HOOAH!: Homecoming

Chad Graden

I left Afghanistan on my own. I was on a special mission towards the end of my tour, so by the time I left, I flew out on a military plane packed with cargo. I arrived back in Germany and whoever was supposed to pick me up didn’t know I was coming. I sat in the airport for five and half hours before anyone came to get me. My entire unit had already flown back, but by this time most of them were on leave back in the States. So, there I was, alone in the barracks in Germany.

Usually in movies we see how people are treated with parades when they arrive back home from war. I didn’t get a parade, or a welcome home from anyone. It was late at night, so all I was given was a blanket and a bed. The next morning, I was given ten days off to decompress. After that, I would start my processing back into normal life (military life).

I didn’t call home for the first few days. I didn’t want to tell my family and friends my stories. Instead, I walked around base not really knowing what to do. I discovered the entire base ventured out into the German town that our base was connected to. I already knew where everything was, and I even recognized some of the people. While I was off to war, life had gone on. Everything was the same, and to the people there, it was like I never left.

It was an empty feeling, like being alone in a crowded room. My fellow soldiers were away, my family and close friends were back home in Minnesota. I truly was a stranger in a place that I was a resident of. I couldn’t sleep at night, so sometimes I wandered my way to some of the popular hangouts in town. They were empty, of course, because all the Americans were away.

I called home to tell my parents and they were relieved I was safe, but hardly displayed any emotion. While I was away fighting in an uncivilized world, their lives moved on. It felt as if I were forgotten about, like the creepy uncle families have, but try to push out of their memories. After I called everyone, I sat on the edge of my bed and just stared at the white wall of my room. I didn’t have much yet, because all my belongings were still being stored somewhere else. If I had died, it would be an easy task to just ship it all back to Duluth.

One day, on one of my walks around town, I happened to discover an ice cream shop. I walked in and sat down. I made friends with the owner and he enjoyed hearing about everything I had to say. I enjoyed his company, and he never charged me a dime for anything. I spent most of my off-time with him, in his ice cream shop, just talking.

To this day, I still miss his genuine kindness and ice cream. This was my homecoming, all I got and all I had, and I was grateful for it.