“What’s the hardest thing about being deployed?”
I get this question from time to time. My Soldiers often make assumptions like, “man Sir, it must be hard for you, having to listen to everyone complain” or “there is no way I could do what you do, deal with everyone’s emotions. It has to be hard for you. How you doing?” I always smile and hear their unsaid story, the one about not being able to deal with their own emotions. Its generally why people have issues hearing someone else’s story – they can’t deal with their own.
But that’s not the hardest thing about being deployed. In fact, having a line of people wanting to talk is the opposite of hard, its tiring but good. It’s warming to me to know that I’m useful, that what I do matters to the group as a whole. Exhausting but not particularly “hard.”
No, what’s most challenging to me, to be frank, is the opposite – its when no one needs to talk. Its when I “make my rounds” and everyone is doing ok. When I need to make small talk to fill the void because no one is actually feeling bad. Its sitting in a quiet office feeling the need to do something but there really isn’t anything to do. It’s putting a ton of effort into an event like the National Day of Prayer Breakfast and three people besides the ones you specifically involved in the program show up. Its struggling with feelings of worth when everyone has a specific job on the camp that fills their day and yours is to walk about and talk to people. It’s watching the Staff work really hard at the business of war while you having nothing particularly significant to add. That’s hard.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I can come up with stuff to fill my day. In fact, I can come up with all kinds of busy work that thrusts me into all kinds of areas. Work that integrates me into the staff and makes my job something other than religious support (PAO and MWR come to mind). But these are not my job. In deployments past, in my anxiety, I came up with all kinds of efforts that kept me busy. Kept my mind occupied and focused on things other than unintegrated emotions but it certainly was not my job.
My job, every deployment, is two-fold – provide for the free exercise of religion and advise the Commander in the areas of religion, morale, ethics, and morals. So… yeah… that does not always fill the days. I visit. Stay informed. Read. Observe. And, once in a while, something pops up on the radar that no one is tracking and I have a mission to advise. But the overwhelming bulk of my work happens one on one. It’s when I observe that staff member in the meeting who seems just a little off and when I can approach them offline, I find out that their daughter is sick and they need prayer. I just wish sometimes that I didn’t have to seek this out every single time. It would be so very helpful if people would just utilize me instead of me having to pull it out of them.
But that’s the call isn’t it?
This is my first deployment post-CPE. I’d like to think I’m more integrated emotionally than I was for other deployments. I’d like to think I’m a little more self-aware. The thing is, of course, that the anxiety of uselessness in combat does not go away, I just have a name for it. I can sense the emotion and can deal with it. Focus the energy on useful things that actually relate to religious support. But that does not make it any less hard.
What’s the hardest part of deployment for me? Maintaining the un-anxious presence.