I left Afghanistan yesterday and it was very, very hard to leave the soldiers.

This is a trip I’ve made many times…from a war zone in a remote corner of the world back to the rest of the world.

I have a ritual of sorts…I start with a bath, with getting clean.

Last night I drew a bath of steaming hot water.  I grabbed a loofah and poured strawberry body scrub on it and scrubbed my skin. Then I soaked, just to enjoy the luxury of a tubful of water and the time to soak in it. To soak in the quiet and the calm, until the water lost its heat.

I drained the tub: the water was filthy. I could not believe the layer of dirt I was carrying.

I took a shower to rinse my skin then scrubbed again and washed my hair–twice.

I started to feel clean.

Next I tackled my clothes. (I’d already tossed a few items in the trash in Afghanistan…no sense in carrying something that’ll never get clean and I’ll never wear again.) I threw everything in the washer and set it for presoak then wash. This is the clothing equivalent of the bath/shower for my body.

When the clothes were washed, the sink the water drains into was full of grit and dirt. When I looked at the t-shirts –and my clothes–I realized it was futile–they cannot get clean.

I knew it.

It’s just that way–leaving a war and heading home–I cannot wash everything away.

On this trip, as compared to many in my past, I dared to feel like I got out clean. I was not fired upon. I was not bombed. I did not watch children die. I did not watch a man bleed out before my eyes. I did not witness brutality and death.

I had a much cleaner exit than those from Liberia, Somalia, Iraq, Eritrea or Mozambique.

Then I remember the soldiers I’ve spent time with. I know a small piece of what they’ve lived because they honored me and trusted me with some of their stories.

And though I’m far away now, I am thinking of the soldiers of Charlie Co. Tonight the soldiers of Charlie Co., especially 3rd platoon, and especially 1st squad, will remember Pfc. Brett E. Wood, their brother, killed by an IED explosion on September 9, 2011.

And I am reminded…

if you’re a witness, a soldier or a civilian caught in the crossfire…

if you’ve been to war, you cannot get out clean.