My friend Jeremy answers that question, poignantly, here, in a his MySpace blog post.
Take it away, Jeremy Jay.
All photos © Jeremy Jay Ausmus.
I've been officially out of the Air Force for 11 months; it seems life a lifetime already. But I think I'm adjusting pretty well, I miss a lot of things about the service but I'm slowly adjusting to a slower paced lifestyle that's not interrupted with trips to the middle east every few months.
It's rough starting out at the bottom again but I'm adjusting. It's actually pretty surprising that in some civilian jobs they're just happy you show up on time everyday. Apparently this proves as a challenge to some; but I'm still 15 minutes early almost everywhere I go.
So I digress, I do miss the service and as much as I like blogging about my random drunken tales there's some things that I can't shake from the good ol' AF.
I miss the piercing blue skies and the exhausting heat from the deserts of the Middle East. You can go weeks without seeing a single cloud. How at the end of the day, when the sky is the blackest you've ever imagined, 90 feels like 65 and you soak up the heat from the ground like sponge in water.
I miss breathtaking sunrises that only mid-shift static posts ever see.
I miss the way the rain sounds on a tent roof, the only sound better to fall asleep to, is the breathing of a woman you love by your side.
I miss the random photos with locals whose names I'll never know and how they give a thumbs up and brotherly slap on the back upon seeing their digital image. They volunteer their rifles, hats, and jackets for the photos, becoming the truest ambassadors you'll ever know.
I miss the destruction left behind by laser-guided munitions and the serenity of the objects around the blast site that weren't affected.
I miss the goofy "Happy Mother's Day" group photos.
I miss the people that talk about their children for hours-on-end. It always seems they leave in a better mood after sharing the latest on their kids with someone.
I miss the "Tourist" photos in front of the statue, mosque, palace, landmark, sign, or ruin. It's something everyone must do, but it's ten times better than any stamp in a passport.
I miss the friendships you make in a matter of months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds that last a lifetime. Some of my dearest friends I've only been around a few weeks, but I know their parent's names, hometowns, and which MRE they prefer.
To piggyback on the above, I miss the cohesiveness of the service. It was always the most fun when the living and working conditions were the worst; your brothers and sisters in-arms were always there for you because none of us had anyone else except each other.
For every tale that involves booze and loose women I have four heartwarming tales.
On our trip to Egypt my supervisor was going through a real rough patch when his wife was talking about divorce. For some reason, he turned to me to vent and talk to, I can vividly remember sitting at the smoke pit at the end of a long day for hours on end just listening. I have no clue why he decided to talk to me but I hope I was helpful. Today I call him my brother, and he's one of my closest friends.
I've helped almost everyone of my friends move at one time or another; I'm not the best labor but I'm damn sure the cheapest! It's not easy work to begin with, but add the burden of losing a dear friend and it makes it tough. Pictures you're in come off the walls and are gingerly placed in boxes, toys you've watched their kids play on and out grow are wrapped up in paper, then the U-haul is closed and you wave goodbye, knowing you're not losing a friend or part of your family but still you're unsure of when you'll ever see them again.
Sharing the same feeling of nervousness as you are on you way back to the states after a long absence.
Married, single, male or female, we all share the same grief upon returning. We're torn from our makeshift families and have to become regular citizens again.
Sometimes it's easy, other times it's tough but when that jet's on final approach there's a knot in everyone's stomach and little dread in their mind, hoping to be as good or better of a person as you were when you left. Trying to iron out the strain separation has caused and trying to sever the ties you've formed over the past months.
Pete and I for example, either saw each other or talked on the phone everyday for the first few weeks when we got back from Baghdad simply because we had gotten so accustomed to venting and bullshitting and other people simply wouldn't or didn't understand.
I had a very good experience as a brand new troop in basic training in regards to empathy. My Paw Paw passed away about my second week in basic and there was drill sergeant who called me by my first name and helped ensure I was home in time for the funeral. He spoke to my mom on the phone, and ensured I'd be on the next thing smokin' out of San Antonio. In the middle of the night, Sgt Sanchez took me up to the barracks of his Flight, and fitted me in his troops Blues uniform since they were out on a FTX and I had not received my Blues issue yet.
I was sized up and he went through each Airmen's locker getting shirts, pants, shoes and a hat that fit just so, then he took his Blues belt out of his locker off his dress uniform and cut it to fit me. He gave me a crash course on the wear of the uniform and stood by until the base taxi picked my up for my trip to the airport. I learned a lot from him, not directly and not from a military standpoint, I learned a lot about life and how people should be treated from him.
As a supervisor I had a chance to "pay it forward," one of my troops had a family member pass and didn't have the money to get home, so I helped buy her plane ticket and also ran interference with the brass so she got her emergency leave. It's one moment that only means something to two people, but it means a lot to those two people.
I only wish I could have done it a million times over because I know how it feels.