Monday, April 13, 2009


It has been over eight months now.

Eight months, I think--nearly a year now since I left the Army. It still doesn't feel completely real. I cleared my post in Germany in late June of 2008. It would have cost the Army too much to move me and my wife to Knox with my unit, when my ETS would have been a month after my report date. So instead, I stayed back, helping the community close itself down there. It was strange to watch the people vanish, the buildings slowly empty out. When we left, our kaserne was nearly deserted. A host of memories and friends have been left behind in that place. Someday, I'd like to return there.

I feel like I've finally moved on. Anne and I are still happily married and going strong--going better than ever, in fact. We're living now in a college town in the American Northwest, both working for the same major electronics firm. It's an office job, to be sure, but I like the people, and I like what I do. We live in a townhouse in a quiet residential neighborhood, with a fenced-in backyard and pleasant neighbors. It's small, but pretty, and Anne has done a good job of sprucing it up, making it feel like home. On Sunday mornings, we've taken to heading downtown for bagels at a local cafe. Now that spring is finally here, I'm thinking about picking up another bicycle, so we can ride instead of taking the car.

It's still strange, to look up and find myself here.

I won't talk much here about how this all came to be. I could talk about the return--about the strange and strained reunion with my parents. I could talk about my last days in Port Austin. I could talk about the roadtrip which took us across four states, and nearly two thousand miles. I could talk about a lot of things. But I won't. I don't think about the past as much as I used to. I look back now, and think to myself: there's nothing for me there. Still, there are times when it is good to remember, even if I don't want to.

Remembering keeps us grounded.

Things have changed, for all of us. Oz is out of the Army now. He rebased to Knox about two months before I cleared out, but not before I stood up as the best man at his wedding. He got married to a German girl named Saskia, and I stood beside them as they exchanged vows in a private ceremony at a local castle. Theirs was the final marriage performed in Hanau between an American soldier and a German national. After that, they went on leave together, to spend some final time before Oz had to ship back stateside. It was the last time I ever saw him. 

About a month after he arrived in the U.S., Oz got busted for drinking again. The unit was under a new commander by that time, and this one had a zero-tolerance policy. Oz was mustered out less than a month later. He spent a few weeks crashing at his stepfather's place in Missouri, before finally moving back to Germany to be with his wife. They're still there now--living in a place called Steinheim. Saskia's talking about getting into school, and Oz--Dave, I can call him now--is working as a groundskeeper. It's simple work that gets him out in the sunshine. He's taking care of his wife, and by all accounts they're quite happy together. It seems that getting out of the Army was the best thing that ever happened to him. I'm glad. Dave is as close as I've ever had to a brother, and I love him dearly.

As for Brooks... he's still with the Deuce, now promoted to E-5. He's happy, I think, but that's partly because he's in the process of getting a med-board. The last few years have been hard on his body, and on his mind.  He got hurt when a .50-cal mount swung down and hit him in the forehead, and he spent most of our time downrange battling depression and anxiety.   I don't honestly know which diagnosis they're looking to use to separate him. All I know is that Brooks is ready. He's been ready for a long time, it sounds like. He won't be deploying to Iraq again.

This is the essential story of our generation, I think.  The ones who gave their all, they broke. They let themselves get driven into the ground, and let themselves get tossed aside like broken toys.  Broken bodies, broken minds, broken relationships.  And the ones of us who wised up and got out while we could? We're the ones they want back.

That's right--they want me back.  

The Army has started calling around again, and they sent me muster orders a few months back. Based on the stories I hear, this is usually a prelude to IRR call-up.  Bridgers are in short supply, and since so many get mustered out either broken or drunk, the Army will do anything it can to shore up its numbers in my MOS--even recalling those who've already separated.  

Still being involved with some of my IVAW buddies, I wrestled around with how to handle it. Technically, I'm not subject to UCMJ until I actually show up with orders in hand.  On the one hand, I considered reporting to file an objector packet. At the same time, I know how hard that is to accomplish from civilian status. I've never known anybody who had a packet go through. I also considered calling up to state that I would be refusing to report. While there are certainly precedents for that, such a gesture is really more of a political statement, and I really don't know if I'm ready for that again. The last I did that, I was trying to put down my thoughts and feelings on the war here, that became political, and look where it got me? Threats, accusations, harassment.

So what have I done? Well, for now, I'm just laying low. The window for my report date has come and gone, and when the Army called my house a few days ago, I told them they had a wrong number and hung up. Then I changed my phone number. If they want me, they're going to have to come and get me.

In looking back, it occurs to me that I spent most of my time in the Army trying NOT to be a political tool, for either side. And I failed. The old saying is right--the personal IS political. And unfortunately, I just wasn't ready for that. It was a lesson learned, I suppose. There are more people out there who believe me a fraud than actually believe my words. Not surprising. There's been a huge effort to silence or discredit dissident bloggers.  Even my own parents don't completely believe what I tell them.   But I still know the truth, as does my wife. Every word of this has been true. The only things that were changed were the names and places. But I'm still not ready to bring that down on my wife and I again. We barely survived the deployment, and I'll never do anything to jeopardize what we have again. And my wife supports me, every step of the way. If for nothing else, I am at least grateful for that. Whatever else happens, we have each other, and the life we're working to build.

Some of you will be happy for me. Others will be critical. But before you criticize anything I've done, remember what I've told you. I still stand by those things I said. This war was still wrong, and the way we still think about war is wrong. This war was not just some national jaunt for liberty and democracy. No--it was a farce. We went over there because it was expedient to the interests of a few, and a lot of people, on both sides, have suffered and died for it. I got luckier than most, but I still saw a lot of suffering, a lot of misery. And to this day, I still feel like I was the cause of it.

I still suffer from guilt--guilt for going along in the first place, and now guilt for refusing to do it again. Am I a collaborator or a coward?  I still don't know.  There are days when I don't know which way is up. But I'm trying to make sense of it all. All I know is this: I'm not afraid of dying back there. No--what I'm afraid of is having to live like that again, to be a prisoner to a force whose principles I reject, and to have to throw away everything I value to be a part of it. Say what you will--when it comes down to it, when people ask me why I left, my answer is still this: my country wanted me to be someone I'm not. I'm not that person. I'm not Milo Freeman. I can't go back to living in that world. And I'm sorry, but I've feel like I've given up enough for my country, only to be spit on or accused of hurting my fellow troops.

I gave up things over there that I can never get back--my belief in human nature, my faith in something greater than myself. I've lost all of that. And for the Army, for my family, for those who don't agree with me, it still hasn't been enough.

It will never be enough.

Still, there is much for me to look forward to.  Today is my twenty-sixth birthday. It's my first birthday as a civilian in over four years, Anne and I will be going out for dinner to celebrate. For what it's worth, I'm happy. I am.  I have a peaceful life now, with a wife who loves me, and for the first time I'm free to make my own choices, to contribute to my community however I see fit.

I stood out on my back patio this morning, enjoying a cup of coffee and a morning smoke. The trees are starting to bloom here, and after a hard rain last night, the air was sweet and thick with the scent of growing things. Life is returning to this world, and to me. As I stood there this morning, with the screen door open, my two cats came out to join me. They sat there in silence beside me, Allie and Schrodinger, and took in the sounds of the birdcalls. The sun was peeking out a bit from behind the clouds, and as a breeze picked up I thought I heard a familiar sound from down by the river. A keening, high and clear. 


We're still a good distance from the Pacific coast here, but even so, the sound of the gulls, coupled with that warm breeze, reminded me just a little bit of home, of those endless summer mornings out on the docks of Port Austin. For a moment, just a moment, the world felt new again.

And as I stood there, I felt a lightness of spirit, a sense of goodness in the world, that I had once feared I'd never feel again.

Somewhere in me, a voice spoke. We are home, it said. We are safe.