Well, the adventure is over. I safely returned from Afghanistan on May 2nd, 2013, 413 days after I departed on my great journey. I am glad to say the Afghanistan chapter of my life is closed, as far as I can tell, and I am beginning another new and exciting chapter.
413 days is a long time. There were of course good days and bad days, and some better than others. But most days were just work days, plugging along in a mission I hope improved a nation that ranked at the bottom of every feasible list of attributes in 2000. In 12 years, the world has done a lot of work to fix Afghanistan, and I am glad I played a role. As a co-worker once said, “The days go by slow, but the months pile up quickly.”
That they did.
On a personal level, I am glad to be home. It was an arduous trip, as most journeys across the world are. 18 hours in an airplane is never easy, especially when you are on a one-way trip from a nation known for terrorism to the United States sporting a beard that is almost a foot long. And yes, I was stopped by the powers that be. I was searched by security in London during a layover and then hassled by a customs agent in Miami. It was an interesting exchange that went something like this:
Customs Agent: So where are you coming from?
Customs Agent: What were you doing over there?
Me: I can’t tell you that.
Customs Agent: Was it secret work?
Me: You could say that.
Customs Agent: What agency did you work for?
Me: I can tell you my company, but that’s it.
Customs Agent: How long were you there?
Me: 14 months.
Customs Agent: That’s longer than a year.
Me: Yes, it is.
Customs Agent: You can go.
Me: Thank you.
Sure, I could have told him more, but after being awake through two nine-hour flights and an eight-hour layover in Dubai, I didn’t want to be bothered by some second-rate security guard in my home state.
Anyway, after I made it through the loving embrace of security and landed in Orlando, I was welcomed by my parents and little nephew. It was so good to see them. They had a balloon for me and everything. Although it wasn’t as emotional as surprising them in Washington DC in October, just seeing them again was so cool.
I spent my first week home in the Sea View Motel, a small, privately-owned, beautiful, quiet beach motel in Melbourne Beach, Florida, about 30 minutes from my parents and as far away from the world as I could be. Every night after dinner with my folks, I went back to the hotel, drank a beer or two, and relaxed to the sound to the waves. And I slept. A lot. I slept for over 10 hours twice and over 8 hours every day I was at the Sea View. It was the perfect place to relax, walk along the water, and forget Afghanistan. Highly recommended, and not just if you are returning from a warzone.
After checking out of the Sea View Motel, I returned to Tampa to complete some company paperwork and say hello to friends. Although I stopped by my workplace, I was definitely still in vacation mode. I met friends at a Tampa Bay Rays game, hung out in Tampa’s Ybor City, went to a rock concert, went to a comedy show at the Tampa Improv, and closed the week by seeing my brother do his pro wrestling thing. It was great going out and being social again, and so glad I could plan it all in the same week. It worked out perfect.
(Side note 1: I did a write up for the concert I went to for the Tampa Bay Times. It was published here:
(Side note 2: Before I left, I would see my brother do his pro wrestling thing every month. When I returned to boo him, so many people who work for the promotion and other wrestling fans welcomed me back. They asked me how I was and how my adventure was and they said it was great to have me back. That was heartwarming. So a big thanks to wXw Wrestling and the fine folks there.)
Following the second week of my “vacation”, I realized it was time to get back into the swing of things. Although I wasn’t back to top speed in regards to dealing with the fast paced American society, I was still eager to move on. Following a brief trip to New York this past weekend for a memorial service, that leads me to where I am now.
I am still looking for a place to live. I am still looking for a job. I am still hoping to get accepted into the University of South Florida Masters of Business program and start classes in the fall. I know all of these things will come in time. They are all part of the next chapter.
And now, as I close the book on the Afghanistan chapter and return to the American way of life, I am definitely excited to be back and to see what this new chapter has to offer.