LT Sarah Higgins, one of our regular bloggers on NavyLive has returned home from her deployment to Afghanistan. In this post she shares with us her thoughts on returning home from an Individual Augmentee deployment.
A few weeks ago, I came home. End of deployment. “Hello USA, oh how I’ve missed you!” It was fantastic.
However, this homecoming was different. It was the first time my family was able to be there. Three generations of smiles and hugs greeted me after nearly eight months away from home.
At baggage claim, the junior officers from my office hailed me with welcome home signs and two hot pizzas (because they knew how much I missed our tradition of pizza lunches).
At my apartment, my neighbors hung red, white and blue streamers and American flags outside my door. Since it was after midnight, I didn’t see my neighbors, but their presence was undeniable.
Going on an Individual Augmentee deployment is to travel into the unknown alone. I flew to Afghanistan and back with support from my parent command, my family and my friends. But in the end, I was on my own. I didn’t have an Admin shop to answer my travel questions. There was no Chief’s Mess to solve impossible-to-fix issues (as Goat Lockers are so good at). No one understood my weird Naval-ese: cover, head, stateroom. I didn’t have JOPA to socialize with. My neon yellow PT shirt was the butt of every joke (to which I retorted “nice reflective belt, Soldier”).
The IA experience made me stronger. Flexibility and adaptability became necessary personality traits. The experience also made me crave the familiar. To be embraced by an extended community of family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and more at my homecoming was like a salve. Familiar faces, sounds, smells, routines… HOME.
Thankfully, my transition home has been easy, though a few things have affected me. The first time I had to wash dishes (after eight months of paper plates) was a huge let-down. I stood in front of the sink, overwhelmed by the required task.
On one beautiful, sunny day, I joined friends at an outdoor art show. After an hour there, I started feeling claustrophobic and had to leave. As I walked home with my dog, I tried to figure out why I freaked. I think it was because I am hyper-attuned to body language after living among people with whom I couldn’t verbally communicate. Hundreds of people surrounding me in a city park was simply too much to take in.
But the hardest part, by far, is the guilt of leaving behind friends in Afghanistan. I may have deployed alone, but I became a part of a team. Karlos, MJ, Pierce, Gomez, Whorley, Tim, Coffman… and the list goes on. They are all still deployed. I don’t think I’ll truly feel like I’m home until they are as well.
I came home. I have my limbs. I don’t have nightmares.
Here’s to the same outcome for all my brothers and sisters-in-arms.