Kuwait: still hot, still flat, still full of sand. And waiting. Ft. McCoy: lines and civilian contract workers and paperwork and waiting and gestures of thanks and goodbye. I probably won’t see many of these people ever again. Late night, early morning, busses. Two coach busses take some of us back to Marquette, Michigan. Two busses take some of us back to Ellsworth, Wisconsin. And then later, after I’m gone, busses take the rest to the airport where they fly home to Oklahoma City. I am on the Ellsworth busses. Three hours west of McCoy. Three hours on the bus for the last time.
We meet a county sheriff when we get off 94 and then another squad car, an ambulance, and a fire truck just outside town. They cut all the kids out of school for the afternoon and they line the streets, waving flags and cheering – either for us or for the joy of not being in class. There are old men in hats, saluting and waving again – just as they did when we left. The fire department has hung another giant flag over the road and we drive under it. And then there’s the drill center. Looking as it did when we left. Cinder block buildings that used to be a car dealership. We drive by, go a couple of blocks farther into town, turn around, and come back.
There’s Mom. Dad. The Steps. The Dane. Broser, Sisser, Bubba, and Benjor. Friends. Hugs and tears and handshakes and more hugs and pictures and then we’re gone. Me and The Dane. In the car and headed back to Minneapolis. Back to our apartment. That was Thursday, now it’s Monday. I’m sitting at the little breakfast bar drinking good coffee and enjoying a little time to myself. The Dane went back to work today so it’s just me.
I know I have things to do. Have to go file my DD 214 and see the County Veterans Service Officer. Have to go pick up some of the boxes I mailed to Mom’s. Have to unpack. Have to go to Target. It’s weird, but good. Although I’m not wearing that damn uniform anymore, I am wearing more or less my civilian uniform – jeans and a t-shirt. I have to drive to get much of anywhere while I am used to walking everywhere. The food’s good here, REALLY good. I can have a beer if I want to, but I think I’ll wait until five for that.
The part that throws me is that it’s all the same. My friends are all still doing the same jobs. My family’s still crazy. I still hate doing dishes. I know I’ve changed but I’m still figuring out just what that means. I am no longer the crazy-informed political guy that reads three or four newspapers every day, that guy got left in Iraq somewhere. I am no longer a Soldier. No longer a squad leader. Now I’m just a veteran. Just that young man who might walk by you on the street and make you think, “There’s something different about him.” Sometimes it’s because we stand up straighter, but that’s not me. I’m a terrible slouch. A confidence perhaps? I don’t know. It’s certainly not my haircut. When I wrote that I had my last haircut, that was it. I’m a little shagged out now, at least for me. I’m still settling in. Still getting used to not being in charge of anything. Still getting used to being home. I’m home. And my troops are home. And we all made it. Safe. And that’s happy. Very happy.
Skinny and The Dane