Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Accidental Hipster Goes to Washington

We stumbled out of bed and made our way to breakfast and more importantly coffee. We walked down Connecticut Avenue to DuPont Circle and then we were on 19th st or maybe it was 21st. As we walked, the sea of people grew around us, the streets were closed to motor traffic, only the pedestrians moved at a steady pace. Soldiers stood at intersections, blocking and directing us. Slowly the crowd grew till we were walking shoulder to shoulder with one another.

We stumbled out of bed and made our way to the cold PT field and more importantly morning PT. We shivered in our black issued PT shorts and gray t-shirts with the reflective A for Army on the back. We made our way through the antique calisthenics and slowly worked the sleep from our eyes, till we were awake and ready for another day.

It was impossible to tell if we were at a bottleneck or the crowd had simply grown that quickly but we were surrounded on every side. The mood was joyful, jubilant and peaceful.

It was impossible to say how the next year would go, but this morning, just after sunrise we stood in a Kuwaiti desert and the mood was anxious, reluctant and wary.

We smiled blessings at each other, chuckled at the antics of the children around us, stood and shivered in the January cold. We cried when he spoke. We handed tissues to our neighbors. We shared a good natured laugh whenever the announcer said "Please be seated" or "Please rise." We shouted "Amen" when Reverend Lowry asked us to. We put our hands on our hearts when they played the National Anthem. And we were hopeful.

We shouted insults at each other, chuckled at the antics of our commander, stood at attention. We did our time, showed up for duty, in the proper uniform. We waited for letters from home, we made new friends and made our own fun. We shouted when they found Saddam. We watched a lot of DVD's. We saluted when they played the National Anthem. And we were hopeful.

The inauguration came a week after I was (honorably) discharged from the United States Army. For a split second I considered staying, I'd already done 9 years, what's eleven more? And with Obama in charge... But that was only an instant's thought and every soldier I passed, I wanted to smile at them and to exchange the secret Army handshake that we are not at liberty to tell you about. But I didn't want to exchange places with them not even for one last off-road drive in a Humvee.

I am ready to be a civilian, a citizen, a veteran. I have never been more proud to be an American. And I am done with soldiering.