Remember to leave your running shoes unlaced and wide open– and leave them in the same spot beneath your bed.

Less than a week in-country, I woke up to my first indirect-fire alarm. I ran to the bunker in my underwear and crowded inside the tiny, heavily sandbagged concrete box with everyone from my housing block. Their favorite time to hit us was around 5am, and the hours spent cleaning up and accounting for personnel and equipment ate up the majority of the day for many troops. Over a hundred rockets and mortar rounds would impact inside the walls of FOB Kalsu over the next twelve months.

Post-deployment social reintegration to my rural Montana community was a bizarre experience. In my mind, I had assumed that peeling off my uniform was the hardest thing about leaving full-spectrum warfare, but as time progressed and the visceral memories faded, I was confronted with situations that were difficult to understand, and [still] almost impossible to communicate– the loss of control in crowds every time I braved the bar scene; the backfires of delivery trucks my first year living in Boston; the flash of anger at a friend who became superficially disgusted at the sight of blood.

They thanked me for my service in an obtuse and anxious way. I wondered if this tithe of obligatory patriotism wasn’t more uncomfortable than my experience of war they all seemed eager to apologize for. I get asked if ‘I’ve killed anyone’ far more than I want to talk about.

Sean Thomas Foulkes