The final days before a deployment run together, and very little stays with you. You're poked and prodded, vaccinated and issued gear. They push you out of an airplane a time or two, and send you to the range to zero your rifle. Mental health is a serious issue for today's Army, and you sit through countless hours of "Don't beat your wife, don't kill yourself" briefings. (I'm sure they have a more official name.)
Only one thing really stands out in memory from the days before my deployment to Afghanistan, in 2006. It was an aside by a prior-service civilian instructor. You can't stay in the Army forever, he said. Whether you come home in a box or reach retirement age, one way or another, you're getting out. He advised us to look around the room. This feels like your family, he said. Band of brothers. You're going to do great things, and if you're lucky, lie about them over beers for another fifty years. But the Army doesn't want you forever, and one way or another, you will be forced out. His message: While you're in the combat zone, call home as often as possible. Tell your wife or mother that everything is fine. Because when the war and the Army are through with you, your family will still be there.