(Photo above: Keith (far left), in Iraq in 2007)
10. You have a slew of photographs of yourself and your buddies, in various states of combat dress—be it indigenous or American—backdropped by deserts, mountains, or desert-y mountains. In some photos, you might have your weapon, while in others, you might have an “indig” weapon. In most, you probably have a beard.
9. Speaking of beards, you have had a beard of some length and bushiness for at least six months or a year’s time, all under the auspices of fitting in culturally and/or physically. Or maybe you simply did not want to shave for a year or so. When you returned, your employer, the military, or your spouse forced you to shave under penalty of withholding coitus (spouse) or promising it (the military).
8. You have a passing knowledge of, or at least a vague familiarity with, the fundamentals of tribal culture, be it Arab, Pashtun, Bedouin, Kuchi, or all of the above. You might even be able to name a few tenets of Pashtunwali, and you definitely know at least some of the rules and customs associated with Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr.
7. You have a healthy and reverent respect for the luxuries of civilization, as experienced in the modern United States. In other words, you appreciate the power of the flushing toilet, the functioning air conditioner that keeps the heat at bay, the joy of paved roads, and the comfort that comes from living under the security blanket of reasonable building codes.
6. You have suffered through the experience of an 18 to 20-hour plane ride on some form of civilian or military aircraft, where you managed to make the time pass with a combination of a personal DVD player, out-of-date novel, iPhone, iPod, Ambien, Benadryl, hammock, or possibly reclining seat and pillow (if you were lucky enough to deploy with the CIA or Air Force). You ended that flight hoping that the airplane landed under its own power, in Kabul or Baghdad, with little to no ground fire aimed in your general direction.
5. You speak just enough Arabic, Pashto, or Dari to say “hello,” ask for tea, slightly mispronounce local names, and/or give offense in just the right doses. You lived and died by the reliability and quality of your interpreters.
4. You met at least one interpreter or local worker, soldier, or official, for whom you fervently wished you could have expedited American citizenship. You might even think that you observed that person do more for American national security than most American citizens you knew back home.
3. For at least one year, you made enough money to place you firmly within the top tax bracket. Like most people in that bracket, you did not pay taxes on everything you made that year.
2. While deployed, you missed at least one birth, birthday, anniversary, holiday, first day of school, first communion, baptism, marriage, family reunion, or other important date, for which you felt horribly guilty. You hoped that your friends and loved ones understood the reason for your absence.
1. Finally, you have a sense of accomplishment and pride that can only be acquired through the knowledge that you did your part when your country needed you, and that you served your time in the war zone. You are grateful to have had the opportunity. You will be proud of your service until the day you die.