To all my friends and family – I’M BAAAAAAAAACK!
Sorry it took so long to write – I’ve been busy
I finally hit US soil on the 6th of February at 4 AM at Ft Campbell, KY for refueling and to drop off two choking chickens at their home (OK – choking chicken = screaming eagle – 101st airborne ho’ah logo – hey, they don’t complain – MY unit patch is known as the exploding a**h*** - not a new designation for it – met a Vietnam vet who recognized it and called it by its nickname….). I, of course, immediately called all my family – except Mike, who had his computer online and wasn’t taking phone calls (ed: Was not. I forgot to turn on the answering machine and at 5:15 am I don't move so fast. By the time I got to the phone you had hung up! Thanks a lot, sis!). It was fun waking everyone up. Landed at my home station at Ft Hood about 0730, and, after relinquishing our weapons, we were transported by bus and MP escort to the homecoming ceremony. For those of you not military – everyone gets a homecoming ceremony. The general meets you at the airport, you are marched into a gymnasium or hanger, and a few words are spoken by the garrison or other commanders. Your family is present and after the BRIEF (these guys know where our minds are, and they are NOT on listening to speeches!) you get dismissed – and EVERYONE runs to their families and loved ones en mass. (Even the two airborne soldiers we dropped off at ft Campbell – the rest of us lined up in formation for their ceremony.) I immediately saw Patty, but couldn't find Dad during the homecoming – he was hidden behind one of the flags. They told me later they couldn’t find me either – something about 100 people all dressed in camouflage…. They had balloons and flowers for me (real flowers!), and, as we hugged, I noticed a cameraman crouching on the floor to get the best angle to film our homecoming. Turns out they had interviewed Dad and Patty as they were waiting for us and we were going to be on the 6 o’clock news. Yes, we taped it. We were now free to leave with our families for the day. Tomorrow, I would resume my journey to Ft Bliss (a misnomer if ever there was one) to face the scariest thing I’ve had to face so far – the redeployment process, including that mother of all terrors – CIF, Central Issue Facility (insert ominous back ground music here). The next day, – after a long soak in my bath tub – with a case of beer in a cooler at my side, and a Fudruckers hamburger safely ingested, – I was shipped out to Ft Bliss (what a misnomer) to face the dreaded CIF.
For those of you who have never had to face this incomprehensible monument to civilian inefficiency and petty tyranny, it’s basically the place we return our issued army equipment. Little things like – oh, the duffle bag. The web gear. The Alice pack. Even our uniforms.
So, back to CIF in a minute. Let me tell you about the army’s general concept of redeploying their soldiers. First of all I was allowed to come over to Iraq with 3 duffle bags, a footlocker and a carry-on (my ruck sack). Of course the powers that be decided that coming back I could only take two duffels, a ruck and a carry-on. In spite of the fact that I came with more. Suddenly I was faced with the task of trying to decide what will come home, what will get mailed, and what will get abandoned. Granted a lot of what I took over was perishable or consumable items (toilet paper, gator-aid, wet-wipes) I still had a lot – things I ordered on-line to make my life a bit easier – the mink blanket I bought from the PX to sleep in – (ever try to sleep in a nylon mummy bag? Can’t roll over, skin becomes sticky with contact, and the laundry won’t wash it – ever – because the temperature in the dryers are too high and the bag will melt - so you end up living in your own sweaty bag for a year – ewwwwwww). Most of us solved this problem by buying these soft fuzzy blankets from the PX – cuddly. Of, course, no chocking chicken or smashed shamrock will ever ADMIT that.
Anyway, multiply this process of elimination by 400 soldiers. The Iraqis who remove our trash (and go through it for usable items) must have thought it was Christmas (OK, OK, I know, NOT a good, politically correct, culturally sensitive simile, but, hey, it fits – kinda.) So I had to compress.
After the majority of compression was done, it was announced that we COULD send one foot locker back on a milvan. Turns out instead of leaving ALL the milvans here “they” wanted some back in the US – ‘cause they are expensive and scarce. So, as you NEVER ship an EMPTY milvan, we found ways of filling the extra ones up with our footlockers. Which should arrive in the US in, ohhhh, say, about 3 months or so. Don’t put anything you NEED in there. OR any of your CIF issue stuff – but back to CIF later.
So I put the opportunity to good use. Hey, I had to BUY the footlocker in the first place – I didn’t want to abandon it. Though I DID abandon my wardrobe and my chest of drawers (not the MRE box drawers – those went to the big trash pile in the sky – if someone wanted a set, well, MRE boxes are pretty ubiquitous…)
ANYWAY. We turned the hospital over to the new CSH – 31st out of, get this, Ft Bliss (where I had to go, even though I’m from Ft Hood). And we had to turn over our sleep tents and move to the transient area of tent city.
Where I decided to get sick – just a cold – however it became accompanied by bronchispasms, which, basically caused me to have problems with the little things in life – like breathing. I finally had someone haul me back to the hospital I had just abandoned for treatment - On the day we were supposed to fly. They quickly took me off the manifest as they weren’t sure if I had “the pneumonia” that’s been going around. Nasty thing – can be fine in the morning and on a ventilator by evening. So they didn’t want me to be on a 17-hour flight getting worse. They went ahead and signed over my weapon to someone else, in case I was medevac’ed; which ended up causing problem when I finally returned to Ft Bliss (what a misnomer) and CIF - but more about CIF later.
Anyway I got cleared – still having problems breathing and bronchiospasms – asthma like attacks, but slightly more controlled. Picture this living in tent city. Iffy heat (heaters that got installed kinda worked – at times) Rainy. Damp. Dinning facility 1.5 miles away. Me, sick as a dog. Walking to dinner. Or lunch or breakfast – well, in reality, I managed one meal a day and took stuff to nibble on during the rest of the time. Fun.
Decided to send me to the other half of the 21st CSH located in Mosul, to fly out with that contingent – which was flying in three days. Not a lot of air traffic normally goes from Balad to Mosul, so when a flight came up I and one of our docs grabbed it. The doc was also flying to hook up with the Mosul contingent. This poor guy ended up watching over me for the few days it took till we got home. I am really grateful.
Anyway, a C130 was going to Mosul – we had to show up at the airfield at 0530 – ON SUPERBOWL SUNDAY!! I missed the superbowl! (Airtime: pre-game 0200, game 0300 to about 0800 – I also missed Janet Jackson – golly gee - another incredible example of human foresight and intelligence – imagine a very sarcastic note in my voice here….)
Turns out we were the only two passengers on the flight – a whole C130 and us and our little pile of baggage – normally C130s will not fly generally empty like that. Turns out it was meeting the Undersecretary of Defense, and his entourage, in Mosul.
This C130 did a combat takeoff – basically, get in position, rev up the engines as far as they can go, pop the clutch, and slingshot into the air. As soon as the wings clear the ground, put the plane on it’s side and start spiraling up for altitude over the airfield. Guaranteed to make you revisit every meal you ate in the last 48 hours. It had to be the MOST miserable 45 minutes in my life.
We did finally land and unload – then watched the Undersecretary of Defense load HIS baggage onto the plane. No baggage restrictions for him. THREE pallets of luggage! None of which was DOD green, or even dusty. Sigh
While waiting to leave Mosul, they had a formal award ceremony for the Mosul contingent of the 21st CSH. In the middle of the ceremony, sure enough, BOOM – a mortar attack!
“BUNKERS, BUNKERS, BUNKERS!”
Amazing how quickly a group of people can go from attention to crouching inside concrete bunkers. After the all clear, we all lined up again – in the same order I might add - and the commander formally and nonchalantly (OK a bit of an oxymoron), picked up where he left off. One last salute from our Iraqi opponents prior to leaving. Didn’t hit anything. As ever.
Customs come out to inspect our baggage – a painful process – and, unfortunately that "gift from my friend" didn’t make it though. Turns out it was considered pornographic. I went around telling people I missed it. The reply was usually – “TMI!” Hey, it got a laugh.
We then moved into the customs sterile area to await our flight. We and ALL our baggage were flying out on a C17. At about 2030 on 5 Feb we loaded the combat ready, dark C17, lifted off from Mosul (again a combat takeoff – no lights on the outside of the plane, red battle lights on the inside, pop the clutch and do a quick climb to altitude). About 20 minuets later an announcement came over the intercom from the pilot –
“We are leaving Iraqi airspace!”
General cheers broke out on the plane.
The plane resumed its peacetime configuration - turned on its outside navigation lights and turned off the red combat lighting on the inside. We were out of the war zone.
This was a significant moment.
I didn’t expect to feel as emotionally stirred as I was. Finally, I could relax the muscles I didn’t even realize I was holding tense. Just the knowledge of no more mortars coming in. No more worry about IEDs or wounded soldiers or anything.
More in a bit – I’ll finish my journey home – including the dreaded CIF (but more on that later…)
to be continued......
(Editors note: The Major's only complaint about returning home is that "it's just too quiet".)