HOOAH!: Gone

Chad Graden

It’s Christmas Eve, I am standing in the terminal at the Duluth airport waiting for my flight back overseas. It’s snowing so badly that I don’t understand how an airplane can even fly in this weather. My daughter is wrapped around my neck so tight that I am certain she is going to choke me out. My two boys are playing with my mom, she’s here too. In fact, everyone I know is here it seems. I was home for leave, from Afghanistan, I’ve only been home for 12 days but it’s time to go back. Another eight months to go and then it will all be over. I can go back home to Germany.

My daughter is crying so hard that she is coughing and choking on her own tears. My youngest son is crying now too. My oldest is trying to be “manly” and not show any emotion, but it’s hard for him. This is the hardest thing about coming home, it goes by so fast that it feels like I’ve only been here a day or two. I promise my kids that I’ll be back, and that they will forget that I’m gone and everything will be okay. It’s a complete lie, because I’m not guaranteed to come back. This makes me feel guilty, and I feel guilty for leaving them.

I wonder often to myself why I do this to my kids and my family. I wonder if all of this is really worth it. I pray every day that they will forgive me for leaving them for years at a time, and pray they understand why I have to leave. My youngest son tells me that every time he hears a story on the news about a major battle or hears that another soldier was killed he thinks its me. My mom pries my daughter off of me, and I tell everyone that I love them and walk onto the plane. I act tough, I try to act like this is normal and it’s no big deal, but as soon as I turn my back on them I start to cry, and I cry for the next three hours straight.

Sixteen hours later I land on Afghan soil, and I’m still bitter, still asking myself these questions. On the drive back to where I’m stationed we are attacked, and I’m once again forced into a long gunfight with people I don’t know. We lost a soldier during that fight, he died because his mission was to pick me up and bring me back.

The days and months after this I dream about my kids every night. I dream about their baseball games, dance recitals, and school concerts that I am missing. I become more and more bitter as to why I have chosen to break up my family just to fight a war on the other side of the globe.

In the years following that event, there have been many attacks towards innocent people all across the world. It took me a long time to forgive myself for leaving my kids. But seeing them again for the first time, smiling and laughing, made me realize once again that what I did had to be done, because if other people and I don’t go fight wars, then there may not be anything left to come home to. I look at my kids now, I know they have a chance at a normal life, a free life, because there are people out there willing to do violent things to people in order to protect them. Because of this, I am once again at peace, and my children now understand why dad left for such a long time.