Friday, February 11, 2005

Growing Up

February 11, 2005

At long last, the letter you’ve waited for and the letter I’ve resisted writing. I've waited because I don't think my fingers are capable of keeping up with my thoughts. I can barely process what is happening inside my heart, and more significantly, inside my head.

I have thousands of memories from my tour of duty in Iraq, but few are as vivid as the moment I stepped on the plane en route to Iraq in November 2003, and the moment I stepped on the plane en route to America in November 2004. Each of those moments overwhelmed me emotionally. My emotions weren’t tangible and apparent to those around me – not that I know of anyway. We all kind of kept to ourselves as we individually absorbed the impact these impending plane rides would have on our lives.

In November 2003, I stepped on to the C-17 a modest and unsure 27-year-old Army Specialist. I knew only the basics of military life and I certainly had no idea what to expect of military life in a combat zone. Naivety may have been my ally because I wasn’t over thinking the political, emotional, and physical ramifications of the situation.

A year later, however, I stepped on to the C-17 a more mature and jaded 28-year old Army Sergeant. I experienced a year of absolute chaos, fear, patriotism, honor, and pride – a list far too long to rattle off. I was on my way home to America – a place so familiar but now, so new - a different kind of America. Or was I a different kind of Addie? Clearly, I was over thinking the situation. I still am.

I grew up so much in a year. Funny thing is I thought I was already a fairly mature and level-headed adult in the making. Little did I know how much I was about to learn. I learned about honor and how motivating it is. I learned about duty and how unconditional it is. I learned about fear and how paralyzing it is. More than anything else, I learned about sacrifice and how final is.

Fast forward two months and now I am a jaded 28-year-old civilian named Addie who drives around in a new SUV, spends sunny afternoons laughing with my friends, works for a network television show, and lives in Hollywood – a far cry from sleeping in bombed out ex-palaces, carrying my M16 to the bathroom, and looking over my shoulder for suicide bombers. It’s hard to explain what happens to a person who serves in an environment like that for an extended period of time (and I’m not even a front line soldier). It’s not just the obvious emotional and physical toll it takes. It’s also the stuff many of us didn’t expect. It’s the politics and unrelenting news; it’s the lack of control and nowhere-to-run element; it’s the fear of the unknown; it’s the questioning of tactics and policies.

But it’s also what enabled me to see that life around the world isn’t what we experience on a daily basis in America - that no matter the designer jean I can’t afford or the celebrity I can’t meet, I still have a charmed life, simply because I am free. I see now that happiness doesn’t come from having cable television or a few extra dollars in my bank account. Happiness comes from walking in my home, turning on my lights, pouring clean drinking water, and sleeping without fear of dying. Happiness comes from knowing my family is safe. Happiness comes from knowing I am helping humanity.

I have had a blast reuniting with my friends and family, and I've enjoyed the pats on the back. Sure, it’s nice to drive my new SUV and wear my new designer jeans, but it’s not necessary, and I certainly don’t wish for those materialistic things anymore. And when I see what I bought with my deployment money, I am reminded of what it took to get those things, and for the first time in my life, I truly appreciate it.

I am two months shy of my 29th birthday and I just grew up. I may have experienced hell in Iraq, but it was a gift because it saved me from losing the real value of my life. In spite of it all, I would not give back one moment of my experience over the last year. That is why I long to go back, and why I wince when I think of how many times I wished to be home. I don’t sit peacefully in my ergonomically designed chair at work. I don’t read the newspaper or watch the news without an anchor tugging at my heart. I don’t shrug off the fact that people are still dying and that the situation is still very much out of control.

These are the reasons I, and many others, wish we were still there. We live in a time when service and sacrifice is available to us, and not committing ourselves to it is hard. It’s difficult to completely walk away from this experience. So many of us want to go back and help our friends, help the Iraqis, and help the Middle East. We rode a 365 adrenaline rush and we are unsure of how to process it now that the rush is gone.

I don’t think these feelings are indications we should all seek therapy. I think they are very real and honest reactions to traumatic experiences in our lives. It’s not easy to match the feeling of pride and accomplishment from service in defense of your country’s safety and another country’s freedom. Very few of us will elaborate on our feelings because we can’t make sense of them, or we don’t want to burden you with them. We realize you don’t know what to say to us because you couldn’t possibly understand what we went through. We wouldn’t do that to you. That’s why we have each other - our battle buddies - and I am confident we will figure it out as we go.

For me, however, I am going to resist the temptation to head back to the sand box for now. I am going to contribute and help in any way I can while sitting in my ergonomically designed chair at work and while driving my shiny new Toyota 4-Runner along the Pacific Coast Highway. But while I sit there and while I drive, I will always think of the sacrifices we all have made, the consequence it will have on the rest of our lives, and the effect it will have on the world. One thing I know for sure is I have more to do. Once I find out what it is, I hope the unrelenting tug on my heart goes away.

With Love,
Addie

20 Comments:

Anonymous pedro sanchez said...

You are a sick idiot. But thank you for "chronogolizing" your experiences. In your next post maybe you could explain to your readers exactly what that word means instead of telling us about your brand new SUV for a 15th time.

6:28 PM  
Anonymous Eric Maher said...

Addie, I saw you on the Dennis Miller Show, and I really admired what you said about your charitable activities in Iraq. I'm going to enjoy reading your blog. I just hope I don't get bogged down thinking about "pedro sanchez" and what a miserable lifee he must be experiencing that would cause him to attack you like that. Anyway, I thank you for your humanitarianism, Addie!

7:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have tremendous courage properly placed to do wonderful things. The experiences you've chosen in life will position to have great and positive effect if you choose your future as path wisely. I know, it sounds like a fortune cookie, but I mean it sincerely.
Carry on.....Please.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Dan Narloch said...

Ms. Collins, your site very interesting. I wouldnt go as far to critcize someone I don't know, especially when they have no medium to throw back. I've been reading a few of your posts and noticed that you seem to be holding back. Since I dont know you, I have no idea whether you feel obligated to be P.C., or if that's just the way you are. However this site is for you, not us, and I just wanted to mention that I do appreciate the job you do for our great nation, GBU.

9:58 PM  
Blogger Bryce said...

What can I say that hasn't already been said.
Saw you on Dennis and loved what you had to say. I am a 12 year - video producer/editor from the midwest and I love that you have used your media skills to shed more light on this whole thing.
Many of us hunger for some honest info about the war. And to top it off you even started a great program that will only grow in size with you working the media circut. You seem like the right person at the right time.
Good luck, keep your chin up, stay in touch with those who shared your experience but don't ever hesitate to share those experiences with people who genuinely care. You'll know us when you find us ;)

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Addie Collins said...

I stopped by to make sure my "Kicks for Kids" post made it on...and I saw a lovely message from Pedro. At first, it hurt my feelings (and I was a little embarrassed) as I realized I said "chronicalized" instead of "chronicled" on the Dennis Miller Show. Then it dawned on me that I serve so Pedro is free to trash me and my new SUV (16th time). The great thing about our military is we serve everyone. Yes, even you Pedro. And it's an honor. Have a great day.

11:50 PM  
Anonymous Nicole said...

Thank you Addie for having such an awesome, awesome heart. I am from your home town where we hear so much more about your efforts than a 10 minute slot on the Dennis Miller show. (great by the way)!!! What Bryce said in his comments - keep up the great work for the people who care and he is so right you will know us when you see us. And just remember that we haven't served but our hearts have a constant tug also. Pedro, I will pray for you.

4:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should be proud of all you have accomplished! I just wish that there were more people like you who were able to express their hope, joy, and love for others. People who have never served or lived in different countries do not understand what we as Americans take for granted. Enjoy your SUV, your life and be happy! You've done a tremendous service for your country and we thank you. GC

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Rob said...

As a Veteran of OIF I am reminded by your stories of what is really going on in Iraq and that its not a total loss. I commend you on what you have done and because of your efforts you have been rewarded with that spectactular SUV that pedro is so jealous of.
Flaunt that baby like there's no tomorrow!

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Greg said...

Saw you on DM show. I'm really impressed with the caliber and character of our military today. I had joined the military in order to avoid the draft, also of what JFK said, and this all volunteer military makes us all proud. You mentioned doing news stories. Is there any way the general public can view these reports. I assume you've accumulated numerous stories. How about putting out a DVD of those. There are many of us who really, really want to hear about all the good you do over there. We sure don't get it here. All the best to you and all who serve. I'm very proud of you and all the others who've been there.

6:33 PM  
Anonymous Greg said...

Saw you on DM show. I'm really impressed with the caliber and character of our military today. I had joined the military in order to avoid the draft, also of what JFK said, and this all volunteer military makes us all proud. You mentioned doing news stories. Is there any way the general public can view these reports. I assume you've accumulated numerous stories. How about putting out a DVD of those. There are many of us who really, really want to hear about all the good you do over there. We sure don't get it here. All the best to you and all who serve. I'm very proud of you and all the others who've been there.

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Greg said...

Saw you on DM show. I'm really impressed with the caliber and character of our military today. I had joined the military in order to avoid the draft, also of what JFK said, and this all volunteer military makes us all proud. You mentioned doing news stories. Is there any way the general public can view these reports. I assume you've accumulated numerous
stories. How about putting out a DVD of those. There are many of us who really, really want to hear about all the good you do over there. We sure don't get it here. All the best to you and all who serve. I'm very proud of you and all the others who've been there.

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saw you on DM show. I'm really impressed with the caliber and character of our military today. I had joined the military in order to avoid the draft, also of what JFK said, and this all volunteer military makes us all proud. You mentioned doing news stories. Is there any way the general public can view these reports. I assume you've accumulated numerous
stories. How about putting out a DVD of those. There are many of us who really, really want to hear about all the good you do over there. We sure don't get it here. All the best to you and all who serve. I'm very proud of you and all the others who've been there.

6:37 PM  
Blogger friday said...

even though I thank you for your time spent in Iraq, couldn't you at least by an american car....keep the people here working!!!!!!

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a refreshing event it was to see you on Dennis Miller's show on CNBC (my favorite channel). You must be an inspiration to young and old everywhere!
Thank God you returned home safely to tell your inspiring story. We wish you the best for the future and look forward to hearing of great things you will be doing!
Charlie

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

addie, saw you on DM by total coincidence (rarely have time to watch tv, including your 'access'), but was very glad i did. your views on OEF/OIF are exilerating in the simple fact that we are doing good over there. being in the community myself it is unfortunate to see most media reports just the opposite. freedom isn't free people. it feels like the media is disecting and scrutinizing our military trying to knock them down in any way (similar to how thirst-hungry tabloid magazines chip away at celebrities to knock them down for a coverstory). our military is our life blood and its members are the best our nation has to offer. ironically it seems media coverage is out to knock down military so the media can get their coverstory. i'll leave with this comment... "if you can read this message, thank a teacher. if it is in english, thank a soldier".

10:03 PM  
Blogger SMSGT SMITH USAFR said...

Thank you for your service to our great nation. As a former Marine and current military member, I commend you for not only your time in the sand box but also your commitment to helping others, especially in a far off land. It makes me proud to see our youth volunteer to go over to Iraq and risk all. Many in this country will never understand commitment and sacrifice to God and Country.
Keep up the good work and enjoy the fruits of your labor (SUV).

5:59 AM  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

Addie, You should continue to follow your heart and the little voice in your head because it has already served you so well. I have never posted a comment on a website or blog before, but was channel surfing and caught your story on DM (a show I've never seen) last night. While I am not a soldier I am a braodcast journalist in California and have seen a lot of things. At 30, I too come home to a fancy car, care free days with friends, and yes, designer jeans. It is strange to know there are others in the world... and here at home fighting to just survive. As a girl who's similar to you... Thank you! I am so proud of what you've done and know you will contiue to make a difference.

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Addie,

You were terrific on DM. Thanks for your service! Could you post some audio from your broadcasts in Iraq?

6:06 PM  
Blogger Fred C. Dobbs said...

I'm going to beat-up pedro sanchez. Addie you are outstanding! Your work in bringing much needed shoes to the people of Iraq is fantastic. May you be blessed for your kindness.

9:39 PM  

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