Around the world people sacrifice their own safety so that the citizens of their home country can feel safe and secure. We owe a huge debt to the military personnel who defend freedoms and keep the peace in times of torment and strife. I can't imagine what it must be like to live and work in war-torn countries for years at a time without seeing your own family and having that reminder of what you're actually fighting for.
Veterans on Reddit were asked: "What was the first thing you did when you got home?" These are some of the best answers.
I drank enough alcohol to work up the nerve to call the Soldier's Angel who had been writing me letters and sending me care packages to tell her I had fallen in love with her. Three years later we were married. Some days I'm all but sure I died in the war and this is my blessed afterlife.
One thing I do remember more than anything is that first shower I took when I got back to the Barracks in Germany. It was almost surreal, like a dream.. I couldn't believe the fact that I actually survived all that and I was getting out in 3 months after a 4 year stint. Never felt better in my entire life. Finally seeing all my loved ones again after not knowing if you would ever get another chance to.
My little brother was over in Afghanistan while I was doing my second tour in Iraq. I got back before he did and ETS'd, had the opportunity to greet him and his unit at his base when they finally touched down. It was really emotional, I was crying. Partly because I was happy my lil bro made it back in one piece. The other part was thinking about all my boys that didn't make it back and the pain their families must feel not getting the opportunity to experience what we were experiencing at that very moment. You lose friends that live and die with you, the bond is so close that you feel like they are your brothers, your family. Nothing good comes of war.. except when it ends.
1st tour: When I got home I made love to my girlfriend at the time and I tried to make sense of what just happened. I would just look at cars and building a lot.
2nd tour: I was pretty shaken up afterwards, I went back to my barracks. I have no family, ate in the club and took a shower and I volunteered for fast turn around. I was back in the field before the end of the year. I remember ordering a burger and a beer, the burger was cold and I went home and stayed in bed for 3 days.
3rd tour: I decided to take a trip to New York, I saw a Broadway show and just walked about enjoying my freedom.
4th tour: Well I got home and I had just been through my worst tour, it was awful ,terrible. I had pretty bad shakes and I cried in a shower, sat on the floor for what seems like an hour. I quit for a while.
5th tour: I asked my CO for a fast redeploy. It was refused. I haven't done anything as of yet. I'm still in my barracks and I don't want to take my leave. I think my field days are pretty much over, sad to think that. My next job will be behind a desk.
I'm 33 next week, I have no family or a SO. This job is all I am and all I have.
Drove. You have no idea how good it feels being in charge of something like that after months and months of having to walk everywhere. You want to go left? You turn the wheel and you go left. You want to speed up or slow down? It's all up to you dude, no one else is in charge. It's a powerful feeling, especially if you've only been allowed to go 30 mph tops for half a year.
The first time I returned from a combat tour in Afghanistan I was married. We had an absolute ton of sex the next few days in a hotel near the airport, starting about 30 minutes after the plane landed.
The second time I returned I was single, and an officer and I went to the base minimart (we were the ADVON and only people from our unit that returned early) and we stood there in shock for about 40 minutes not sure what we each wanted. I bought Nutter Butters and he bought raisens, and we wound up sharing. When I returned home, I was basically homeless and staying with my cousins, so we had some friends over and drank.
The third time will be happening in 89 days, and all I want is a hamburger.
My buddy picked me up and took me to his house to get my Mustang and my stuff. I had ordered some new cylinder heads, camshaft, intake, and a Procharger supercharger kit for it and I was excited to put it all together soon after.
It was already assembled, dyno tuned, and ready to drive. I drove the crap out of it for 3 days and then went home for 2 weeks on leave.
Fixed myself three PB&J on fresh, soft white bread. Washed it down with ice cold milk. It was the simple pleasures like fresh soft bread, hot showers, being able to relax after a shower not having to rush to get dressed. These are the things I missed the most.
Actually, my wife and I made a tradition out of me coming home (4 deployments in total.) She would pick me up at the flight line with a wonderful picnic lunch packed in her grandmothers old wicker basket. She always wore the yellow sundress that I loved, no matter the time of year. We would drive out to a farm near our house, lay out our blanket and picnic basket, and drink a beer.
I was lucky. As a former spook I was stationed shore and only sent out for very short periods of time (most awesome experience of my life was landing on and being launch from a carrier as a passenger).
But, when I was in temp waiting for discharge my wife and our dog went back home three months ahead of me.
Our dog is only about 30lbs, a little sight-hound. She is also extremely passive/quiet -- we've never once even kept a leash on her because she doesn't stray far from either of us, and she never jumps on anyone.
When I pulled up into the driveway and got out of the car, the front door to the house cracked open and out she darted. My wife shouting, calling her back because she'd never "taken off" like that before. There's this little brown blur moving towards me, and then suddenly I'm on my back getting my face licked. My mother in law said she'd never seen the look of love so much in an animal's eyes before. My little princess is now 9 years old, and ever since she has traveled with me wherever I go if it's longer than two days.
Walked down to the shoppette in my PTs and, after overcoming the shock of remembering stateside cigarette prices (Iraqi cigarettes are $1 a pack), bought a 6-pack of Steel Reserve tall boys. I drink like a lumberjack, but after nine months of no booze - period, my tolerance had completely vanished, and I couldn't even finish two. I was so messed up I couldn't even climb into my top bunk so I curled up on a pile of dirty laundry and passed out.
As a single, introverted dude in the Navy, the ONLY thing I wanted to do was to do something ALONE. The stress of constant human contact after more than 13 months underway almost drove me up the wall. So I went to a coffee shop, read a book, hit the beach and stared off into space. BY MYSELF. It was grand. Nobody asking how I was, for me to tell cool stories, or what I wanted to do constantly.
No family waiting on the pier, but that didn't bother me. We had a mini-reunion with Mom, Dad, Sis a couple weeks later and it was great.
Took a shower and sat on a keg my wife had gotten me. It was a pony keg of Coors Light. I'll always remember that day: sat on it in the shower until the water got cold while she sat on the toilet and talked to me. I drank, we laughed, she cried and I did too. Best day of my life with my wife. I love her.
The first thing I did when I got back home from a tour in Iraq? Ride the northbound bus to my sisters house in Seattle. Get in a bus accident, have to administer aid to 3 young women who decided to turn in front of the bus.
I drank a beer while in the hottest shower of my life. Once I'd finished that beer, I had another, and another.
After twelve months of combat patrols on the Afghani-Pakistani border, it was time for our unit to finally redeploy back home to Alaska. It was early August and the we knew the temperatures would be beautiful with highs about 70, but it was just as likely to be raining as sunny. A beautiful summer day would be icing on the cake, but honestly it was the least of our wishes at that point.
A few hundred of us boarded the first plane on the final leg of our journey from Kyrgyzstan to Anchorage. It was a commercial jet from 'World Airlines.' I was a 1LT at the time and sat in the front 1/4 of the plane with the other officers in the battalion. The enlisted guys were behind us in coach. (May I digress for just a moment by saying that I happily realize the injustice of that arrangement. My life is forever owed to the greatest men and women I've ever met, our nation's NCO's.)
As we neared Anchorage, we flew over Denali and it was utterly and perfectly clear. I have never seen Denali in such crystal clear visibility. I realized that we were flying into a perfect Alaskan summer day. I knew that I was about to have the greatest moment of my life: Kissing my girlfriend who would be waiting with other family members on the tarmac of Elmendorf Air Force Base, with the beautiful mountains all around us and the beautiful clean smelling air. (Clean smelling air was at a premium in Khost, Afghanistan.) My feeling of anticipation was so great that all of my senses seemed to be utterly on edge. Life felt more than real.
Well, what ended up being the happiest moment of my life happened to come just about 10 minutes prior to that kiss. As the landing gear on the plane dropped and we were about to land, a strange quiet came over the hundreds of soldiers in that plane. One last moment of anticipation. One last chance for everything to go wrong, as it almost always had in the previous twelve months. One last moment of attention and mindfulness.
But nothing went wrong. We touched down smoothly. And as those rear wheels made contact with the runway, the hundreds of enlisted men sitting behind us erupted into wild, joyous, unabashed cheers and applause. Their joy was like none other I have ever heard in my life. There was no filter. I heard and experienced something so utterly pure at that moment -- an unintended gift from my soldiers that I will never forget and can never thank them for enough.
I'll admit the kiss from the girlfriend that followed not long after was pretty great as well.
Oddly enough I came home form Iraq (the first time) 8 years ago yesterday so the memory was on my mind.
My dad came out to Hawaii. He came to hangout with me. He had rented two rooms in this bed-breakfast style place. We got in the rented car and he had a six pack on ice waiting at the house. My dad is a Vietnam Vet so we talked. We talked and talked about everything that happened on the deployment (early 2004 to early 2005). That short conversation actually lasted about 6 hours. I drank about three beers and was really loopy.
Still in my BDU's the sun was coming up, I changed and we went out to breakfast. I didn't have a girlfriend, or a wife, I would have felt all alone in the world but he thought it was important to come out and see me. Just my dad and I and a few cold beers. From then on we've been awesome friends as well as father and son, maybe I finally earned the old man's respect.
Came home from 7 months in the combat zone, spent time with my family, slept in my own bed, and then worried, heart wrenchingly worried about my friends that were still there. Wished that I was back to do everything I could ever do to protect them. When I was there I never wished for anything to be home, once I was there I wished for nothing more than to be back in hell with them.
My girlfriend flew down from Seattle (to Palm Springs) and we stayed the night at the on-base motel. The next day I said my goodbyes to a few friends (who were all waiting to EAS as well) and went to the admin center to pick up my DD214.
We did the whole road trip thing on the way back, hitting San Francisco, then we went to Oregon City to visit my roommate and best friend from the marines, and then back home to washington. We took the 101 instead of I5 which I highly recommend if you like pretty scenery.
When we were about to get home she told me that we were going to go see a couple of her friends at a little bar down the road from us. I said okay.
We got home and unpacked my car a bit, she had some of her friends decorate the apartment with balloons and streamers. So we leave for the bar to meet her two friends, I walk in and theres 20 or so of my friends yelling 'Surprise!'. Apparently my girlfriend had orchestrated the whole thing a month earlier with a private Facebook group. Even my buddy from Oregon City was there, he had driven up before we left in the morning and hung out at the bar for like 5 hours.
Anyways, the bar named a $2 specialty shot after me which for the whole bar was able to get all night. I got really drunk, took two puffs from a joint outside the bar and proceeded to pass out in a lawn chair until my girlfriend took me home in a taxi.
Then she made me steak for breakfast.
I returned home from both my deployments(Baghdad 03-04,04-05) in the middle of the night. The first time, we had a buddy waiting for us. We grabbed some food and beer. Drank about three and passed out.
The second time I came home as Advance Party (Barracks NCO) and my Smoke's wife met me at the homecoming (which was about twenty exhausted guys at 0300 in a half-empty gym where six band members played the Anthem for us) with a sixer of beer. I wasn't allowed into my barracks because they were still secured and I needed orders to break the seal on the doors even though I was the damned barracks NCO, so I caught a ride home with another guy and crashed on his couch. He told me to make myself at home, so I dropped my bags, took a shower, and sat on his couch drinking in my towel until the sun came up. I was single, but I didn't allow my family to come see me off or see me home because I knew my folks were struggling with cash at the time. The last thing they needed was to spend money on taking a trip to NC from IA.
The most emotional part of both homecomings was calling home. I woke my parents up both times, and each time I was barely able to choke out, "Mom, I'm home. I'm home." It's hard tell them that everything's OK when it wasn't. My homecoming trip took over two years and nearly my life until I was able to get my emotions to come home, too.
I walked my sister down the aisle. She delayed her wedding until I got home so I could be there.
I drove cross country from California to Ohio with another Marine who just got out. It was one awesome road trip. When I walked into my parents house (who I haven't seen in almost 2 years) my Mom said "Oh good you're here. Can you pick your brother up at school?"
I stopped at store and picked up bath bubbles, bath salts (not the drug) and a new towel. I went home opened up the bottle of mead that I bought in Ireland and enjoyed about an hour long bath while while drinking my mead. After that I went out and rented a black and pink tuxedo and crashed one of my friend's casual parties.
Some of this material has been edited for clarity.