Soldier Readiness Processing

Yesterday marked the anniversary of my return from Afghanistan. On this day a year ago 300 other just redeployed soldiers and I were making our way through a series of stations at the “Soldier Readiness Processing” center at Fort Riley, Kansas. As we waited in lines to have our medical and administrative statuses checked, ominous news reports interrupted the programming on the TVs positioned around the building. 500 miles to the south, in Fort Hood, Texas, a gunman had commenced a shooting rampage at that post’s SRP center. Before the day was done, the shooter, an Army major, a Muslim at that, charged with administering to soldiers’ mental health, had killed 13 soldiers and civilians before he was captured.

Those of us watching the events unfold at Fort Riley barely batted an eye at the evolving drama. Even though with a few different twists of fate we might have been at that Fort Hood SRP or the gunman at Fort Riley, such wasn’t the case. And so it hardly seemed worth worrying about.  We darn sure weren’t tempted to step out of the long lines that led to the desks we had to clear before heading home.

So it went with much of the danger and violence of the year-long deployment. It was easy to think it wasn’t even there unless you were affected personally, physically.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 A day later I was on a plane back to West Point.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 A year later, what can I say?

Last night I once again found myself in attendance at an Army volleyball match. (How did volleyball become a recurring presence in this tale?) The match was great—Army whooped up on Navy—but the most interesting thing was the presence of three recent West Point grads. In civvies and wheelchair bound, they had all been injured in Afghanistan and evacuated to Walter Reed for recovery. Now, as part of some initiative or another they had been brought back to West Point to enjoy themselves and explain themselves as best they could to the current crop of cadets. Let’s focus on the enjoyment part, because they seemed to be having a good time, and none too the worse for wear, in spite of the casts, bandages, braces, and splints they brandished. They accepted the thanks of well-wishers gracefully and smilingly. They seemed sheepishly proud, secretly glad to display the tokens—not too serious, but damn serious enough—of their courage and experience.

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2 Responses to “Soldier Readiness Processing”

  1. James Brizzle Says:

    Damn you write well sir! Let me say that first and foremost after reading this article. Congratulations on the safe return. I couldn’t help but think of the film ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ after reading this article, though it makes complete sense why you would want to place positive/upbeat persons who have been wounded, but at the same time, it’s a bitter reminder of what Could happen.

  2. petermolin Says:

    Thanks for the compliment! I’m just trying to frame those experiences in ways that both capture the moment and have the fullest resonance. No great claims for how successful I might be. -Pete

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