Tribulations and Triumphs

Have you ever chased something for so long that when the day finally comes, it doesn’t feel real? Like the Gods are perhaps playing some trick on your perception of reality, and you think maybe there’s been some mistake in the timeline? Surely you haven’t reached the cusp between what has been and what will be like it isn’t just any other Monday?

Today I woke up with only a few things left to do in order to receive my discharge paperwork, and all morning I felt as though I walked through a dream. My heart pounded and my breath was short with anticipation, feelings similar to what I felt approaching the Military Entry Processing Station at Fort Meade, Maryland almost five years ago to ship out for Basic Training. My hands and feet shook with nervous jitters, but this time it wasn’t because I had five years of Army life ahead of me; this time, it was because those five years were over.

How do you dissolve something like these last five years of life into one final moment?

It’s hard to put into words all the emotions I feel about getting out of the Army. Excited and eager are certainly high on the list, but there is an inevitable sadness knowing what and who I leave behind. The Army is almost all I’ve known my entire adult life. All the victories and defeats, heartache and suffering, trials, tribulations, and triumphs built up since I was an 18-year-old kid came to a head in a very anticlimactic reception of my DD214 from a Private First Class that I didn’t know.

And just like that, Staff Sergeant Walter is only Angela again.

Last weekend, sitting on the porch of my Uncle’s cabin overlooking the Lake and watching Fourth of July fireworks explode in fiery displays of color over the water, I thought about what I did on the Fourth of July in years past.

Last year, I was with two good friends at my parent’s cabin, eating and drinking and enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

The year before that, I was in Afghanistan. I remember getting back to the airfield from an outstation and needing to lay down for a while. Some of the guys were going to the roof to shoot off some flares in the absence of fireworks, which sounded fun but my shoddy twin bed was calling my name. A commotion woke me up not long after that. When I left my room to inspect its cause, a friend of mine stumbled down the stairs to the roof clutching his face. His eyes were bright red and shining with tears.

“What the hell happened?” I asked, laughing. I was concerned, of course, but this sh*t was hilarious.

He coughed.

“CS gas.”

Someone left unmarked CS gas in a box with the flares, which is only as funny as it is because I wasn’t there.

The year before that I was at the Lake. It was the ten year anniversary of the “One Way Inn” — a one car garage behind my Uncle’s cabin where we drink too much and get poker chips sticky with beer. We drank too much that night too, which turned into a midnight walk around the lake and an unforgettable adventure (you can read about that here).

The year before that, I partied hard in Korea with some buddies, and many Koreans seemed just as enthusiastic as us to celebrate America’s Independence Day. I know it was fun, but the memory is fuzzy.

And the year before that was perhaps the most significant Fourth of July of them all: it was the weekend I decided to join the Army.

There I was, an 18-year-old kid with no real life experience in film school trying to become some great story teller but with no great stories to tell. And less than no money.

That was the year my whole world came crashing down around me, and I knew everything was about to change one way or another.

I needed to grow. I needed to suffer in order to grow. I needed to learn what the world was really like, and I needed to see it for myself. I needed to find myself through pain, change, and hardship. I needed to be forced out of my comfort zone in order to figure out who I really was, and what I was capable of. There’s a certain necessity in suffering, and I chased it.

Trust me when I say I received far, far more than I bargained for.

Today, with a fresh DD214 in hand, I feel elated with pride at what I have accomplished over the last five years.

Nearly every day that I served, I calculated how many days I had left. But as the end drew closer, I stopped counting, and focused on absorbing the experience day to day for whatever it was; good, bad, ugly, beautiful, and/or all of the above.

I have made friends that are as close to me as family. I have lost some, too. I have lived in foreign countries, learned bits of different languages, served my part in the Global War on Terror which has made its presence to me throughout almost my entire life, and gained a far deeper understanding of the world, humanity, and myself.

If you told me five years ago everything that I would go through to today, I would never have believed it.

I have cried. I have screamed. I have laughed. I have cried some more, and then I have laughed some more. I’ve jumped from airplanes, rucked miles up mountains, skied and suffered with our nation’s most elite Soldiers, walked through Afghan villages with unseen enemies in the shadows, broken down and lifted myself back up, and fought to see the light in the some of the darkest moments I’ve ever known.

And I’m better for all of it.

I have an arsenal of stories that most people probably wouldn’t understand, and I have been shaped in profoundly important ways. A fact I am proud of.

I will always have a love/hate relationship with the Army. My patience has reached the end of its rope dealing with the bureaucracy.

But I will always be incredibly grateful for that fateful decision I made five years and one week ago to join. I will always look back and see these years as some of the most important to me and my life.

If I served with you, thank you for being part of my military experience. Thank you for being part of my Army family, which will always be family in my heart.

The world is endless on the horizon before me. I don’t know who I will be a year from now, or five years from now. But I do know that I am capable of anything I put my mind to, and I’m excited to see where I’m meant to go.

May the winds of change lift my wings far, far beyond this place that I have known for so long. May they take me to great places, with more great people, and more stories to put in my story box.

To the Army, thank you for making me better. Thank you for breaking me down only to show me how strong I could be in the face of adversity. Thank you for giving me a home and a family when I was lost and in desperate need of one.

But most importantly, thank you for my DD214.

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