I was done! Four years, zero months of active-duty Army service. I arrived at LAX craving donuts and fried chicken during the wee hours of the morning —I was ecstatic about the endless possibilities that await. As I exited the airport and gazed on the busy streets of Los Angeles, I remembered ten years ago feeling energized as a seventeen-year-old fresh off the boat with a future that was uncertain in America. What was certain, however, was my desire to make it here. This time I knew I had the tools to make that happen.
During the car ride to my parents’ apartment, I sat in the back listening to my parents talk, while I savored the success of my team in my last year at Tripler Army Medical Center. Going into my final year, my team was firing on all cylinders. We accomplished the mission, planned trips off-work, and helped each other get promoted to sergeant. The juniors that we acquired naturally followed our lead. We believed in a system of sacrifice and selflessness. Morale is a clever multiplier: you only need one or two special people to initiate its improvement, and it is enhanced by everybody’s good will and effort.
As we arrived at my parents’ apartment, I noticed that morale was low. Although my sister was professionally successful, she was busy with her growing family and needed help for babysitting and household responsibilities. My father had lost a prestigious yet stressful engineering job. He now worked as an Uber driver and seemed to be battling depression without outside or professional help. My family is a traditional South East Asian family: we did not believe in the Diagnostic Statistic Manual or taking pills for minor ailments. My mother held the family’s morale together, but I knew this team was slowly deteriorating from within.
From that moment on, I knew that I had transitioned out of my Army family and into my immediate family with a new role. Facing the collective challenges ahead with my new team, I knew that the first step was to instill confidence into my father, who had lost faith in himself and had become self-pitying. I challenged his manhood and identity, goading him into thinking better of himself. After several fights, he trusted me and landed a job that restored his pride.
While most see the Army life as a separate universe, it actually parallels experience in the civilian world. Life taught me that you cannot teach drive, you cannot convince someone to be motivated or competitive. You can only support soldiers —people— by earning their trust so that they can trust themselves and act on their inner motivation and competitiveness.
This was my final homecoming, and it came at a time when my family needed me the most.
Gio Caballero served four years on active duty in the United States Army from 2013 to 2017. He served as a Preventive Medicine Sergeant in Tripler Army Medical Center. He is currently majoring in Biology at UC Santa Barbara in pursuit of medical school. He is interested in zen, short stories, and long walks on the beach. His favorite motto is “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” #soothersmaywrite #shownottell