Evenings in Baghdad are cold in February. One night after walking to the small post exchange after dinner, the chill in the air had me moving quickly back to Squadron to help finish plans for the next day’s mission. Then the alarm from the AN/TPQ-36 radar sounded. This alarm provides about eight seconds notice before what’s flying through the air lands somewhere on base. In this case, 107mm mortars. Sprinting, I and about 10 other Soldiers converged on a nearby, small concrete bunker. Inside the bunker, as nearby explosions interrupted the noise of the radar’s continuous alarm, all rank and formality was lost to relief on being inside the bunker. Different units, jobs, and rank meant most of us didn’t know each other. But in the darkness, experiencing together what felt like a close call, we shared cigarettes, stories, and jokes until the “all clear” signal. As quickly as we had converged and grown close in the moment, we scattered into the night to finish the day’s work.
As other Veterans know, people come to the military from all corners of our country and become a team where you learn about, and rely on, people very different from you. One reason I enjoyed serving in the United States Army was because I met, worked, and connected with people I might never have met otherwise. While not always easy at first, my experience proved time and again our diversity made us stronger and better problem solvers. We have more in common than not. Whether in training or real-world mission, the Army culture, leaders and Soldiers brought us together to accomplish the mission we were called upon to complete.
The connection I felt with the other Soldiers in the bunker that night got me through that experience and other moments like it until it was time to come home. A Veteran’s homecoming is wonderful, but can also be fraught, as we can lose that sense of connection, as well as bringing with us memories and consequences of our experiences.
If you or a Veteran you know feels disconnected, depressed, overwhelmed, or hopeless, please reach out to friends, family, professionals. Support is available:
- VA’s Veteran’s Crisis Line (talk): 800-273-8255
- VA’s Veteran’s Crisis Line (text): 838255
- VA’s Veteran’s Crisis Line (online chat): VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat
- Lines for Life Military Helpline (talk): 888-457-4838
- Lines for Life Military Helpline (text): 839863