York: Morale leave weighs heavily on soldiers

By Douglas L. York

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq–Few things are tougher than having to say goodbye, tearfully staring into a loved one’s eyes and knowing you will not see them for a while, if ever again.

Reliving that same agonizing experience twice in one year while traveling half a world away is one of the biggest conundrums facing our nation’s servicemembers.

“It’s always a good day when you go on leave, but it’s always tinged with a bit of knowing that soon you’re going to have to come back,” said Staff Sgt. Brock Jones, a native of Lehi, currently serving at Camp Liberty in Baghdad with the 128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment out of Draper.

Like all soldiers, Jones faces the gut-wrenching prospect of saying goodbye to his family members twice during his deployment.

I am also a soldier and can attest that as my current Environmental and Morale Leave approaches, that thought weighs heavily on my mind. I too face the prospect of having to leave my family again, seeing them for the first time in several months for a mere two weeks.

Staff Sgt. Kelly Collett, a native of Vernal, also serving with the 128th MPAD, agrees.

“That’s the hard part of it. You get home, you get back into the groove or the swing of things, start to feel like a family again, and then you get jerked back away,” he said.

Having been previously deployed, Collett, Jones and I can draw on our experiences and take solace in the fact that eventually you overcome the shock of leaving again and you drive on with the mission.

“You have to get right back into the swing of things as people (in charge) expect you to do your job,” said Collett.

Along with the anxiety of having to leave again and getting back into the “swing of things,” the thoughts of “things” we in the military do not speak or try not to think of, are always in the back of our minds.

“(I know) I’ve got to leave again soon, and I use that as impetus to ensure that we take advantage of everyday that we have while we’re together again,” said Jones. “Whether I’m here (in Iraq) or whether I’m at home, no day is guaranteed to me so that’s something that I want to apply to my entire life,” he added.

We never take for granted the fleeting moments that we have with our loved ones, as they could be our last. Nevertheless, the plane ride back home is usually a somber affair.

“It’s a hollow-sick feeling when you have to leave your loved ones,” said Jones. “When you first leave for a deployment, there’s almost an excitement because you don’t know what’s going to happen, but when you leave to come back from EML, you already know what you’re going back into and so the excitement’s gone.”

The struggles and anxiety in dealing with EML are not isolated to the return trip. Collett shared a story from his first deployment that reflects how leaving-here-for-leave is also difficult.

“I was heading home right when a helicopter with other soldiers that were going on leave, was shot down. They were supposed to go home with me,” Collett said, with his demeanor visibly changing. “I wasn’t able to get ahold of my wife or family the whole time I was traveling home and they didn’t know if I was safe or not. They had no idea what had happened until I actually stepped off of the plane,” he added.

Therein lays the conundrum, for as hard as it is to return and part from our families twice, most of us would never consider not going home on leave.

“I go home because I have a wife and a daughter,” Jones said. “I guess we’re gluttons for punishment, because I would probably go on leave no matter what and deal with the second goodbye anyway.”

All troops know that all we can do is make the best of the time we get with our families on EML, while never forgetting our fellow soldiers left behind when we do go home.

“I was almost torn. You want to spend time with your family, but then you have your unit back in the Middle East that you kind of feel a responsibility to,” said Collett.

The result is that most of us cannot tell you in a single answer why we serve and continue to place ourselves in these situations. Maybe it is like Jones said and “we’re gluttons for punishment.”

This much however is certain: While we are glad to serve, honored to do our duties and humbled by the gratitude of our countrymen, we are most happy to just come home, even if it means we have to leave again all too soon.

For feedback on this column or its contents please feel free to write me at [email protected] or via the USPS at:

Spc. Douglas L. York
DSTB, 4th ID (PAO)
Unit #43119
APO, AE 09344

[email protected]