A Memorial Day message--savoring the ordinary for all who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Youíd have thought the affects of the war might have passed by now, that Iíd be back to my old, pre-war self. But Iím not. My close friends and family have noticed Iím changed in a fundamental way.A year ago this month, on May 12, I returned home from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Like many citizen sailors and soldiers in the reserve and National Guard, I donít much look like a warrior. That is, until September 2010, when I was called out of the reserve into active duty. I packed up my life, left my family, and shipped over to the shadow of the Hindu Kush with the United States Navy.
Iím a public affairs officer, so though I carted around some weaponry and wore cammo, my main task in Afghanistan wasnít in the infantry. Instead, I worked at headquarters as the director of media outreach, briefing reporters and editors to combat the daily lies and misinformation spewing out of my Taliban spokesman counterpart, Zabihullah Mujahid.
Many of our deployed troops in Afghanistan work daily with Afghan counterparts at building a stable, peaceful country, but itís still stressful and dangerous to work in a war zone.
Roadside bombs, rocket attacks, and insurgent fire remain a daily part of life in some regions of the country. So does bad food, separation from loved ones, the irony of military life (Exhibit A: I was a naval officer in a landlocked country.), and missed holidays, birthdays, and special moments we take for granted here in the US.
Moreover, every one of our troops stationed in Afghanistan sees depressing events and circumstances. Thatís just part of being deployed to the worldís poorest country outside of sub-Saharan Africa and one that has been at war for the better part of 30 years.
Like most, I couldnít wait to return home to the arms of my loved ones and start my life anew.
Prior to leaving, my minister gave me a verse,Jeremiah 29:14, which promised the Lord would bring me back from my exile. And thankfully, He did.
Daily, I think of my fellow 1,943 countrymen who did not return and the many more thousands who will carry lasting physical or mental wounds from their deployment for a lifetime.
And thatís where Afghanistan really changed me; before coming home, I assumed Iíd eventually stop thinking about my war experience, but I havenít.
Some of my thoughts and reactions have been what you might expect.
In Afghanistan, Iíd briefed General Petreaus, 40 flag officers, two ambassadors, and 100,000 troops every morning.
So, when I appeared on the "Today" show for the launch of my new book shortly after returning home and the makeup woman in the green room asked, ďAre you nervous?Ē I laughed, ďOf Kathy Lee and Hoda? Theyíre not armed are they?Ē
Likewise a month later, a shipmate from Afghanistan and I were catching up in the parking lot of a swank Beverly Hills hotel when we both heard a loud noise made by a SUV driving over a metal grate. Instinctively, we leapt to the ground and took cover (then immediately burst out laughing at each other as the valets wondered what the devil two well-dressed guests were doing lying on their asphalt).
Thatís training for you, and weíre taught to react without thinking, so of course loud noises, helicopters, and other triggers bothered me for a few months after I returned home.
But thereís something more lasting about my experience in Afghanistan; I find myself pondering my time there in unexpected places. Like when Iím in the checkout line at the Piggly Wiggly and the irritated mother in front of me snips at the bag boy that she wanted paper
bags, not plastic.
I think of Afghanistan when Iím in traffic and someone waves at me with one finger for some perceived offense.
I think on my nine months abroad when a friend complains about all the daily stresses heís had with meetings, luncheons, and fussy clients.
Usually, what I think but donít say, is you donít know what a bad day is
My new reference point for a bad day guides my life back here at home.
Suddenly the very ordinary has become sacred: mowing the lawn, attending Tuesdayís Kiwanis Club meetings, jogging with the dog, grilling hamburgers for friends--these moments are now sacrosanct to me.
This year, decisions that might have scared me in the past--making a huge career change or telling my pretty girlfriend Iíve fallen in love with her--seem less frightening and more urgent.
Less frightening, because I can ask myself, ďDoes this compare to being awakened by a rocket attack? Nope.Ē
More urgent because the old adage, ďlife is short,Ē has new, real, meaning for me.
Like I suspect World War II did for my grandfather and many other GIs who came home to be risk takers, company builders, family men, and institution joiners, Afghanistan distilled and intensified whatís important for me.
Personally, thatís time with my family, a first-name relationship with God, and a life led by intentional, deliberate purpose.
Iím a more patient person, a more thankful person, a man less driven by daily stresses than a desire to make each day count. I also swear a lot more and refuse to eat with plastic utensils, but I digress.
In the past several days, many well-meaning friends and family have remembered my deployment and said, ďThank God youíre not in Afghanistan.Ē
I smile, nod in agreement, but often think, "thank God I wa
s in Afghanistan."
Lt. Commander Morgan Murphy, US Navy, is the best-selling author of "Off the Eaten Path" and received the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for his service in Afghanistan. Follow him on www.whosay.com/MorganMurphy.