Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I'm Not Going Back to Iraq

I’m not going back to Iraq.

I’ve finally accepted that fact. It took some time.

My commission is resigned. I’m not sure I’ve accepted that yet.

Now I feel like there’s something missing.

The Marines have at least minimal screening for post-traumatic stress disorder when departing a combat zone. They are prepared to help those who show the signs or are likely to suffer from PTSD. I didn’t have to worry about that.

They provide separations briefs for VA benefits, how to get your job back in the case of uncooperative employers, how to find a job if you had previously quit yours, and a plethora of other information about where to turn under various other circumstances.

But what they didn’t have is the screening and preparation for Marine Corps withdrawal syndrome; that constant, nagging feeling that you’re letting your fellow Marines down by not being there, that you’re letting them down by not being in the “gun club.”

I don’t recall any preparation for the feelings of guilt associated with no longer standing side by side with those you’d been through so much with. There were no instructions on how to accept and cope with the fact you are no longer there for them by being there with them.

It’s a rather empty feeling, of being alone, lost, or at least not where you’re supposed to be. Why does it remind me of the grieving process my wife, the nurse, talks about?

In trying to cope, I hold tight to the motto of “Once A Marine, Always A Marine,” but some days it’s not enough.

I sometimes question the reasons I’m not there. To me they are good reasons, but I’m sure to those who are there, it would just be another list of excuses. Sometimes I wonder if they are too.

But when the fears of your children growing up without you around much or without you at all greatly exceed any of the natural fears experienced in a combat zone, it’s time to make a decision because you’ve put your family ahead of the Corps.

Each time I start to think I’m getting over it and finally accepting the decision, the feelings surface again.

They are refreshed when I hear from one of my fellow Marines who is now back in Iraq or in the training cycle to return. The feelings were awakened with each call from New Orleans looking to fill Civil Affairs billets. They were renewed each time I got the standard letter from a reserve unit looking for officers to deploy with. Those letters haven’t come for some time, so thankfully I seem to be off that mailing list. They resurface each time I get the brochure from the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps to come back into the reserves. I am obviously still on that mailing list for some reason.

Sometimes I’m grateful when I pull up my e-mail and I don’t see any from my old commanding officer who’s preparing to go train an Iraqi army unit. But mostly I appreciate that he keeps me on his e-mail list. He asked me to join his team. In fact, he asked me repeatedly over the last couple years to get back in the game, offering me dream billets. Each time I seriously mulled the prospects of going back. Each time I grudgingly had to say “no.” Each time it took a great deal of personal willpower to make that phone call or send that e-mail.

So, to overcome my Marine Corps withdrawal syndrome I’ve resolved to do what I can for them from here. If I’m not standing there with them, at least I can support them from here, and do more than just slap one of those magnetic yellow ribbons on my Jeep.

I can pass the word far and wide, reminding others that despite news cycles stuck in spin mode spitting out the dirty laundry of election year politics and blaming Israel for Hezbollah’s actions, our troops are still in Iraq fighting the good fight. They continue to move forward with their mission despite the sectarian violence. They continue to hunt and eliminate elements of Al Qaeda. They are successfully training the Iraqi army to assume more and more security responsibilities. They have enabled a sovereign government to be elected by the people of Iraq and slowly grow to autonomy. They are sharpening their own skills needed to fight asymmetrical wars and perform counter-insurgency operations which, unfortunately, will be needed again, probably sooner rather than later.

And through groups like Families United Mission and Vets for Freedom, I can stand with others who also publicly support those still in harms way and understand the connection between supporting the troops and supporting their mission.

Ultimately, I’ve had to accept that therapy for Marine Corps withdrawal syndrome does not exist and put my trust in where God has placed me, even though the reasons are not always readily apparent.

Maybe, after reading this, my wife will hit me in the head with a picture of my kids and make the reasons more apparent. But, I don’t know if that will actually make it any easier.

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