24 January 2011

Coming Home on a Bungee Cord

The polka band knows approximately five songs, running the gamut from "In Heaven There is No Beer" to a tuba-heavy version of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train."

I have to shout over the beat and blat of the music. "How long have you been here?"

Saber2th looks at his watch. "At least three 'Crazy Trains,'" he shouts back.

There's a quirky protocol when it comes to buddies who are back on military leave.

First off, you don't call them--they call you. They only have a few precious days here to spend, after all, and wives, kids, dogs, and home repairs are all higher on the food chain than Army buddies. If and when they call, however, you make sure to go. It's like a getting served a subpoena or notice of a "command performance," even if they don't outrank you.

Call it a "drunken muster."

A decidedly unshaven Saber2th is back from Afghanistan for two weeks, and has decided to hold court at the Central Iowa's only authentic German bier hall. "I made sure to have shaving cream for him when he got home," Saber2th-6 says, shaking her head. "What was I thinking?" I ask her how long he's been home, and how long it took for the novelty to wear off. She smiles a tolerant smile. I've seen that expression before, in my own home.

She tells me later: "I would've wanted this leave to happen in March, when we'd have only a few months left," As it stands right now, however, they're only halfway through the deployment. The Saber2ths have two younger kids, the same ages as my own. Managing the kids solo has been a little rough, she says, but having her husband back has been a good reminder of how it's supposed to be.

Every deployed family has a different strategy for taking mid-tour military leave.

One soldier friend recently chose to meet up with his wife in New York City, then absconded with her to some tropical island somewhere. Another says he'll similarly meet up with his wife and kids at a neutral location, rather than traveling all the way home. That way, he hopes, the kids won't feel like he's ripping the emotional stitches off regarding his year-long absence. One stay-at-home (this time) soldier says his pre-teen kids say they don't want to see his wife at all during her deployment--only when she gets to come home to stay for good. Or, more realistically, until one of their parents has to deploy again.

Someone hands me a beer in a tall but not entirely unmanly glass. I don't catch the description of what I'm about to drink. The beer names here are longer than Wagner's Ring Cycle, and I don't speak German, other than a little conversational Def Leppard. Setting my buddy up for a war story, I jokingly ask if the beer is called "schutzenschnur."

"Hey, that's German for learning how to shoot some NATO weapons and not hurting yourself," says Saber2th. "They give you a badge for it and everything!" God love him and the U.S. Cavalry--he's not entirely joking.

I'm introduced to some others present as "that guy with the blog." Later, I realize that I have perhaps missed my one opportunity in life to be addressed as "Meisterblogger Bloggermeister."

Saber2th and I do get to talk a little shop, although spousal proximity prohibits too many details. That's another unwritten rule about mid-tour leave: Don't talk about Fight Club. At least, not with family present.

Still, he reports our Red Bull cohorts are both doing well and doing good, although a few soldiers have tripped up on the details. "Counterinsurgency is pretty easy. Rule No. 1 of Counterinsurgency is 'Don't be a douche-bag,'" he says. "Rule No. 2: 'Don't drive 80 miles an hour throwing your piss bottles at people.' but it's been kind of surprising that we've got guys who can't even get those two things right."

Our group ends up sharing a large booth with a bunch of brunettes--endo-, meso-, and ectomorphic Barbies--so the single guys in our posse swivel their turrets to start winning hearts and minds and telephone numbers. Instead of shots fired, or shots heard round the world, the night devolves into shots bought round the table.

Meanwhile, a hipster wearing a bright orange T-shirt and a beige blazer somehow starts chatting up the Saber2ths. Turns out, their group is from the local metropolitan opera. "It's our first night off in 2-and-a-half weeks," the guy complains. Saber2th rolls his eyes instead of punching the guy. They don't get weekends off in Afghanistan.

In just a week or two, he'll be right back at it, and so will his wife and kids here at home.

Tonight, however, it's a few stolen moments of beers and buddies and brass instruments, of not getting too caught up in the details, and avoiding fisticuffs with opera singers and shield maidens.

In Bagram, there is no beer. That's why we drink it here ...

Going off the rails on a crazy train.


  1. *applause, applause*

  2. Agh... several references in this post cracked me up... can't stop laughing. I am also glad to hear that there IS such a thing as mid-tour leave.

    I liked the OLD look of your blog, but the new design is perhaps more soothing? Can't think of another word.


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