The small base that I was stationed at sat nestled about 45 minutes from Wurzburg. The largest town closest to us was twenty minutes away.
I adored the small village we lived in. Everything was within walking distance. It did not take long for my family and I to make friends there.
Besides the normal training events, I was home for just over a year. I managed to reconnect with my wife and daughters. Things began to feel normal. There were few times that I struggled to maintain my temper. I began to feel like a ‘real boy.’
On the weekends we would get out and go visit different locations. There was always something going on. Beer fests, wine fests, circuses, and the city of Rothenberg, all vied for our attention.
Christmas, I had never been a fan of Christmas, became my favorite holiday in Germany. I would take my family to Rothenberg and walk through the stalls of Kringle Fest.
All of that changed when I was handed my deployment orders. My unit became serious about warfighting. Prior to our departure, I spent no less than 7 months in field in preparation for a fifteen-month deployment. I began to shut down emotionally. My intention was to protect my family. Little did I know that I was shutting doors that could not be reopened.
Instead of drawing closer to my family, I kept them at a distance.
“They would distract me when I needed to be focused on the mission,” I kept saying to myself. “Focus on the task, don’t be distracted. They will be here when you return.”
I departed from Germany in early summer. We arrived in Kuwait in June I believe, and it was unbearably hot. “I can’t even imagine what hell would be like, but it has to be worse than this.”
Unlike my previous deployment, I did not get blown up every day. I was kept on the base, and kept helicopters flying day in and day out.
Oh, how I longed for the days of warfighting. I was not used to playing political games for favors, my personality was not adjusted for this type of silliness.
“Either learn to play the game or get left behind.” I hated it. My rage grew in leaps and bounds, I lashed out at everyone and everything. “This is ridiculous. Pit me against the enemy, not against a bunch of whiny miscreants who have no idea what war is really like.”
Some of my fellow soldiers hated me, and I hated them back. We worked together to accomplish the mission, but God, we hated each other. I spent thirteen months on ground before I ever got leave. By then, my stress level was through the roof. My head ached constantly, to the degree that it impaired my vision. I went to the doctor.
“What’s wrong, Paden.”
“Doc, my head is killing me. I have tin foil placed in my windows to block out light.”
“It’s a migraine. Here, take this Ranger candy.” He handed me a bottle of 800 mg. Ibuprofen. It helped some, if I took enough, but my head continued to pound. I went back to the doctor, he continued to give me Ranger candy.
As I wrote earlier, I was one of the last people who received leave. I worked all day, and my Platoon Sergeant drove me to the airfield.
“You do know that no one likes you, right?”
“I don’t care.”
“You need to care. You will not get far without the support of your soldiers.”
“I don’t care, Sergeant. There is a job that must be done. They can either help, or they can get out of the way.”
“While you’re on leave, you need to find Jesus.”
I stared at her. “Yeah, and you need to be a competent leader. So far, you’re straight garbage.” I barely kept the lid on my rage. Instead of engaging with her further, I grabbed my gear and walking into the building. “Who does she think she is to lecture me on leadership? There is a fine line between like and respect. I would rather be feared than liked anyway.”
As I sat in the air-conditioned building, I thought about what my Platoon Sergeant had said. “You need to find Jesus.” I had not thought about Jesus for a long time, nor had I made time to develop a relationship with him. Sure, I had gone to church. I had even received the gift of the Holy Ghost. But I had drifted away from what I had been taught.
War had destroyed my faith in everything. I was faithless to everything; the only exception was my wife and children. To them, I was faithful.
“SSG Paden?” I looked up and an officer waved me over to him. “Yes sir?”
“We got you on an earlier flight. You leave in ten minutes.”
I had turned my gear in to the clerk who had tagged and stored it. Only my backpack remained. I boarded the plane and soon I was on my way back to Germany.
We arrived in Nuremberg in the late afternoon. My family met me there. I got off one flight only to board another. We traveled to Rhodes, Greece.
After spending five wonderful days touring the island, we returned home. The rest of my time off was spent in relative quiet. I played with my children and conversed with my wife.
I returned to the war and was met at the terminal by my Platoon Sergeant.
“Hello, Sergeant Paden.”
“Hey.” She motioned for me to follow her. We walked outside.
“You need to get back out there and break your foot off in those soldiers’ butts,” she growled ferociously. She swore a blue streak as she relayed what had happened while I was gone.
“Yeah, I can’t do that.” She stared at me; disbelief showed on her face.
“What do you mean you can’t do that? You are ordered to do just that.”
“I found Jesus, Sergeant.” Her eyes narrowed, the veins in her neck grew taut. I thought for certain she was either going to attack me or have a stroke.
“Fine. You either do what I ordered you to do, or you go join the team at Outpost Charlie.”
“Are you going to Outpost Charlie?”
“No,” she said vehemently.
“Okay,” I said. “Looks like I’m headed for Outpost Charlie.” My Platoon Sergeant turned and walked out into the night. I smiled. It was good to be back.