15 October 2010

Sherpa the Friendly Ghost

Written sometime in September 2010, Camp Shelby, Miss.: I know this violates Sherpa's Deployment Rules Nos. 1 and 2: "Never complain," and "Never Compare the Suck." But I'm tired of the Army, tired of Camp Shelby, tired of packing and unpacking. Tired of my hotel room that smells of stale tobacco smoke. Tired of these lumpy sheets. Tired of eating bad food, when I feel like eating at all. Tired of the Mississippi humidity, and the air-conditioning unit that is one step past the "denial" stage of mechanical failure.

Mostly, I'm tired of missing my wife and kids. Tired of imagining their voices, and then not being able to hear them clearly across the crackle and pop of a cell phone. Unlike a distant radio telephone operator (R.T.O.), you can't tell a kindergartner to "I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. SAY AGAIN, Honey, ALL AFTER 'Hamster.' Who got a hamster?!"

Household-6 reminds me not to look the proverbial Cavalry horse in mouth: Earlier this summer, suddenly learning that I would not deploy to Afghanistan was an emotional shock to the family, as well as a potential financial one. That my Iowa National Guard superiors asked me to help push the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry Division (2-34 BCT) out the door as a non-deploying soldier was both backhanded compliment and a blessing.

It hasn't all been honeymoon and roses, however.

I'm currently on my third trip to Mississippi. At first, I felt like Casper the Friendly Ghost. I'd suddenly appear in a Tactical Operations Center (TOC) or a chow hall, and my buddies would give me a familiar nod before I'd see a wider recognition pass across their eyes. "Waitaminut," I see them thinking, "Sherpa isn't supposed to be here."

It was fun the first couple of times. Now, it's just heartbreaking. Because instead of Casper, my now-you-see-me-now-you-don't existence is more like reruns of Quantum Leap. Or Beetlejuice. Or Quantum Leap. Every time I shake your hand and say good-bye, it might just be the last time I see you.

My buddies invited me over to the barracks to play dominoes one night. Most of them were getting ready to jump from the frying pan of Mississippi into the fire of the California desert. We stayed up too late, but, to me, it was worth it. I'll miss the boredom and I'll miss the action, but mostly, I'll miss my buddies.

Still, we'll always have Camp Shelby.

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