Friday, February 6, 2009

So long and thanks for all the fish

It's hard enough to prepare for deployment, seeing your family for the last time in what would be a year. The shred of worry in the back of your mind knowing there is a possibility that you may not return home to them. Goodbyes are difficult enough and no one likes to say farewell.

I said my goodbyes to my family and friends during the Christmas holidays. Everyone was so supportive and many were heart-broken as they watched me go fight in a war that isn't entirely supported by the American people. Society understands and gives the Soldiers praise regardless of the political engine behind the motivation, these people give the strength to carry on and do what Soldiers are trained to do. Fight.

The unit shipped off to Fort Dix on 5 Jan. 2008, the final phase preparing the troops for war. They would be screened for physical and mental fitness. Assuring all the personnel are ready for what lies ahead.

In the process we lost Spc. Mitchell, our admin clerk. Rumors were flying that there were other individuals that would not make the cut. I was one of those individuals.

It's hard enough to say goodbye to kin, it's even harder to say goodbye to the men and women you have spent the last 4 months of your life with. Knowing their perks and peeves, their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing that in the end, no matter how crummy the situation gets or how ridiculous something seems, that as a whole, as a unit we could manage any task; any feat.

Unfortunately, I was told that I was unable to deploy with the very unit I prepared for war. The very unit that I, with a few others helped organize. The full-time staff worked hours after the midnight oil had long burned out. There were times the frustration ran so high that giving up seemed to be the easiest response. Failure was no option and as a team, we drove through the issues like a steam-roller.

I sit at a doctor's office. He reviews my files and then looks to me. He flips a few more pages in what has become a thick journal of who I am. The file grew thicker each time I came in for an appointment and no doubt it would be thicker than the novel "War and Peace."

The doctor, he looks at me and says something that would burn in my skull. It isn't often that mere words have the ability to strike someone down worse than being struck across the the head in a fight. After he said his statement, I was left fazed and feeling hopeless.

"Sgt. Zoeller, You realize you're a REFRAD?" He commented curiously and continued. "Has your command informed you of the procedures?"

REFRAD is a military acronym for "Release from Active Duty." This is the process Reserve and National Guard Soldiers go through when they return from their tour of duty.

I wouldn't accept this REFRAD diagnosis without a fight. I understand they are looking out for the best interests of the Soldier by DOD regulations. I replied to the doctor as best as I could, stomaching this new-found nausea swirling around my head and making the office spin, "No."

I couldn't muster anything more to say. I had my guard down when the blow hit me. No military training in the world prepared me for what just happened.

We spoke about the DOD regulation and protocol and how it affects the situation. I told the doctor how this effects me but the stamp had already been printed on my file.

"Rejected" isn't the right word to use, but it's the first that comes to mind.

I left the doctor's office and returned to my duties where my unit was continuing to prepare for their deployment. I now say their deployment. I was in denial all up until the last moments, anyone in the unit could claim this.

I proceeded for an appeal, I asked for second opinions, I demanded waivers to protocol. I spoke to nearly every doctor and every provider available in my case. I exhausted every avenue I had. I did everything I could...

Now I sit here in this barracks in New Jersey. Each day is like the last. Each tomorrow will be like today. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Appointments and finally preparing for my inevitable return back to the civilian world.

There is no feeling worse than knowing your unit is in Kuwait. I was tracking their flight, thinking how many hours into the flight they were: Mid-Atlantic, Germany refuel, Kuwait.

The Soldier's Creed seems like a joke to me right now. I feel that every line of that creed has been broken by either myself or by Army protocol. It leaves me angry and frustrated. It leaves me upset, and left with a simple question, "What if?"

Even worse, I don't know how long I will be here. I could be here two more weeks. I could be here two more months. It's hard to say right now and all I know is that I am now in a squad leader position in charge of Soldiers in the same predicament that I am. Left behind.

There is no chance for me to fall in on my unit at a later time during the deployment. I did what I could but the Army has its way of doing things. I wonder if I could have done more? I know the question is rhetorical.

The military plans to recover me after a period of therapy. After I am physically and mentally prepared and fit, they want me to go over there. I have a lot to offer and I will perform my duties stronger than ever. I may not be over there now, but I will be there sometime. It's a matter of when, not if.

I wish the best for my comrades over fighting the fight. Thank you all for the service you do and know that I will be thinking of you all every day until your return. I miss you guys, I don't have many friends and you all are the closest I have.

1 comment:

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/06/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.