I got to talk to a soldier deployed in Afghanistan. Hear what he has to say about it.
Where did you grow up?
Johnson City, New York
How old are you?
How long did you serve?
I’m currently serving. I’ve been in for three years and have four months until my contract is up.
Where did you serve?
Germany and Kandahar, Afghanistan
What was your title/rank?
Specialist from Feb 2012 until June 2014.
Sergeant from June 2014.
What was the worst part of serving?
The military has two entirely different ways of life for a soldier. There is the garrison way of life, that is when the soldier is not deployed. Then there is the combat way of life, that is when the soldier is deployed. They both have their difficult aspects. Lack of privacy and freedom are what I would consider to be the worst part of serving in both environments. Soldiering is unlike any other job. We don’t clock out at the end of the day. We’re expected to be soldiers 24/7 and that can become tedious. We’re given quarters in the barracks but most guys live with roommates. In small rooms. Even if you’re afforded your own room you’ll still have regular room checks and all sorts of restrictions on the things you can own. I don’t know too many other adult men who have to make their beds each morning and have limits imposed on how much beer they can keep in their refrigerator. In a deployed situation, you’re working a minimum of 12 hours a day, in awful conditions, and you won’t get a day off. I spent 9 months in Afghanistan and did not have a single day off to collect my thoughts and recharge. It’s the business we’ve chosen, but those are the worst parts.
What was the best part?
The best part for me is no different than the best part for probably everyone else. The camaraderie. We’ve been given a job to do, a difficult and dangerous job, and we have other guys just like us in the same boat. It’s very cliche but it’s the feeling of brotherhood that is the best thing.
Were there any times when you partied or had fun or goofed around?
Plenty of times. Military partying is not unlike college partying but military goofing around is entirely different. It’d be impossible to explain. The sense of humor that soldiers collectively develop would be impossible to explain. And even more impossible to understand. Our sense of humor isn’t normally received well by civilians. And we don’t really mind.
Did you and your colleagues share stories of home or bond in a way that is memorable?
Well, when out on a 24 hour patrol in Afghanistan stories of home are really all you have. You train yourself to stay alert constantly. Then you develop the ability to be 100% alert and aware of your surroundings and at the same time able to think about home. We’d talk about fast food a lot. So much talk about foods we missed. Guys don’t talk too terribly much about loved ones back home. We do talk about it but not as much as you’d expect. That’s more private, more personal. But food…a lot of talk about food.
Did you hurt or have to kill any targets? Within the confines of your comfort, please describe.
I did what was expected of me. I never found myself in a position where I found the mission to be at odds with my morals or values.
Did you ever feel like you might be killed?
I always felt like I might be killed. Before we deployed, we were told that not everyone who deploys with us will make it home. That’s the reality of the situation. To think that there wasn’t a real possibility of it being me would be stupid.
What were the local people like? Did you make any relationships with them?
The local people were much different than local people where I’m from. Different on every level I can think of. I found their treatment of women to be troubling. I did not make relationships with any of the locals. It didn’t really fit within my job description to make relationships.
Is there any particular memory which stands out that you feel like defines the entire experience?
I remember getting on the plane to leave Afghanistan at the end of the deployment. It was the greatest feeling in the world. It was emotionally overwhelming and surreal. And for the entire flight I don’t think I stopped smiling.
Did you feel like your mission was successful? Did you feel like the entire point of serving was successful?
I do feel it was successful. I feel it was successful more from a philosophical point of view than from a practical one. I don’t know exactly what might have been made better on account of our being there or what might have been made worse. Those are difficult things to quantify. I know that the guys I served with were successful in doing what they had to do. I know they served their country honorably. I consider that a great success. I’m not certain of many things in life but I’m certain that raising my hand to serve my country was the best thing I could have ever done.
Do you have any lasting side effects of your experiences? Anxiety? Bad dreams? Dependency on drugs or alcohol? Depression?
I don’t believe that I have any lasting negative side effects of my experience. My experience is with me, I think about it, but I don’t feel that anything from over there has damaged me psychologically or mentally. Emotionally, I believe I’m actually stronger as a result of it all.
What about those you served with–how are they doing? Are there any stories of suicide or depression?
There are those stories, unfortunately. Luckily, I do not have anyone that I served closely with who has committed suicide. As far as depression, yeah, it’s out there.
What do you think is the best policy for the United States to stand by when dealing with the region you served in?
I honestly do not know. That is the billion dollar question.