Back at home,finally, and enjoying its pleasures

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I’m happy to report that I finally made it home; I wonder if it would be appropriate for me to say, “Mission complete.”

I’ve actually been home for a week. I was able to get out of TQ in Iraq with the five reminding members of the rag-tag group I inherited after three and a half days. I was working hard to become the biggest pain in the butt to the staff at the Al Taqaddum Passenger Terminal and to the Air Force personnel within the Air Operations Center, so I guess they finally got tired of me and placed my group on a priority mission which moved a Marine unit from Iraq to Kuwait. I made sure that the other guys and I were the very first people to board the aircraft.

The flight into Ali Al Salem Airbase in Kuwait was short, and I was the last person off the plane. As I started to relax and remove parts of my body armor it finally hit me that it was over. I was out of the combat zone and the end of deployment was here. I actually started to privately tear and choke up. I really don’t know why but I guess it was just one of the moments in life that’s truly heartfelt. Oddly, I noticed that no one was celebrating being in Kuwait. Maybe for all of us it was more or less a sense of relief that “Hey, we made it.

We’re done.”

I checked into and completed the Navy’s Warrior Transition Program at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. This was where all Navy guys and gals turned in all the combat gear that the Army was kind enough to loan us.

After some “re-integration” into the Navy, I sat through several PowerPoint briefs and medical/mental health screenings to make sure I was still sane and in good health.

There was a good deal of free time and many activities setup for our entertainment but I really wasn’t interested in any of them. I felt out of place trying to relax as I missed the action and excitement of Afghanistan. In the end, I just wanted to go home and I did.

The journey home was on a flight appropriately named the Freedom Flight. Roughly 200 of us arrived at BWI in Baltimore after a stop in Europe. After clearing customs at BWI, we met by a group of great Americans who provided us with a great homecoming.

People of all ages turned out. For some of our group, it would be the only homecoming celebration they would receive.

One young Tiger Cub Scout walked up to me and presented me with a welcome home card he made. He then saluted me and in a soft voice said thank you for defending us. That meant the world to me. I placed his card in my passport and I’ll treasure it forever.

My overall favorite personal moment of my return home came when my two year old son Joshua first saw me at Norfolk International Airport, yelled out “Daddy”, ran and jumped into my arms to give me a huge hug. The best things in life are really free.

One topic which was focused on during the reintegration briefs was the elevated levels of adrenaline many of us experienced for 6 to 12 months straight. I’ve mentioned before the feeling of being on a constant high and, for myself, have been concerned on the adjustment to normal society and a lack of excitement.

During my first few days home, I quickly realized how I was feeling like something was missing from my life and I felt a bit depressed. Even after going back to my regular job in Norfolk to check in, I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong.

Many of my Navy buddies e-mailed me and asked just how in the heck I was going to sit behind a desk in an office environment again. Honestly, that had and still has me worried. I have this action and adventure desire within me that I guess needs to be constantly fed.

In addition to the above, I noticed that my driving skills needed some attention. Within 48 hours of being home I was pulled over in Waverly. I guess I missed a speed sign and I’m so used to driving at various and unpredictable speed intervals. The officer listened as I explained that I just got home and I admitted my faults. He checked my license and let me go — what a great guy.

Well that’s about it.

The readjustment to go from “Lt. Wilson” to Don (regular guy, husband and father) continues. I finally enjoyed the simple pleasures of a cold beer at night, cutting down the yellow ribbon my church placed there awaiting my return, and mowing the grass on a Saturday afternoon.

As I’ve said in the past, I want to thank each of you for listening to my stories, rants and ramblings. Having these written conversations with you, even though they seemed one-way in many cases, was certainly a great way to relax and blow off some steam.

I still can’t believe how something that started as a way to keep my family and friends in the loop,

turned into over 600 readers on my distribution list alone and countless others who received these e-mails through second-hand means. It really feels good to have you all in my life and you are all friends for life. If you ever pass through the region, shoot me an e-mail and let’s say “hi” in person.

Don Wilson, a lieutenant with the U.S. Navy, was deployed in Afghanistan. He e-mails a letter home each week, and this is an edited version of that e-mail. His family lives in Ivor. His letters appear on Wednesdays.