Well, I’m officially one-third of my way through this deployment and the finish line can’t come quick enough. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some memorable times out here and I really believe the work we’re doing is helping the people here more than most people understand, but with every sporadic phone call home and text message with my wife, the more I miss the simplicity of home.

As I said, we’re doing a lot of good work out here and I’m proud to be a part of it. Working with the teams out here as they work with local civil councils toward restoring stability in the region has allowed me to take a deeper look at what I have waiting for me in the United States and appreciate everything I take for granted on a daily basis.

On one of the first missions, I went on when I got out here was to visit a school. To get there, we traveled through a war-torn city where, no matter where you looked, every building, bridge, and park laid in absolute ruin. There was no power, no water, and from the looks of it, no inhabitable structures left standing. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume no one lived there anymore.

One moment which really stuck out to me was when we made a sharp left turn on a road, which was still abundantly filled with traffic, and noticing a pile of mortars, landmines, and from the quick glance I got, a suicide vest. Immediately, the alarms in my head started going off telling me to be on alert. I asked one of the Special Operations soldiers I was with if it was anything to be concerned about and he said no, that was one of the many turn-in points where people returning to their homes could dispose of any explosive remnants of war they found in their home.

The city was, for all intents and purposes, safe for us to travel in as everywhere we were visiting had already been cleared of explosives. But this was the new normal for people who lived here, which made for our visit to the school even more awesome. When we first pulled up to the school, we were immediately greeted by a mob of children eager and excited to see their foreign visitors. There was singing and dancing and I was particularly popular as I was the guy with the camera.

This school, I’m told, is the first school to open since the city was liberated and even though classes were in session, there was still a lot of work which needed to be done. They had desks but their classes were overcrowded, their school books were in a pile of a storage room waiting to be organized and used, and playful murals on the walls had been vandalized with pro-terrorism messages.

After seeing the conditions these children were living and going to school in, it was amazing to see how much life and enthusiasm these children had. I tried to think about what I would’ve done at their age and in that situation and to be honest, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to adapt as well as these children had. It was in these small, smiling faces that I understood why we are here and why what we’re doing is so important. But, it was also those faces that made me miss the small, smiling face of my boy back home.

It’s been a couple months since that mission but I still think about it a lot. I find myself constantly opening my phone and looking at the pictures my wife has sent me and I’m thankful that he doesn’t have to live with the hardships these children have had to. But, I think there’s a valuable lesson to be learned here as a parent, too. I will do everything in my power to protect my children from the evils of this world, but going through this deployment has made me realize that no matter what happens, it’s possible to overcome any adversity I may encounter in my life. If I can teach that lesson to my son, I think I will have succeeded in being a father.

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