In Bangor, Maine there is a group of people that greets each flight carrying deploying or returning U.S. troops. I first met a few of them in March 2010 when, as a new second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, I passed through on my way to Afghanistan.
There was a greeting line of maybe a dozen or more, each shaking the hand of every single Marine and sailor – several hundred on our flight alone. For whatever reason, I vividly recall the feel of one elderly veteran’s hand as he shook mine: his skin was dry and slightly cooler than mine, his grip firmer than I expected and reassuring. His mouth was saying thank you for serving, but his handshake said I made it and so will you.
It was to the former that I had difficulty responding. Usually I answer “thank you” with “no problem,” “don’t mention it” or “no worries.” None seemed appropriate under the circumstances, and I’m sure I mumbled something like “you’re melcome it.” In all the time since, when people thank me for my service I still almost always flub the response.
Hold that thought.
I don’t remember the details, but when I was in about third grade I must have given a teacher a birthday or Christmas gift, because I recall getting a very warm thank-you note and wanting to thank her, in turn, for the kind words. I guess my response would have been a “thanks for the thanks” note (a “you’re welcome” note?) and even all these years later I can’t really understand why that would have been such an absurd thing to do.
I think you can see where this is going. The Conway Daily Sun has graciously offered me this space for the next six months, to share my observations as I return to Afghanistan. So, as I see it, describing to you in these pages what life is like on deployment, what we do and how we do it is my way of saying, “thanks for the thanks” to all those who have supported my fellow troops and me.
However, if we’re going to do this, there are a few things you should know:
First, this is not my column, it’s your column. If there is something you’d like to hear more about or a question you want answered, simply e-mail me or submit your own letter to the Daily Sun and I’ll do my best to address it. Left to my own devices, I am likely to ramble on in obscure military jargon until the editors finally decide they’ve had enough.
Second, I am not a journalist. My style is informal – as you may have noticed – and perhaps occasionally ironic. My intent is not to offend anyone, but I find humor to be both therapeutic and illuminating. Last time out, I kept a blog visited by a limited audience of friends and family. This time, I hope in these pages to bring you along as well.
Third, in the interest of full disclosure I should note that I will be running each submission through the public affairs Marines in my chain of command. This is a requirement, but were it not I would do it anyway. The last thing I want is to endanger any friendly forces by inadvertently revealing sensitive information. Similarly when I discuss our British partners – more on this in a moment – I will give their personnel a preview as well.
Finally and long overdue, let me tell you a little about myself. I have spent a good deal of time in Conway but I’m not a native son. I was born in New Orleans and grew up mostly in the South and the Midwest. For the next six months or so, I’ll be a resident of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province and site of British headquarters in Afghanistan. I will serve as an airspace liaison, helping coordinate the use of Marine and British air assets in support of ground troops.
On my last deployment, I remember several times thinking: when I shake that old man’s hand again, I’ll know I’m home. Right after I got through the greeting line (on my return trip), I turned on my cell phone for the first time in a year and called my family. I’d been looking forward to those two moments for what seemed like an eternity, but believe it or not I’m also looking forward to being back in Bangor, outbound. Like every Marine I know, I’m eager to get back to doing my job in theater. Thanks in advance for coming along with me. I know I’ll enjoy sharing the experience and I hope you will too.
Editor's Note: The journal was written by 1st Lt. David Morgenstern, an air support control officer with Marine Air Support Squadron 3, based in Camp Pendleton, California. Morgenstern is again deploying to Afghanistan in support of NATO International Security Assistance Force operations.
To stay connected with the Marines in Afghanistan, visit http://www.facebook.com/regionalcommandsouthwest.