Wednesday, January 31, 2007

R & R

I won’t say it was all fucked up, but it was a typical Army operation. We arrived at the airfield at 0530 for a 0600 formation during which we were told to stand by for a 0900 formation. At 0900 they announced that the freedom flight – an Air Force C-130 from BIAP to Kuwait – would be delayed, but that we were to (you guessed it) stand by.

It was drizzling and getting colder outside, and most of us are huddling inside the one large tent. The electricity goes out so there are no lights, heat, or coffee, and by the time they announce our new boarding time of 1300 I am completely miserable. Literally shivering. I feel bad for the soldiers who didn’t bring a poncho or field jacket.

Finally, we hear the distinctive whine of four Pratt & Whitneys cutting through the air. Everyone files outside as the dirty gray workhorse rolls by and is marshaled into a parking spot on the tarmac. And for about the billionth time, I am reminded of an Oliver Stone movie as fifty fresh-faced replacements file off the aircraft and pass by our dirty, tired, and occasionally bandaged group, as we march out to take their seats. We load from the rear ramp with the engines running to minimize the aircraft’s time on the ground – I remember that I got in trouble once for authorizing a hot onload such as this in Rota, but, well, this is a combat zone and stationary aircraft make good targets. The less time spent on the ground the better. And finally, miraculously, it seems, we’re airborne. Cold, cramped as sardines with all of our muddy gear, and happier than we have been in a long, long time.

And hour and 20 minutes later we cross into Kuwaiti airspace and land at our first stop, Ali Al Salem air station. Here we are sorted by destination, go through the most rigorous customs inspection I have ever had to endure (can you say “bend over?” Okay, not that bad…), and are provided our individual itineraries for the rest of the trip. There are about 300 of us going to the Atlanta APOD (Aerial Port of Debarkation) before we split up, and, as the senior officer present, I am designated flight commander for the trip. This is mostly a babysitting job, but I am also in charge of organizing the bus convoy from Al Salem to Kuwait City International (from where we depart), enroute provisions (food and water), and the baggage details. It’s more folks than I have ever had to keep track of before so I select two senior NCOs to be my counters – as long as we have the same number of people present for every muster and formation, I figure we can forgo the tedious and time consuming roll calls. After all, who is going to purposely not show up for R & R?

We are disappointed to find out that our next flight will not depart until the next evening, but hey, a night in Kuwait is another night not in Iraq, so it’s all good. I hardly slept at all that last night though - besides the fact that I thought the tent was going to blow down, I was just too excited. Bouncy bouncy bouncy. Like a kid at Christmas, really, which isn’t a bad analogy since Lisanne had purposely kept the tree and all the Christmas decorations up until after I returned.

And finally, finally, finally, we were at the airport waiting to board that magnificent, gleaming white Omni Air DC-10 chartered to take us home. The baggage detail is hefting duffles and rucks onto the conveyor, and I stop to think how odd it is to be in charge of 300 men and women going through KCIA – this is the very airfield where I was posted as Director of Operations just before the war. Funny now, being on the other side.

The flight to Germany and then over the pond lasted about several hours longer than forever. I swear to God that time slowed down on this flight. My ass actually fell asleep, but the rest of me couldn’t. Finally after several days in the air, we arrive in Atlanta for my final layover. Luckily, I was able to go to the American counter and move up my flight and a gentleman loaned me his cell to call Lisanne and let her know. When they finally boarded the little puddle jumper for St Louis the gate attendant announced that there were three soldiers coming home on leave from Iraq (all that were left of the original group of 300) and that she knew the other passengers wouldn’t mind if we boarded first. It was actually very gratifying that not only didn’t they mind, but the whole waiting area stood up and applauded.

At last I am in St Louis! Down the jetway and around the familiar corners of Lambert’s Main Terminal. I am so excited! There they are!! Jack and Anais run up to me and it’s all I can do to let them go even after several minutes of hugs and tears. I cannot even explain the feeling of just holding them – it’s almost like waking up from a nightmare and realizing that it’s okay, or being given an unexpected reprieve by the governor. Lisanne, of course, allows them their time, but I can see that she is bursting inside too and it’s good to know and it’s a good day and it’s good to be loved everything is good and I am home. I am home.

1 Comments:

Blogger lalavoie said...

Yes, and now you are missed - but it was a great taste of what is to come, hopefully for good, in May.

February 01, 2007 9:15 AM  

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