Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bring On Da Funk and Other Musings On the Trip Home

We are back in the United States! First and foremost that is the big news.

The Odyssey

Our trip began in Iraq on Wednesday with a ninety minute convoy to the airport. We flew to Kuwait the next day. On Saturday we cleared our bags through US Customs, courtesy of the US Navy. Once a unit clears Customs it must wait in a "sterile" area without access to external comforts to include food and the PX until we depart. Our first plane broke down while we were waiting to get on it so we waited another day for another plane. That night was a long miserable night of sitting on a bus within eyesight of the plane only to drive the hour plus trip back to the base camp. We spent the day sitting on floors or chairs while the Kuwaitis turned the AC off and on in order to service the system.

On Sunday we finally got out to the second plane only to find out our flight was moved to the right (delayed) two more hours. Somewhere close to midnight on Sunday we boarded the DC-10 with just barely enough room to spread out with a space between people. The engines fired up - and stopped. Another delay. The engines started again and stayed lit. As soon as we were airborne I fell asleep for the first time in 20 hours.

We landed in Shannon, Ireland in the wee hours of Monday morning. Our hour layover was doubled as the mechanics tried to fix whatever was ailing this plane. However, the luck of the Irish was with us and we got airborne once again to the rising sun. Looking out the window at the green rolling hills of Ireland made me happy. We flew in the growing morning sun all day long and arrived in Atlanta, GA late Monday morning. It was then that we discovered that someone (not us) forgot to tell the military assistance people that we were coming. No follow on transportation was set up for us. Furthermore, there was only one person to process airline tickets for almost 100 people.

We came up with the best option for us; charter a bus from Atlanta to New Jersey. Yes, this was the best option. The bus was loaded and we were on the road by 1600. At 0645 we arrived in Ft Dix. We began work to DEMOB (demobilize/demobilization) at 0700.

Tonight will be the first time we've slept in beds, as opposed to floors, chairs, bus or plane seats, since Friday night.

Bring on Da Funk

The last time anyone got to shower in our odyssey was either late Friday night or oh-dark thirty on Saturday morning. The customs lock down area only had a set of sinks to wash up in. The the 120* heat began to take its toll. You couldn't help sweating just sitting still. By Sunday evening I knew that needed a new uniform but shrugged the idea off because I was sweaty, nasty dirty and putting clean clothes on a stinky body made no sense. That was Sunday. After the plane and bus rides, by Tuesday we were rancid. We tried to wash up in Atlanta. Imagine being a random traveler walking into the men's room to find a dozen soldiers all trying to wash their bodies in motion detector sinks.

You know it's bad when you can smell yourself and it's nauseating. You can feel the dirt in your clothes after they've been worn for as long as we wore ours. Times that by fifty other bodies.

We were given a half hour after we turned in body armor and weapons this morning and took a hot shower with lots of soap.

The Green, Green Grass of Home

What a world of difference being home from Iraq. Life is vibrant here. The green trees and grass; the blue skies with white puffed clouds; the cool air on your face - it adds up to a sensory overload, but one everyone notices. More that one rugged troop stood outside clearly soaking it in.

You would have to be there, in Iraq, or Kuwait, or Afghanistan - or any other arid, dusty, incredibly hot place for a long period of time to appreciate this feeling. Or maybe it's a phenomenon.

Welcome Home, Remember

We were met by our commander, my boss, with a big hug and hot coffee. People we haven't seen in a year were there to meet us. There was a moment of hugs and high fives as this particular Army family reunited.

Later in the morning we had another, semi-official welcome home where the installation commander gave us our unit's yellow banner that has flown with dozens of other yellow banners over the last year. I can just barely remember the ceremony we had hanging the banner in October 2008. The return of the yellow banner to us was symbolic of saying, "your job's complete, welcome home."

I found my cell phone and borrowed a charger. I haven't used my cell phone in a year and realized that I forgot what all the buttons do. Numbers. Send. That's enough for now.

I am trying to remember the other important things of being home. Things like; don't walk in the middle of street because traffic doesn't go 5 mph like on the FOB. Cold milk is awesome. Bugle calls on an active post means that you have to stop and render the proper military customs. Dunkin' Donuts coffee is a miracle. Calling my wife to say good night is so much easier without a seven hour time difference.

Jetlag is calling. My eyes are getting heavy. Good night from the East Coast.