Adjusting to life after Afghanistan

Russ Storring on life on a military base at home after three tours in Afghanistan.
The Storring boys, on a bench by the Petawawa River: Jeremy, Russell, Jonathan. (Photo courtesy Nathalie Storring)

It has been almost a year since we've been back, here in Petawawa, after my third tour in Afghanistan.

And while there have been many personal and family changes due to our return, one of the biggest differences is that I am now on the sidelines, watching everyone else deploy on their second and third tours over there.

When we were told we were posted back to CFB Petawawa, we thought it was in order to send me on a fourth tour to Afghanistan, particularly when I found out I was posted to the Royal Canadian Dragoons, the lead unit for the team that is mentoring Afghan soldiers in the field.

As my family reluctantly settled back into Petawawa life and I donned the trademark black beret of the Armoured Corps, I was informed that I would be remaining here as the Signals Troop warrant officer.

It was an awkward feeling, watching everyone else training to leave, and not doing it myself for once.

I know Nathalie and the boys were relieved that I was staying behind, but I was left with thoughts of why I was actually back in Petawawa, if I wasn't going on tour.

A slower pace

On the home front, Petawawa is nice but there just isn't the same kind of job opportunities for Nathalie as there had been in a bigger city like Kingston, our previous posting.

Back from Afghanistan and at a career crossroads. Still, more time to train for the local Ironman competition. (Photo courtesy Nathalie Storring)

On the other hand, the boys' grades have gone up in school and they have more opportunities to play in a variety of sports at an affordable price, which is always good.

We had originally thought a small town like this would be fairly safe.

But just since we arrived here last fall there has been two or three serious drunk-driving incidents, one resulting in the tragic death of a young teen.

And now, with the recent sexual assaults that have been in the news, it makes the crime rate feel out of proportion for a community this size.

Difficult adjustment

Still, life goes on here in a slow and steady pace.

Jonathan seems to be following in my steps and is heading off to army cadet camp this summer, while Jeremy is simply enjoying time with his friends and playing baseball.

The last time we lived in Petawawa, we were pretty settled into a work and family routine, and did not want to leave.

But after we moved to Kingston, Nathalie and the boys grew accustomed to city life and were not keen to come back here, to a small town on the Ottawa River.

It has probably been one of the most stressful periods in our marriage, at times it almost seems more stressful then going on tour.

However, it's the army and we know that in a year or two we will be posted somewhere else.

I have asked for Europe or Victoria, and my family is pretty excited about even getting the chance for those kinds of postings. But we will have to see what next year brings.

Career crossroads

Family planning can be pretty difficult in a profession like this.

We have never really known much in advance when or where we were getting posted, with the last two coming as a complete surprise.

I think we adapt fairly well, but I realize it is hard on the kids as far as school and friends are concerned and for Nathalie when it comes to finding work.

Career-wise, I feel I have hit a crossroads and I'm not sure where I want to go.

I find myself having doubts about continuing my career past July 2011, when I have the option of finishing my career or extending my contract. But I am nervous about life outside the military, as it is all I have known since I was 17.

When I first thought I would be heading overseas again, I was pretty excited at the possibility of being a mentor to the Afghan army, about having the opportunity again to make a contribution to a worthwhile cause.

But after being told my chances of going back to Afghanistan, or on any other tour, were slim to none, it has left me wondering what is left for me in the military.

I have even looked at other options within the military, such as applying for an occupational change. But I am definitely not as young as I was when I joined, and 19 years in the army has taken its toll on my body.

With Canada's Afghan mission winding down and the last task force from here training for a fall deployment, life around Petawawa will likely take a slower pace in the near future.

Nathalie and I will take advantage of the slower pace to spend some much needed time together.

But with all the soldiers we know now deployed and in harm's way, we undoubtedly will still find ourselves fixated on the Afghan mission, hoping for the best but bracing for the worst.

It is just what you do when you are a military family. There is no escaping the risks.