As a military lifestyle blogger, I have read and written my fair share of stories from my own perspective, as well as other spouse/girlfriend’s perspectives. I’ve talked about the struggles that I face, from housing challenges to time apart. But I’ve rarely touched upon the struggles that our soldier’s face.
I know that Kyle gave up a lot when he chose to follow this life. He gave up holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and many other special occasions. And it wasn’t just one here and there. It has been countless times. I know that there will be many more days to come where he has to miss out, especially with an upcoming deployment, and I can’t begin to understand how that feels.
Rather than take my guesses, I decided to interview a soldier that I know who was, like many others, separated from his family and significant other due to deployment. I wanted to get his perspective on the situation, rather than hear about ones that are already so familiar to me. I performed an interview through text with him, and all responses are his exact words. I told him to be as honest as possible, even if it’s brutally honest, and to go into as much detail as he wanted.
SPC Fogg, Veteran, Served in Afghanistan during OEF
Background: He joined the Army when I was a sophomore in high school in 2008, and was accepted into his unit with the 10th Mountain Division. By late 2009, he was deployed to Afghanistan to execute OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom), also known as part of the Global War on Terrorism. He served for 6 months overseas, came home for leave for about 2 weeks, then returned to Afghanistan for another 6 months.
During the last 6 months in Afghanistan, he witnessed some things that he still won’t speak of. His friend was killed by a mortar while manning the gun on the top of the Humvee that SPC Fogg was driving. He was so scarred by the experience, that he knew it would be his last deployment. In April of 2013 he was medically discharged from the Army due to back injuries suffered in Afghanistan. He is one of the bravest people I have ever known, and I’m very grateful that he was willing to let me share his story.
Me: What exactly went through your mind on your last day state side, if you can remember?
SPC Fogg: A few of the last things that went through my mind were that I wish I had spent more time around the people that I love and that I wish that I had the chance to hug every single last one of them. Because I didn’t know what was going to happen when I got over there. I wondered whether or not I would ever see any of you again, to laugh with you, cry with you, to hold the people I love and tell them things were going to be ok. To see everyone’s smiling faces and tell them all that I loved them with everything I had. I asked myself what if I don’t come back? What if I get killed over there? Did I give my all in my life so far?
Me: What was it like to get on that plane, knowing the next time you stepped off it would be a world away from everyone you love?
SPC Fogg: Scary but exciting at the same time. I didn’t know whether or not I would ever see anybody again, but I knew I had a job to do. I signed up for it, and I did it with pride. When I left I wasn’t ready for anything that I faced over there. But I had my training, I have my brothers and those were the people I was fighting for. Everyone back home and the brother on my left and right. So no matter what happened, I was ready, if that makes sense.
Me: Once you got there, what were your initial feelings? Did you realize how far you were from everyone, or did that take a long time to sink in?
SPC Fogg: When I got there my initial feelings were scared, excited, and all over the place. We started going out on missions or what is known as “ride alongs” right away. We were told the areas where we were going to get hit the hardest and what to look out for. The first day I was there we went out on a mission and immediately took fire. I followed my training, so on the inside a part of me was somewhat calm, and the other side was terrified. It’s a hard feeling to describe. I was confident in what I knew, and what my brothers knew, but it didn’t take away from the reality of it.
I don’t think any of us realized that we were figuratively and literally a world away. We went straight into our work and tried to avoid thinking about that separation. There were times when the people I loved state side were what got me through it, and then there were days when I couldn’t think about anything but the mission. Those were the periods of time when 3 days could go by and I barely noticed. It’s a fog you get stuck in.
Me: Was it hard to come home on leave, knowing you would be going back to Afghanistan when it was over?
SPC Fogg: It was hard to come home, because I didn’t know how to say anything about the things that happened over there when I was asked. And it was hard because of what we all had to do over there. Knowing I had to go back was humbling, but my brothers were there and they depended on me to come back, so it made it easier knowing they were waiting for me. I was needed somewhere, and that made it easier to swallow.
Me: How was your perspective different when you went over there the second time?
SPC Fogg: I was more confident in my abilities than I had been, and the abilities of my team. I guess I was more sure of myself, and viewed it as a job to complete. I was still nervous though.. Things change quickly over there.
Me: What was your primary way of communicating with people at home while you were overseas?
SPC Fogg: I usually used email when I could get a computer. I was on an FOB so the email was down really often. I don’t think people back home realized how hard it was for us to communicate.
Me: When you found out you were being re-deployed to the United States, what was your FIRST thought?
SPC Fogg: I didn’t want to come home towards the end of my deployment. I was more scared of coming home than I was of being in Afghanistan. Everything made sense over there. And what would I do when I came home? How would I look at my family and tell them about the things I had done? You hear about war stories and they’re supposed to be these glorious, triumphant, inspiring tales. But they aren’t. They’re real to me; I did those things. How would I tell people that I was okay when I wasn’t?
I didn’t know how to deal with society or people again, when the only thing I knew was how to live with my brothers, ready to go at all hours. Don’t get me wrong, part of me did want to come home. A big part of me was so excited. I think I just lost track of what “home” meant exactly. Everything in me told me to stay.
Me: What was it like to see your family for the first time when you stepped off the plane onto American soil?
SPC Fogg: I actually didn’t get to see them. The first time I was back on American soil, I landed the same way I left: with my unit. They had us go through reintegration training before they allowed us to go back into society. Because of our exposure to combat, they monitor you first through a debriefing process. It makes it hard to get hyped up about going home when you know that you don’t get to see everyone right away.
Me: What challenges did you face in re-acclimating into your normal routine after deployment?
SPC Fogg: I don’t know where to begin. There were a lot of things that were difficult for me. I remember thinking about what I had to do a lot. People say that it’s all “for the mission” but we are still humans. The single most difficult thing for me was thinking about the friends that I lost over there. Thinking that it could’ve been me, or should’ve been me. If I had been 10 feet to the left instead of them, or manning the gun instead of them. The guilt you feel for not doing more, and the worse guilt you feel for being glad that you didn’t die when so many others did. You feel like a monster, really. And it’s stuck in your mind. It’s not something you just let go of. But eventually you work your way out of those things. I’m still working my way out.
Me: What advice would you give to a fellow soldier who is about to deploy?
SPC Fogg: I would tell them that nothing will prepare you for this. Hold you loved ones tight and be thankful that you had the time with them that you did. Because it can all change in an instant. Realize the gravity of that fact.
Me: What advice would you give to family members and loved ones of a deploying soldier that you wish someone had given to yours?
SPC Fogg: Just to listen. And to understand when they don’t seem like themselves when they come home because there’s a lot of things they’re trained to do. They’re trained to take lives, and save lives, and accept losing people. That’s a hard thing to comprehend. They’re going to act like they’re invincible. It’s okay to softly remind them that they’re not. Reminding them just might save them from a lot of things.
Understand that no matter how they push you away, keep trying. Understand that whatever they’re going through on the inside, they’re going to have to find their own way of getting past it. Be the stability that they have lacked, the understanding that they don’t currently have, and the love that they feel numb to right now.
I hope that this post can provide some insight into what it’s really like for our soldiers to be deployed. If you’re going through this situation currently, don’t forget to put yourself in their shoes. This interview wasn’t easy for him, and there were multiple times when I had to give him a moment to collect his thoughts. I’m so thankful that he was willing to open up to me, and to all of you reading. I hope that this gives us all some answers, and shows that we aren’t the only ones who suffer from these separations. I hope that it gives insight into what bravery truly is.