I have been in Iraq for 48 hours. I left Kuwait Tuesday afternoon and flew to Baghdad in a C-130 along with two dozen other Civil Affairs people and some miscellaneous contractors. The flight was typical for entering Baghdad, we went from 30,000 feet to 10,000 feet in a matter of seconds and then banked into another combat dive onto the runway. At one point I think my feet left the floor.
Prior to leaving Kuwait they gave FORCEPRO (Force Protection)ammunition. This ammunition is meant for one purpose, and I have been wearing it every waking moment since I got here. I guess that makes it real - I am back in a hostile fire zone.
However, arriving in Iraq was anti-climatic. This airport is in the middle of one of the largest and safest bases in the country. I kept telling myself to expect to have everything different. However, I found out that it was mostly the same. There are more buildings and more twenty-foot concrete barriers, but the location of the "terminal" is still the same. The barracks where I spent the night is still the same. Even the location of the Subway shop is the same.
The next day (yesterday) I flew by helicopter to my base. As I was running to the helicopter - blades turning - I realized that I forgot my glasses. Great. I had to make hand motions to the crew and then sprinted back across the flight line to the terminal. I am relying on my glasses more than I thought.
My flight to my base brought the last three years full circle for me. As we flew south I was familar with the area we were over because I had worked nearby in 2004-2005. And then I recognized a place I knew. And then I saw one of the projects I had built in 2005: a water tower in a small, rural village. And then we flew over the other one. Wow. They were still standing. No one had come in after they were completed and destroyed them. I had to assume they were working and serving the needs of the community.
We flew over vast agricultural lands full of different crops. There were workers and tractors, similar to the ones I distributed in 2005, working in the fields. From the air I could see life on the ground.
I landed at the FOB and met the men and women we will be replacing. The FOB is dusty, and as I write this we are in the middle of thick dust storm. Dust covers everything, everywhere. I'll write more about the FOB another time, when I have had time to wander around.
I fought to get here with a four person detail to attend an important conference as well as start the process of transferring equipment, paperwork, and information. Most of my Soldiers are still in Kuwait. Before leaving I gathered them all into a small circle. I told them that we were going to go to work soon and that some of us would go to different locations. In fact it may have been the last time that we'd all be together as a unit. And then I asked them to pray.
Together we said a prayer for strength for each of us when we are weak. To know right from wrong and to chose the right path. To look out for one another. We asked for God to look after our families-- especially the ones with small children. We prayed for peace and patience and safety for the next nine months.
And then we said, "Amen."
All is well here.