Day 28: decompression

My room mate said to me at 9pm last night: “I feel like I should be doing something, that I should be working! I’m all fidgety and I can’t sit still”. She keeps checking her right hip for her pistol and her left hip for her military ID that she had to carry at all times on base. She has just returned to AMAB (Al Minhad Air Base) after spending six busy months working on logistics in Kabul. She worked 12 hour days that were punctuated by eating, sleeping and going to the gym. This is not “normal” life!

She is going through what the military call “decompression”. All Australian military in the MEAO come back through AMAB before going home. They are forced to do next to nothing for a few days. It can be hard to sit still and watch a movie when you’ve been constantly busy for six months. This is my first day with no interviews and no travel, but I can feel my body slowing down and wanting to sleep.

Part of the decompression process is RTAMS (Return to Australia Medical Screening) and RTAPS (Return to Australia Psychological Screening). The military need to know if you’re healthy in body and mind before you go out into the real world again. This is important stuff, particularly for detecting signs of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder),but it doesn’t really help you adjust to “normal” life again. I think it will be a shock to some returnees to have to buy groceries, cook meals, wash dishes, clean the house and do the laundry after not having to think about this for three to twelve months. It will also be disorienting having to relate to people by who they are, not what their rank is. Military life is highly organised and regimented. Ordinary life is a bit more random.

PS. One of the more random things I encountered at AMAB was the presentation of desserts! The chef must have taken lessons in plating-up from MasterChef. I just hope the hungry hordes in the mess appreciated the artistry.

Vanilla slice

Vanilla slice

Apricot flan

Apricot flan

Apple pie with palm tree biscuit

Apple pie with palm tree biscuit

Chocolate gateau

Chocolate gateau

Creme Caramel

Creme Caramel

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