Posts Tagged ‘R&R’

I recently returned from R&R from Afghanistan. I took leave at roughly the halfway mark instead of at Christmas as originally planned. It was a good decision as I don’t think I could have waited much longer.

“R&R” is military-speak for Rest and Recuperation Leave. The Army gives 15 days of non chargeable leave for all those deployed for greater than 9 months. For those who were here during the 15 month deployment days, they got 18 days of leave. Those who are only here six months don’t get R&R. The Army is the only service that routinely deploys service members for a year. As such, 95% of those going on R&R are Army.

The Army will pay for a round trip ticket to anywhere in the world you want. All you do is say where you want to go and they give you the itinerary – as long as your paperwork is in order. Your leave doesn’t go into effect until the day after you arrive at your final destination so altogether it takes you out of the game for almost a month. It is a pretty generous program.

Getting home took several days, but was not as big of a hassle as people make it out to be. I left Jalalabad around 2300 on a Thursday for a quick flight on a C-130 up to Bagram Air Field (BAF). There we received some middle of the night briefings on where we would be staying (tents), where the dining facility was (by our tents), what to do with all our gear (carry it with you), what we had to do tomorrow (turn in weapons), and when we needed to show back up to try to get a flight to Kuwait (early tomorrow morning).

The R&R tents at BAF were in pretty rough shape. No showers, port-a-potty’s only. That tent is a public health outbreak waiting to happen. On top of that, they put the male R&R tent right next to a set of really nice barracks for the guys living at BAF.  You could see the steam coming out of their indoor bathrooms in the morning.  The Pat Tillman USO however is pretty classy – a nice western style building with free wi-fi, free coffee and snacks. It was a nice clean place to hang out while waiting for a flight. After almost 24 hours in BAF, I boarded a C-17 for the flight out of Afghanistan.

It took about 4 hours to get to Kuwait. We landed at  Ali Al-Salem Air Base, an old Kuwaiti Air Base that looked like it had taken a punishing back in Desert Storm. After that it was an hour bus ride to Army Life Support Area, Kuwait. Kuwait was much nicer than Bagram, Afghanistan. They had showers, actual toilets, and clean tents to stay in. I spent one night there then boarded a contract civilian aircraft for a flight back to the states. We had one stop in Ireland in the middle of the night to refuel and stretch our legs. After that it was on to Atlanta and then off to my final destination. There were no awkward welcome celebrations in Atlanta, no cheering crowds, no firetrucks showering the “Freedom Flights” like people said there would be. Just a simple briefing and that was it.

Seeing my wife and son again for the first time in six months was amazing. My son had grown so much since I left. Now he was using real words, running at full speed, and could actually answer questions and  follow simple instructions. He was a little leery at first, but I could tell he remembered me. My wife was more beautiful than I remembered. The time at home was great and I was surprised how quickly I forgot about Afghanistan and how rapidly I adapted to civilian life. It was a much, much needed break. I needed the downtime to re-asses my priorities in life and do some serious thinking about where I am headed.

Looking back on the first half of this deployment I can see how I have changed as a person. The past six months in Afghanistan have left a mark on me (I’m not sure if it’s a stain or a scar, but either way its permanent).  Although I feel like the same person I definitely look at life, the Army, and dentistry a little differently. I have seen some things and places I never thought I would ever see as a dentist. I am more skeptical and less trusting in others -even those in uniform- than I was before I came here. I have learned some very important lessons in humanity and the human condition. I almost forgot how awesome America is. We are not a people or a nation without flaws, but we are still the best country in the world. After seeing the life of the average Afghani, I have nothing to complain about. I’m an American citizen. As are my wife and son. That means a lot more to me now.

So I’m halfway there. I was happy to be home but a small part of me was excited to return to Afghanistan. I’m ready to finish the job, return home for good, and put this behind me. R&R was awesome but I dreaded having to say goodbye again.

***UPDATE***

I’m back in Afghanistan. Seven Months down. Five to go. Saying goodbye to my wife and son was harder than I expected. A six month PROFIS deployment to a place with a bunch of other dentists seems like a good deal now. A year is just too long to be this professionally isolated. I say that fully understanding that for most soldiers 12 months downrange followed by 15-24 months at home-station has been the norm for years. But for a dentist six months is just about right. In six months you don’t lose too many clinical skills. Trying to do quality dentistry in a sub-standard “Expeditionary” Dental Clinic for a year is really stressful. Now I’m starting to worry about my professional skills when I get back. I haven’t prepped a crown in over a year. I haven’t completed a root canal in 8 months or so. My back is really beginning to bother me because my dental chair here doesn’t recline properly so I have to lean over too much. I’m starting to do things I would have never thought of doing in garrison because when you have seven sick call patients, a broken chair, a failing suction system, an aching back, and no one to help out, you start thinking: “You’re all alone buddy. Find a way.”

This next five months or so is going to be challenging. Am I even going to be a good dentist anymore after this? I hope its like riding a bicycle and that when I’m back in garrison, all my skills will come back naturally. I hope I will remember more than I have forgotten.

More importantly, I hope I don’t forget all the lessons I have learned out here. It is easy to forget the bad when you get back to the good.

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