So, I spent the past 10 months at a Marine Corps base in Afghanistan.
I'm not a Marine, not an active duty service member, nor a contractor. I'm a legitimate Government Service (GS) "civil servant" who voluntarily applied to deploy to Helmand Province from my cozy life in Colorado Springs.
"Why would somebody to this?", you ask.
Well, several reasons.
1. Enriching Work - We as Americans have sent hundreds of thousands of troops to Afghanistan. It's treacherous, particularly when many service members are on their second, third, forth or even fifth deployment. My job was to direct Morale, Welfare and Recreation programming for the personnel working at the base. What could be more
rewarding in a war zone than ensuring that these individuals received world-class fitness programming, Wi-Fi in their living quarters (albeit spotty for many challenging reasons), special events offerings, and celebrity USO meet-and-greets? I got to help ensure that decompression activities were readily available and of a high-quality, so that everyone could do their jobs as effectively as possible. I am so grateful for that opportunity.
2. Sense of Adventure - I have been working for the US Army for the past 9 years at various bases throughout the US and Europe. I kinda just wanted to see what's going on in a deployed environment. After all, everyone's doing it.
Okay, maybe not everyone, but when you work on a military base, you're surrounded by people who have experienced the deployed lifestyle...be it actively deploying, or keeping the embers burning back on the home front. I mean, don't you think it sounds just a little bit interesting to "see what it's really like" over there? After all, plenty of your hard-earned tax dollars are being sent over there by the billions; why not see it at work?
And see it first-hand, I did! Pretty mind-blowing to witness even the logistical processes of getting personnel to where they need to be in Afghanistan, getting the supplies and equipment necessary to keep them afloat, and then managing the resulting waste.
"Icing"-type goods, services and activities blew me away as well -- like fancy meal nights at the dining facilities for major holidays, "near beer" provisions (since consuming alcohol is strictly prohibited), small shops with common amenities we don't view as "luxury" here in the US, and well-attended Zumba fitness classes.
3. Money for School - Part way through paying graduate studies straight out of pocket with no scholarships and no loans, it dawned on me that "this $h!t's expensive!". Ha. So, I explored and weighed options for supplementing my income to support my dirty, little academic habit. Without taking loans, a deployment through the US military was the most feasible option.
This worked out just fine. I got to take some pretty wicked "Rest & Recuperation (R&R) trips, and still come back with plenty of money to cover the rest of my Master's while keeping a little change in my pocket. "Epic winning."
4. Time for Studies and Physical Fitness - Let's face it: I'm a seasoned procrastinator. Like...I'm really exceptional at what I do. I can find 50 things around the house that need to be completed before I can bring myself to crack open my text book for the week's assignments.
By deploying to Afghanistan, however, I didn't have a house to take care of, a dog to walk and nurture and clean-up after, grocery shopping to do, cooking to clean up...and so on. I figured in theater, I'd work a regular schedule and then have a bunch of time on my hands for working out and studying. Sweet! I'd be forced into focusing on my academic growth and physical development.
Ha! THAT didn't happen. When the reality of my 12-hour day, 7-days per week schedule set in, I immediately realized that I had no choice but to reign-in my studies from full-time to part-time. MSPP was fully supportive of this request, by the way, considering my situation, which was a huge relief. But I still felt like I was drowning, given the extreme technological challenges one inherently faces in a third-world country (I forgot this consideration when I applied for 2013 coursework). However, with the support of the MSPP faculty and my cohort classmates, I was able to work through what I'd signed up for while I was gone.
5. Absence of Ties - I'm not married and I don't have children just yet. So, accomplishing
goals 1-4 above were doable. Had I been tied to a husband or children, there is little to no chance that I'd have every considered deploying for nearly a year. I do have a sweet, sweet poodle-mutt of a dog named Chloe. She was my primary concern and apprehension about leaving. Fortunately my folks, who she loves, agreed to look after her and love her in my absence.
It all worked out. Even found a couple potential soul-mate while I was there. We'll see where that goes. Wouldn't that be the ultimate Afghanistan souvenir? Ha. It'd make the whole experience even more worth it.
Now I can get back to procrastinating on my terms. I'm working toward having enough time to really focus on knocking out the rest of my MSPP program at the level that I want.