Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Hardest Part

Getting home from a deployment may be the worst part of the entire tour. The first and only thing on your mind is to see your family and go home, yet there always seem to be stumbling blocks. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. There always seem to be delays. Families just want to see their Soldier, and naturally, we just want to see our loved ones.

This is my fifth tour out here, so I’ve been through the whole welcome home ordeal four times. The first two were with a unit that seemed to organize things quite well. When we arrived, all we had to do was grab our day packs, take the buses to base, and they’d let us see our families. But other units I’ve been with did things differently. And none of liked it.

We came back one time and rather than just letting us turn in our gear at the armory and go see our waiting loved ones, they shuffled us into a partitioned hangar. On one side, we turned in all our weapons and serialized gear, and on the other side, our families waited. That’s bad enough in itself, but they also had camera crews filming us as we turned in weapons, and on the other side they had monitors where they could observe us coming in the door. I guess they thought it’d make the families feel better knowing their love one was safe. But that’s not how it played out.

As we in-processed, we could hear our families on the other side, cheering, yelling our names, and impatiently waiting for us to be cut loose. It was hard to know they were on the other side, unable to see us, and we’re stuck here waiting until all the equipment was turned in. That time it took about two and a half hours, which was awful. And even after the gear was all collected, we still waited. We stood by, families screaming on the other side, until all our VIPs had come in and set things up. Then, they formed us up outside and marched us into the auditorium where our folks were waiting.

But rather than just let us go to them, we stood there at parade rest or the position of attention, in formation, while one person after another came up and gave a speech. They always started with, “I don’t want to keep you long, so I’ll make this brief.” And then they’d talk for fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, children are getting grabbed by parents trying to keep them from running out to see Daddy. Wives are impatiently drumming their fingers. My wife later said, “I didn’t care at all what they were saying: I just wanted to see my husband.” But still, more speeches. Then they’d introduce another speaker, and you could see the people in the audience getting even angrier, and the children getting more impatient. It was audible throughout the crowd.

I really don’t know why they felt the need to talk so much rather than let us go. Maybe it has something to do with unit tradition, or to raise everybody’s anticipation of the whole thing. If that was the case, though, shame on them. They were “dangling” us in front of our families, who wanted nothing more than to wrap their arms around us. The anticipation didn’t make it better in the least; it made it worse. You could read it in the faces of our families as they waited. They didn’t understand why they were having their Soldiers paraded before them, but were still unable to actually greet them.

In the end, we spent almost two and a half hours waiting on the other side of the hangar and another hour standing in formation in front of them. It was stressful for us, and stressful for our loved ones. It was almost that bad after one of my tours, too.

All the VIPs want to stand around and make speeches about how the deployment went so well or how much we accomplished, but that’s furthest from our minds. We were out there, so we know what happened. It’s also behind us and done, and we’ve been gone for fifteen months. Instead, we have one interest: grab our bags, grab our families, and go home. We want to start the reintegration process, and drink an ice cold beer.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved


  1. I think you have done what you set out to do. You have put a face and voice on this war. It is no longer a bunch of people who went to the middle east to fight, but fathers, sons, idiots, macho men and raving maniacs. They have all kind of melded here and they have a voice. I say bravo!

  2. Wow. That is a crazy welcome home. In our three (Army) welcome home ceremonies, it was much shorter. A quick prayer from the chaplain and a one-minute "Job Well Done" welcome-home 'speech' by one commander. It was exciting and fun and we didn't have nearly that much waiting. I hope that will change for you because you're right. Nobody cares about anything else once the servicemember is there!! :)