The longest year of my life was actually not quite a year: it was the longest 358 days. I went from working non-stop and having little personal time, to having absolutely nothing to do; from knowing the lives of our enemies better than my own, to letting our replacements take over and hoping they got it.
I flew out of Baghdad not feeling like the mission was accomplished but definitely not wanting to stay. When the pilot said we had cleared Iraqi air space we all seemed to exhale. I left that country hoping I would never see it again yet knowing it would forever be part of my life.
On the flight home, I felt desperate. I wanted to rip my nails and hair out, and I didn't know why. I think it was the stillness, everyone sleeping around me when the last year had been so hectic that I forgot how to be still.
Somehow my hair, nails and I made it back to U.S. soil where my family was waiting for me. We landed in Fort Hood, Texas. This airfield was like a well-oiled machine, efficiently processing soldiers back in country. Before I knew it I was turning in the rifle I so wished I could keep with me. It was an extension of myself. I spent a lot of time with it, slept right by it. Six years later I can still feel it in the middle of my back, like a phantom limb.
For a child a year is an eternity, for an old person a year is blink. For a soldier on deployment, a year does not seem very long, but once you're back it seems like you've been gone forever. I did not realize how hard getting back to my normal life would be. The only way I can describe it is feeling overwhelmed over simple things.