Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Lost AA Blogs: Culture Shock

Traveling home is an activity everyone looks forward to with great anticipation. Not only is it a reunion with loved ones but also a return to activities and luxuries not available in many parts of the world.

First, traveling by military air has its advantages. The new C17 is spacious and most crews will let you spread out and even lie on the floor. An experienced military traveler will bring a ground mat, blanket and pillow on long flights to get some good sleep. The C17 also has regular electrical outlets and you can plug in your laptop to watch a movie if you don’t feel like sleeping.

I flew on a C17 from Bagram to Germany but transferred to commercial air travel after a nights stay in Frankfurt. The most noticeable difference in Germany was all the vegetation. Next was the availability of alcohol and many took advantage of that but my first item of business was ordering a pizza at the exchange. Fresh dairy products are hard to come by in Afghanistan and my taste buds are craving just about anything dairy. The rest of the flight home my friends and I experienced the gratitude and appreciation of many while they helped expedite us through ticketing and customs, we were even offered free drinks on the plane.

We had another stay at Ft. Benning for a few days to out-process where we received medical screening and the army documented everything for our military records. A few days can seem like an eternity when you are this close to home. Somehow we survived our out-processing and were on a plane again for the final leg home. Arriving home wasn’t one of the grand ceremonies you have probably seen on TV with the band, all the waving flags and loved ones running toward each other with extended arms. It was a few families waiting around the baggage claim but there was still some excitement with plenty of hugs and kisses.

Once at home, many of the activities that were planned do not happen like I may have dreamed about so many times and unexpected changes must be dealt with but it still feels good to be home again. I have some adjustments to make, I don’t have a weapon with me all the time any more which gives me a half dressed feeling as if I was forgetting something vitally important and I still continuously scan for potential hazards but these anxieties will fade with time. One feeling that had a tendency to revisit me after previous tours even years after my return is being overwhelmed by our great bounties like when I walk the isles of the local grocery store; sometimes it brings tears to my eyes. We should all be profoundly grateful for the opulence we experience daily in such a wealthy country.

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