Ten years of conflict, multiple deployments and returning daily to the long hours of a dangerous job that can never actually be left.
These are the realities of the lives of our American soldiers in Afghanistan. They constantly deal with the stress of war where they are responsible for the lives of others and have to make vital heat of the moment decisions.
The stresses induced by these facets of war are compounded by the lack of simple, everyday luxuries that many Americans probably take for granted.
Humans endure, Americans adapt, and as American soldiers we seem to seek out small simple places to momentarily escape. These places are our soldier’s “Happy Places,” a term coined in the Adam Sandler movie “Happy Gilmore.” These places, each unique to their owner, are sprinkled throughout the bases and camps of Afghanistan. Many are hidden in plain view, unnoticed by those who have not claimed them.
One of those places is in Forward Operating Base Tarin Kot, Afghanistan, where soldiers of 1st Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, deployed out of Fort Carson, Colo., have discovered and created their own happy places.
Out the back door of an operations cell, down a corridor formed by two tightly packed buildings and snuggled up against a stone barrier where just enough sun peeks through, lay a handful of tomato and pepper plants neatly arranged where they grow out of old dirt packed tires. These plants provide solace, a moment of peace, to the commander of 1-2 AVN, 25th CAB, Lt. Col. David Moga.
“I grew up on a farm and the garden reminds me of home,” said Moga. “…It’s relaxing to have an outlet, especially one that helps you mark how quickly time is passing,” he said.
Moga says he chose to plant a garden because, unlike most things in Afghanistan, the tomato plants are real.
“Most other things on a FOB are somewhat fake,” he said as he explained that photos of family and Skype are not like being there in person.
“A tomato plant here is every bit like one at home, no difference whatsoever,” he said.
While some happy places are personal, others can be chosen or built to provide a haven for groups of soldiers. Soldiers from Company C, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, built a deck off the back of their sleeping quarters as a place to relax. The deck, complete with picnic tables, a dart board, a ping pong table, a card table and a punching bag, hosts groups of soldiers for late night movies and early morning Insanity workouts.
“We are inspired to create a better life and living condition in the medevac because historically we show up with what we have and we bring what we need to survive for the year,” said Chief Warrant Officer Gary Marden, Company C, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade.
A happy place doesn’t necessarily require a lot of space and time. Command Sgt. Maj. Keith Cooper, 1-2 AVN, 25th CAB, adorns his vehicle with a vanilla candle scented air freshener and a dream catcher that eloquently chimes every time the vehicle hits a pothole.
“My wife always burns vanilla candles at home,” Cooper said. “When I smell the vanilla in this car it reminds me of home and gives me a moment of comfort.”
Life in Afghanistan is far from easy. Soldiers know this but have made the decision to sacrifice ease of life for an opportunity to serve their country. Regardless of how hard it gets though, the little things, the happy places, will always be available to help them get through the fight.
Story by Capt. Richard Barker
25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs
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