Home Fires: I Wanted to Be a Hero

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rossnyt_150Left: The author and her family.

By Catherine Ross The New York Times

Not too many weeks ago, I was honorably discharged from the Army. There was no fanfare, no hail and farewell party, no speeches. I finished out my eight-year enlistment with the Reserves quietly, simply having done my part, including a year-long combat tour in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

My military service ended when I received a manila envelope in the mail containing an honorable discharge certificate. Perforations on the top and bottom, plus the sight of my name printed by a computer, gave it an impersonal feel. I pictured my certificate being mechanically printed and stamped as part of a chain of thousands. Uncle Sam didn’t need me anymore.

     

It’s not that I expected President Obama himself to personally acknowledge that I had completed my obligation. I wasn’t waiting for Defense Secretary Gates to show up on my doorstep to give me a pat on the back. Honestly, I’m not too sure what I was expecting.
The author and her family.Courtesy of Catherine Ross. The author and her family.

I just know that I wasn’t expecting my time of service to end so anticlimactically at my mailbox.

The plug was pulled on a part of me, and I could feel the sense of pride and purpose that comes with being a soldier suddenly drained away. At this point in the game, I fully expected to feel fulfilled instead of sick to my gut. I had accomplished everything I set out to do: serve my country in combat, earn my jump wings, and get some student loans paid off. I had done all of that and more. So I shouldn’t have felt as though I had unfinished business. But I did.

During my many night time guard shifts in Iraq, my eyes and ears would be scanning my sector, but my mind would be rehashing whatever mission I had been on during the day. I’d find myself imagining alternate versions of events in which I would save the day for scores of fellow soldiers and innocent Iraqis in the face of unspeakable danger and ridiculous odds. Every mission – from rebuilding schools to finding insurgents – ended in complete success. I’d like to blame my runaway imagination on anti-malarial pills, but really what it came down to was this: I wanted to be a hero.

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