Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Homecoming Purgatory

I’m happy to write that I’m now back in New Jersey—not home exactly, but close enough. I have to stay at Fort Dix, NJ for about 10 days to arrange all the logistics for the guys in my unit who will arrive here shortly. They’ll need things like barracks space, their demobilization schedule, a place to store their weapons, flights home, etc

Flying out of Taji was, to put it lightly, an ordeal. I had about 250 pounds of equipment to lug around from helicopter to helicopter, helicopter to plane, tent-to-tent, and so on. My shoulders and arms are still bruised and scratched up from the duffel bag shuffles involved with each move. Exiting a Chinook helicopter, I even got choked by my M4 machine gun’s shoulder strap, which crept up my shoulder and neck thanks to the 3 bags I had strung over my shoulders. I had to tough through the pain to get far enough away from the backwash wind caused by the 2 rotors in order to drop my bags.

In Kuwait, Navy Customs searched through every item in each of our bags, checking to see if we had any contraband.

We stopped to refuel in Shannon, Ireland and had about an hour to roam around the airport. I was surprised that they let us walk around in our uniforms among the Irish waiting around in the terminal. The people were nice to us, asked us about Iraq and wished us a good trip back home.

At Fort Dix, there was a line of about 50 people waiting next to our buses to shake our hands and welcome us home. The first 10 guys were Vietnam Vets from the local VFW; they’d been there for 8 hours already, getting there at 2AM to greet the group arriving before us. The motto on their banner said something like “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another generation of veterans”—a pretty good crack against the “Greatest Generation” of WWII vets if you ask me.

It’s so good to be back in the States. I’m also grateful that I arrived here in one piece and I’m not physically and emotionally traumatized like so many other soldiers from this war and wars past. I saw on an AFN commercial over in Iraq that 17 IRR soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the war began. One was a West Point grad, Captain Brian Freeman, who as a Civil Affairs officer was ambushed along with several other soldiers at a meeting with a tribal sheik in Karbala in 2006. I tried to get switched into one of these Civil Affairs slots when I found out that I’d been drafted out of the IRR; maybe it was better that I just served the way that I did. Getting killed over there for nothing wouldn’t have been worth it.

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