shoe. I’m sure if someone did a lab culture on the shoes they would come back with more bacteria than a truck stop bathroom. I do have a new pair waiting for me at home along with my new bike I have yet to ride.
For the first half of my time here I would eat breakfast with group of watchstanders from the Joint Operations center. Many of those personnel moved to a different base and my breakfast crew changed. When I got back from my mid-deployment leave I flew back from Kuwait with an Army Lieutenant Colonel. In general I am not a huge fan of the Army and especially Lieutenant Colonel’s (I might tell that story in an upcoming post), but this one didn’t seem so bad. We started eating breakfast together back in March and it just became the daily routine. He would eat his two hard-boiled eggs with fruit and I had my peanut butter english muffin with fruit. We were also often joined by a few other Naval Officers and he always joked that the only friends he had on base were Navy. He has six kids and one day he was going through their names and he couldn’t remember his youngest son’s middle name. He said, “oh he’s the cute one, but I just can’t remember.” Of course I had to say you probably have too many kids when you can’t remember all of their names. He was a great friend and made the mornings better.
On my last Wednesday a Navy Commander I traveled to western Afghanistan with back in August was back at Resolute Support Headquarters filling a gap for a week. Andy (the Commander) and Chris, a good friend of mine (hopefully new life friend), and I went out for lunch together. I thought it was really nice to see someone I started this journey with the same week it was coming to an end. It really made me appreciate how far I’ve come this year.
To all my family and friends please know this journey home is going to be long. I won’t be home for another month or so. I have a lot of little stops a long the way before I finish. Be patient with me as I transition back and let me do it on my own time. It took me time to get used to being gone. I’ll need time to get used to being home again!