Shortly before I departed for Kandahar, my friend Lindsey gave me a bracelet that says, “LIVE THE LIFE YOU IMAGINE.”
Well I never could have imagined this!
I’ve ridden in a MRAP through an obstacle course.
I’ve taken a tour of an A-10.
I’ve flown in the cockpit of a C-130 three times.
I’ve flown in a Black Hawk to COPs and FOBs in Kandahar province.
I’ve taken a tour of a medical rescue helicopter and watched the ParaRescue Jumpers respond to a call.
I’ve spent a night in the control tower watching all the flights land and take off.
I’ve tried on an EOD suit.
I’ve played with military bomb sniffing and attack dogs.
I’ve heard the eerie whistle as a rocket flies overhead moments before impact.
I’ve felt the earth quake under my feet as an incoming rocket has exploded.
I’ve shared a room with 4 other grown women.
I’ve shared a bathroom with 35 of them.
I’ve eaten goat in Africa and a baby squid in Greece. Eww!
I’ve visited 5 continents.
I’ve snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef.
I’ve seen the Caribbean, Uganda, Germany, Ireland, Australia, Greece and Italy.
I’ve made life long friends, and met others I’d rather forget.
I’ve been yelled at by a Sergeant Major, praised by a Lieutenant Colonel, and laughed at by a Brigadier General.
I’ve watched ACUs turn to Multi-Cam.
I’ve seen 3/2 SCR change to Lightning Strawberries and then into the giant Indian patch guys.
I’ve learned greetings in Dari, Pashto, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Slovakian.
I’ve seen an entire unit deploy to Afghanistan TWICE! – the Route Clearance Seahorses.
I’ve ran a marathon.
I’ve felt the pain of loss.
I’ve seen the joy of a proud father at his child’s birth.
I’ve held grown men as they cry.
I’ve rejoiced with grown men as they cheer.
I’ve witnessed a soldier be awarded a Purple Heart while in the hospital.
I’ve seen a soldier wince in pain at the shrapnel still in his side.
I’ve seen a soldier draped in a flag for his final flight home.
I’ve felt deeper sadness and joy than I had ever known possible.
I truly lived.
I gave 20 months to the brave men and women who give us their careers, family, and sometimes even their lives. I thought it would be a great sacrifice, but instead it’s been a great adventure.
To every family member, friend, and OLP parishioner, thank you for your undying support that gave me the strength to support our troops.
And to every USO staffer, USO volunteer, SF, MARSOC, SEAL, PJ, Coast Guardsman, Sailor, Airman, Marine, and Soldier, thank you for sharing your experience with me.
To my coworkers who became friends, and to those friends who became my desert family, I could not have made it through without you. You were my rock, my sanity, and my overwhelming joy.
My sister Gretchen wrote me an e-mail recently in which she said, “Trust me, it all works out if you have the courage to let go.”
As a college recruiter I’ve heard countless mothers talk about the strength it takes to let go of their babies and not feel the guilt of abandonment as they trust they’ll be okay without them. I feel the same way about our troops.
I know I have made a difference in others’ lives just as they have touched mine, and in that way a piece of me will always be in Afghanistan.
So here’s to a new adventure!
New change, can’t wait! – Daren Hidalgo in his final letter to me.