"OPINIONATOR-Exclusive on-line commentary from The Times"
February 6, 2010, 7:00 pm
By ERIK MALMSTROM
"In many ways, the culture shock of reintegrating into the civilian world was greater than that of joining the military. In a kind of reverse socialization, I had to make a concerted effort to modify my appearance, language and behavior."
Preparing for my part-time National Guard training, I am transported into a former life. Getting my old “number two on the sides and back, trim the top” haircut and putting on my digital camouflage uniform is like going through a time warp. Looking in the mirror, I feel as if I am staring at a person I used to be. Like a rusty foreign language speaker, I struggle to talk like a soldier. Once second nature, the clipped sentences and vocabulary of sirs, ma’ams, rogers, hoo-ahs, acronyms, four letter words and colorful expressions now take effort. I also return to a world where the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are an impending reality, not a distant abstraction.
Over two years ago, I transitioned into the National Guard to complete my remaining service obligation. After four years of active duty, I made the difficult decision to get out of the military. While I loved the Army, professional and personal considerations prompted me to move on. I believed I could better affect the problems that I cared about by pursuing master’s degrees in public policy and business on the way to a civilian career. I also sought more balance, freedom and control in my life. The National Guard provided me flexibility to return to school while finishing my time in the military.
Previously, the active duty Army had dominated my life. It had been an all-consuming way of being and state of mind. I had lived in towns where people looked the same, talked the same and did the same things. The line between personal and professional had been blurred in the United States and nonexistent in Afghanistan. Work had become my life as I prepared and led my men overseas. I had prioritized it at the expense of everything else. It had also been segregated from my civilian life. My brief reprieves to visit family and friends had been like traveling to another universe.
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