Two years ago, I ran into a veteran buddy I hadn't seen in years. He was an Army officer who had just finished his final tour in Afghanistan and was preparing for life after the Army. He commented that, after his own tour, it seemed to him like I had been over there so early on in the war. I jokingly told him that, when I first deployed in 2004, I worried that I nearly missed the war entirely.
He told me a few stories about his deployment, and I listened carefully for the Afghanistan I also remembered. I listened for something that might somehow take me back over there again, maybe collapse the space between the Afghanistan he saw so recently and the one I remembered so distantly. The edges of my own memories of that country seemed to rebuild themselves as soon as he talked of the mountains.
My mind drifted to a day that I watched the flag-draped coffin of a fallen solider being loaded into the belly of a C-130. I stood in an empty space along the Kandahar flight line, where I watched the plane taxi down the runway and then lift off into a clear morning sky. Once the plane disappeared over the mountains, the pain of that fallen soldier's sacrifice felt heavy and moored within me, like my sadness had been knotted to an anchor line and thrown over the side.
Read the full op-ed at Huffington Post.