As the C-130 touched down on the runaway in the scorching Afghanistan desert Anderson looked around at the fresh faces of his young Marines. There were 180 of them, finally arriving on their first deployment. They looked anxious, but excited. Their training had prepared them for this moment. And while Anderson saw a reflection of himself in their eyes, he did not share their enthusiasm. Not this time. He was newly engaged to the love of his life. Leaving her behind was the hardest thing he has ever done. He knew it would be seven long months
It had been less than a year since his own first deployment had come to an end. And in the time since he had left this god-forsaken desert, his world had been turned inside out and upside down. The last time around, everything had been so simple. As a single Marine on his first deployment, there had been less to worry about. He smiled as he thought back to when his only real concern was how jacked he could get at the gym in seven months. The smile faded, now, as he felt the emptiness inside, knowing he wouldn’t see the love of his life for seven long months.
Hours turned to days, days to weeks, weeks to months.. He went about his daily duties on autopilot. He didn’t feel the heat, the sweat, the ache of his muscles. His body was there, but his mind always drifted back to Hawaii, where his fiancé patiently awaited his return. Every night Anderson went to the call center, sometime standing in line for hours, so that he could speak to her. Her voice was the only thing that kept him going.
The deployment wore on. The unbearable heat dissipated; Afghanistan turned into a freezing hell. Did it change in a day? A month? He had no idea. The calls to Hawaii became less frequent. The conversations became arguments. Eventually there was silence. Anderson withdrew from everyone around him. Desperation replaced the emptiness he felt, as he struggled to salvage his relationship, even as the rumors about his fiancé reached him from Hawaii.
Anderson became inattentive, his mind wholly occupied by thoughts of the only woman he had ever loved. He was counseled for the mistakes he was routinely making. He was endangering the other Marines, but he didn’t care. Then one day, he received a letter. Everyone, including Anderson, already knew what it said, without having read a single word. Still, Anderson took the letter and walked away. He tore open the envelope and ran his eyes over the page. He read the words, but they didn’t make sense to him. Then he crumpled up the letter and threw it into the trash, as all hope and desperation drained out of his body. He knew there was only one thing for him to do.
Yevgeniy Levin served five years active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. He deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom during 2009 and 2010 with Heavy Lift Helicopter Squadron HMH-362. He was born in Moscow, Russia and earned his citizenship on a deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan. He is currently pursuing his undergraduate degree in Actuarial Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.