So far, so good.
Things have REALLY turned around since I've gotten back to Kabul. The big change that I blogged about and told friends and family about came true -- there's a much more senior Officer here now doing the job that I was doing, and I was successfully able to angle my way onto the vampire shift (2000 to 0800, every day), where I'm not constantly being grabbed and pulled in a million directions.
*Now I just have to cross my fingers and hope things don't change too much.*
When I think about why my stress level has plummeted so much, two major factors come to mind:
(1) I've actually got an off-switch now. It might sound funny to say to someone that 84-hour weeks feel like a vacation, but it's the complete truth. Even when you factor out the 6-7 hours or so for sleep, that STILL leaves me with a few hours each day of - dare I say it - *me* time. I haven't quite figured out how to channel it...yesterday it meant watching a movie, today it meant working through an Atul Gawande book, and every day it's meant getting an hour or so on the beloved treadmill. If I don't come home in February in damn-near Olympic decathlete shape, I'll be disappointed.
Anyway, the reason the off-switch is such a big deal is that since the big shift back at Fort Hood, when our old boss got suddenly reassigned, my routine has pretty much been get up, clean up, work/train, go to meetings, prepare for more meetings, prepare reports, go on the occasional convoy or patrol, and then frantically catch up on all the stuff missed thanks to said movement.
That takes its toll. Again, no comparisons here to the guys out in Khost and Paktika (though I certainly didn't choose NOT to go that route...but that's a story for another day, and I'll have to readdress that with Uncle Sam in February) but probably more in common with a junior investment banker in midtown Manhattan. Either way, the adrenal glands can only take so much.
And if the time off at home with Ratriey and Lily was heaven, then this is purgatory -- not that great, but honestly, not that bad either.
(2) I've got less of a sense of *investment* in the section. This factor is actually way more important than the first. For a few months there, I was actually in charge of a dozen or so people. In the civilian world, that would mean a manager, but there's an important distinction here -- because the military *owns* its people in a 24/7 sense, commanding even a small group of people is a pretty big deal. Their successes are yours, their screw-ups are yours, and, yes, the paperwork that goes with all that is yours. Even stepping down and being the "#2 guy" is a quantum leap downward...the analogy isn't perfect, but it's kind of like being a backup quarterback in the NFL -- the other guy is running the huddle and under-center for all the snaps, and you're rocking a baseball cap and telling jokes behind the thick white lines.
So this factor probably has even more to do with why I'm smiling more and spinning-up less. It's not that I don't care (in fact, now I get to *actually* do the job I'm trained for in a much purer sense, and I take a lot of pride in the results), but I'm less invested. When one of our guys misses a duty shift in the guard tower, when one of our Officers pisses off our Canadian counterparts (900+ are now in Kabul!), or when someone drops the ball on a meeting, it's honestly just NOT my fire to put out. And even if I tried to make it so, that'd be inappropriate -- sort of like trying to discipline someone else's kid.
To summarize everything I've learned in a back-of-a-postage stamp sort of way:
Being in charge is really hard.
NOT being in charge is not so hard.
With a nod towards Ben-Hur, I will continue to row well. I will also try to get a bit fitter, a bit smarter, and keep in better touch with folks at home.
Being away is still a challenge, but this is way more sustainable.