I have been gone now for more than nine months. Hard to believe it’s been so long. When I left, my wife was just recently pregnant. Just a few weeks ago, we gave birth to a beautiful little girl, Ayla Kate Sparks-Graeser. I had the chance to go back to Los Angeles for the birth. It was incredible, but reminded me of how long its been. So much has happened, both at home and while I’ve been gone. It got me thinking about my own expectations before I left.
Studying transition for the last decade may have fueled this idea too. I knew firsthand the transition that service-members, especially National Guard and Reserve, have to make. I have been a witness to thousands who have made the harrowing journey.
It turns out, there is no escaping it.
It took about two months in country before I realized how hard it would be. Kind of like watching YouTube videos of a back yard project and then finding out it takes more tools, skills and time than you thought. Spending long hours in a different time zone makes staying connected nearly impossible. Eventually, being thousands of miles away feels like being thousands of miles away.
Being a Chaplain and Social Worker, I somehow figured that my experience and expertise would help me avoid the pain of disconnection. I figured there was nothing that email, FaceTime, social media couldn’t bridge. After all ,this is the age of twitter right? Maybe it was wishful thinking, or maybe avoidance, I just knew how much my family, community, and Los Angeles meant to me. I figured that I I could somehow just muscle up to avoid the disconnect. I could not have been more wrong.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot what it takes to support someone in transition. Last month, I finished my Doctorate in Social Work. I spent most of my time focused on rethinking how we connect communities and transitioning service-members. Being deployed has only heightened my awareness of this. I can sense my reliance on my community back home. If you are reading this, then that means its you. The questions I will need to ask, the support and friendships, the career decisions and community- all of whom I rely on. Knowledge and know-how only take you so far. There is no substitute for support systems and connection.
We all need family, friends, community and our city to help us navigate life, especially in big transitions. As hard as it is for veterans to admit, we are vulnerable. We need others to land successfully. I am more aware of this now than ever. Like an old trusty chair, I am thankful its there when I sit down. Our collaborative work in LA seems more important than ever right about now.
I’m thankful for you and your support. I’ll be home in less than three months (in time for Christmas).