Soooo, since I last posted, I’ve been allowed to return home for two weeks of R&R leave. Most people who serve 270 days or more deployed overseas qualify for this break, which includes a free ticket home and is not counted against our regular vacation time. (Well, I should clarify … it’s not entirely FREE … the ticket is paid for by the US Government, a.k.a, the American taxpayers. To any US taxpayers who are reading: Thank you!)
This is the second chance I’ve had to see Muna and Taj since April 2009, when I began training to serve in the ‘stan. (The first was a short break right after I finished training at Camp Atterbury, Indiana.)
The down side about free airfare is that you take what you get … In this case, in order to fly from Afghanistan to Philadelphia (the closest airport to my home at McGuire Air Force Base in Jersey,) I had to first fly from Bagram to Kuwait, then from Kuwait to Ireland (yes, Ireland.) Then, from Ireland we flew to Atlanta, Georgia, before I caught another flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia. For all of you who happen to be up on your geography, YES, I realize that Atlanta is further inland than Philadelphia when coming from Afganistan. But, I guess since Atlanta is the “hub” (whatever the heck THAT means,) I had to fly there before going back to the east coast.
It was a long, LONG trip. It hurt me even more when I remembered that my friends at my stateside unit at McGuire (the 305 Air Mobility Wing) fly regular missions to and from Bagram from my home on a regular basis. (But, I wasn’t allowed to hitch a ride with them.) Oh, well. I’ll take what I can get. Any day outside of the ‘stan is a good day for me!
When I got to Philly, Muna and Taj met me. Muna didn’t tell Taj I was coming, so he was surprised. I spent the rest of the day playing with Taj, and Muna made a nice dinner, completely void of high-fructose corn syrup.
I found that a lot has changed since I’ve been gone. Mainly, Taj has grown a lot … not just physically, but he’s really into school, social activity and learning. He shared with me what he’s learning in school, his skills on the piano, and what he’s picked up from his karate class. Realizing that I left for this adventure before he ever started first grade, took his first piano lesson or signed up for karate, it hits home with me that I’ve missed a lot.
Muna has also become very resourceful in my absence. Of course, the house looks great, as always. But now she has an ever-increasing network of friends she stays involved with, who I assume help each other in situations like these. Muna’s been working, keeping Taj busy, and keeping our house running smoothly, all without me. I’m proud of her … not that I didn’t expect she would do it … just that I maybe didn’t pay as much attention to her skills as much as I should have.
When the day was done, I took a nice long bath (not a shower, but a real bath, in a clean tub.) Afterward, I put on my old pajamas and fleece bathrobe. It felt great. Muna and I spent some time “alone,” and then, I had the most comfortable sleep I’ve had since April 2009. Laying on our big lofty bed (with all the just-for-decoration pillows,) I slept soundly.
I wasn’t disturbed by noisy MRAPs driving nearby.
I didn’t hear the sound of helicopters flying over my head.
I wasn’t awakened by rocket attacks.
And I didn’t have the sound of a loud power generator rumbling in my ear as I tried to sleep.
I slept well, because I had no interruptions.
Well, I did have one … halfway through the night. Taj jumped in the bed with Muna and I. I woke up to ask him: “Taj, are you okay?”
“Yes, dad.” He just laid there, not saying anything else, but his face clearly was asking a question. I knew the question, and rather than torture him by making him ask, I saved him the embarrasement.
“You want to sleep here with Mommy and me?”
He jumped under the covers, trying not to smile while being satisfied that his planned worked.
The next day (yesterday) was MLK Jr. day (observed,) but I didn’t even know it. (Sorry, Dr. King.) I woke up early to help Taj get ready for school, and he reminded me: “Daddy, we don’t have school today.” It reminded me that I was home … where people have schedules and try to stick to them. (There’s no such thing as holidays in the ‘stan; and only FOBbits have days off.)
I took Taj to his piano lesson, meeting his music instructor for the first time. I also took my Macbook to the Apple store, so I could fix my broken DVD player and get this website back online.
It was a good first few hours home. And, even though I have to return to the ‘stan to finish out my sentence (oops, I mean deployment,) I’m grateful to have the time with my family again.