One of the worst things about being deployed was being trapped on the base all the time. On the occasions that I did get to venture out, I was restricted to when and where I could go. I understood the necessity of the restrictions, but would have really liked more freedom to explore my surroundings.
However, I found that this desire to explore was lost on many of my fellow military members. When I was stationed in Qatar, I remember wanting to get off the base so much that I would volunteer for Aerovac missions into Iraq, but it was not easy for us to actually go into the city (Qatar) and wander around at that time. First, you needed someone who could drive you. Second, you needed to file clearance paperwork; and lastly you could only go to a couple of small areas in the city. It didn’t matter in any case, because the people who were driving you off base only went to one of two places: the mall in the city, or the Army base (at that time the Army base was much nicer than the Air Force base).
It drove me mad that all my compatriots wanted to do was go to the mall (where they would bee-line it to the Starbucks) and another damn military installation (mostly because they had a Chilli’s on post). I wanted to try the local food, see the amazing architecture and crafts, and actually engage with some of the local people. It was nearly impossible for me to do this.
After being to other military installations throughout the world I came to the conclusion that the military was not the best way to see the world. Too often I was in a distant and exotic land surrounded by Americans and American amenities. I remember the XO of a base confirming to me once that their main strategy for maintaining morale was to make people feel like they were at home. For example, they would have BBQs, put up American fast food chains on base and play all the favorite sports (football, nascar, etc.) on the big screen.
After serving nearly 10 years in the military, I made the decision to be a civilian again. The first thing I did as a civilian was to take off and live in India for a year. I followed that up with a year in Fiji and then moved on to New Zealand. It has amazed me how much more I am able to experience the world as a solo civilian traveller. The cloak of protection and familiarity that the military provided me was gone and I had no choice but to assimilate with the locals.
For instance, in India, I quickly realized that things like toilet paper, dishwashers, dryers, good western food and personal space were all things I had to learn to live without. Learning local languages was not only easier, but also somewhat necessary. Patience was imperative, because things were always breaking down and you could almost never rely on a plan to follow-through without some hindrance. When I got sick or injured, I had to rely on the same facilities as everyone else. The list could go on and on, but it all gave me a different perspective that I could not have gained while in the military.
I think one of the most important things it has done for me is to become more assimilated to the global community. I can now appreciate that the differences between people in the U.S. and the rest of the world are infinitesimal compared to the similarities. I’ve known many travellers to have the same opinion: you can find the same type of people everywhere – after all, we are all people. It has also given me an appreciation for different cultures and ways of life that make me question many of the norms in the U.S.
I hope that my fellow veterans can have a similar experience where they break free from the old-familiar that the military provided us and take a leap out into the world. While it may be scary for some…I promise it is worth it.
Kevin Sanada was born and raised in Reno, Nevada. He joined the Nevada Air National Guard after high school and served as an aerospace medical technician. In this time, he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and in support of Hurricane Katrina. Kevin graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Animal Science from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2007 and then graduated in 2011 with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree from Colorado State University. He then served for three years as a Veterinary Corps Officer in the U.S. Army and deployed to Africa in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Kevin now enjoys work as a veterinarian overseas for mostly non-profit organizations. You can read more of his work at https://thewanderlustvet.blogspot.com/