I'm currently writing this blog entry from my Mom's house in Leland, NC. It strikes me as I write this that it has been over two years since my last blog entry, written just before my entrance into the United States Navy.
It would be a tremendous understatement for me to say that my life has 'changed a bit' since that last entry. This past year in particular has been filled with more plot twists than a Russian novel. Some of these changes have been difficult, but they revealed to me that a.) I am never alone b.) I deserve to be happy and c.) I am stronger & more resilient than I could have ever realized. Rather than 'making me who I am today', I see now that the difficult changes in my life served only to reveal to me who I always have been all along. I can say without a hint of bravado that I like who I am; I love being this guy; I love what I am capable of, I love what I have to give, and I am extremely excited by all of the possibilities within me.
I will simply say that right now I am the happiest that I have ever been in my entire life. I am blessed with the best family and friends a fellow could ask for.
For me, the holiday season has always beem a time for reflection and reassessment, and even more so this year. The year 2011 provided me with many opportunities, accolades and deeply rewarding relationships, both personal and professional. I have been the recipient of more love and support than I could ever ask for. As I step into 2012, I will be embarking on a new course in my life, one filled with many challenges-- all of which I am ready to meet head-on.
The chief challenge ahead of me comes in early January 2012, when I will be mobilizing for my first Navy Individual Augmentee Deployment to Afghanistan.
Now, many of my friends who know I'm in the Navy seem very surprised when they hear that I'll be headed to Afghanistan. They almost always ask: "Will you be on a ship?"
The simple answer is 'No.'
Individual Augmentee, or 'IA' as it is more commonly known, is a specialized mission wherein a Navy Sailor fills an operational support billet commonly associated with another branch of service. IA Billets can be anything from Detainee Operations to Customs enforcement to Defense Reutilization. This type of Deployment can be very stressful, although deeply rewarding, and the function IAs serve to the overall effort overseas is a highly valuable one.
The challenges of an IA deployment are unique: First, rather than deploying overseas as part of a larger Unit, Navy IAs usually deploy overseas alone. On the personal level, there isn't the same communal sense that comes with a large Unit mobilization; I won't be part of a a huge mass troop movement; I won't be able to look over and see twenty-five sailors sharing the same exact experience, at least not during the pre-mobilization phase. While I have gotten top-notch support from my NOSC (Naval Operational Support Center), a lot of my pre-mobilization preparation has been completed as 'The Lone Sailor.' This has been at times frustrating, exhausting, and isolating, since very few of my friends are going through the same challenges, changes, and emotions.
A second challenge IAs face: The exhaustive pre-Mobilization process. For Navy IAs, this includes countless medical/dental screenings, a lenghty pre-Deployment checklist of financial, legal & familial 'to-do' items, and completion of about 42 comprehensive online courses covering everything from 'IED Countermeasures' to 'first aid' to the 'Dari Afghan language.' Also factored into this are the personal logistical challenges: In the months leading up to deployment, I have found myself having to move everything I own, secure my pets and property, establish a will and specific powers of attorney & inform my family where they can find support services and deployment information, all while trying to stay physically fit, and find the time to simply breathe.
It has been a rather stressful time for me lately, and I wish I could give full attention to each and every one of my dear friends who have expressed support and encouragement to me over the last few weeks and months. I have been essentially 'Homeless' for the last few weeks, and I have found myself expending quite a bit of mental and emotional energy obsessing over lists of things to be completed. I had a Navy Shipmate in my Unit tell me that the Pre-Deployment phase is the most stressful time; That once all of the 'i's are dotted and 't's crossed, and the Deployment is underway, I will feel more like I'm 'in a groove' and less like I'm trying to herd a bunch of cats.
Another thing people ask me is if I'm scared to go overseas; They ask if I have any misgivings about heading to Afghanistan, where things are most definitely not tranquil and calm; I can say, without equivocation, that I am 100% convinced that the task I am performing is essential, vital and necessary to protect the lives of my brothers and sisters in arms, and I will do the very best job I am capable of performing while thus engaged. I know that I will be working with some of the finest and most qualified professionals the military has to offer; Furthermore, this is essentially what I joined the Navy to do-- Namely, play my part in my country's effort overseas. Call it hokey, call it Jingoistic, call it whatever you'd like, but I have ALWAYS felt deep down that I owe my nation a very real debt of gratitude for all it has blessed me with, and the very least I can do is lend a hand to ensure the safety of my fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines... And I mean to do it right away.
; And, as I go forward, I will strive to continue to become the best 'me' I can possibly be.
Thank you again to everyone who has offered support and encouragement to me for all these years. I have the strength and confidence to face the future and the challenges of the road ahead because of the belief entrusted to me by my family and friends.
Thanks again, and may the road rise to meet you...