I could see the shadow of the CH-60 along the sand, cutting through what seemed a vast nothingness. The two hour flight left me in silence, encapsulated in the drone of rotor blades snapping against the desert air.
I was about to play the riskiest hand of poker ever, requesting a Court Martial over Captain’s Mast. I had no idea how it would end. I played out the possibilities. I was there because I was at odds with my team. I was the black sheep, the outcast, the square peg that just didn’t fit. I was a rejected body part.
We landed in Bahrain and I went to play my hand. I won! No Captain’s Mast and no Court Martial. I was going home.
There would be no more Skype calls and separation arguments with my wife. I faced the reality that my career in the Navy was ending. I kept replaying all the crap moments I’d been through and what was waiting for me at home. The last thing I was told was, “don’t have your wife pick you up!” The sense of foreboding was unbearable. Would I be able to retire? The uncertainty was killing me. Just being told not to have my wife pick me up implied something horrible.
I’ve always looked forward to the homecoming; the reception. My wife jumping into my arms. My friends and strangers would say “thank you”. Returning the salutes of children with pride. This was a homecoming! Although just my wife waiting for me was more than enough. Instead, I was greeted by my command leadership. Two men in civilian clothes with grim faces were waiting for me. They told me they regretted that my qualifications were being stripped, kicking me out of my community. At least it wasn’t worse. They offered me a ride home. The last thing I wanted was for them to see where I live, to know a personal side of me. I didn’t want to give them more than they already had. They’d just ended my career, that was enough.
When my wife arrived, we just hugged. It was a long, silent, emotional hug. After months of torment, degradation, and shame, I was finally with the only person who cared about me. She was my rock. I didn’t care for fanfare or salutes from children or well wishes from friends or strangers, I just wanted my wife.
It was a year before I could sleep through the night. Everyday something reminds me of what happened. Only recently have I been able to think about those on my team and not want the worst for them. Only recently that I can finally say that I’ve come home.
Daniel Lawrence started his career in the Navy as a Boatswainsmate in 1993. He served on two ships and spent time in recruiting before separating in order to finish his undergraduate degree in Political Science at San Diego State University. During the second half of his career, he joined explosive ordnance disposal. He deployed only once during his career and retired in 2013. After retirement, he completed his MBA at UC San Diego.