Saturday, September 09, 2006

6:09: Wheels Down For One Last Tour

For most of you Iraq is far away and seen through the lens of modern media. It can be distant, abstract and hard to understand. War is a reality that those not in it cannot understand; war is a sensory experience.

For me it has been a struggle since I returned from Iraq in 2003. I left thinking the war was over, having experienced all there was going to be to experience. Of course that wasn't the case. Having been there early I wanted to understand what was going on but things were changing so rapidly I found myself quickly out of touch and wanting to be where the action is. But, no matter how hard I tried it was no longer my experience and I felt a sense of loss.

Six weeks ago, with great anticipation I began my egress from civilian to Marine at war; a transformation that meant leaving everything I know and love and entering another reality; one that I love too. First, I left my family and went to Gulfport to train. The uniform I wore, the language I spoke, the things we spoke of all changed. The thoughts of home were moved to a different part of my consciousness. The phone quit ringing and emails were checked less often. I was beginning to very deliberately detach myself from those things whose absence bring pain.

The move to Kuwait was nothing short of painful, boring, unproductive and quintessentially military. One blast of hot air and the scent of water from the ocean took me back to 2002 and the excitement that had been the preparation for the invasion of Iraq. Now it is different. Gone is the sense of adventure, replaced by a sense of hard work and need to finish what we started.

Then finally the day came to move to Iraq. We left for a late night C-130 flight. I walked up the ramp and sat down with a plane full of Marines in their late teens and early twenties; humbled to be among such Americans. I buttoned up my chin strap as the engines came to life. Off we went...well almost. One engine had developed a rather nasty leak and we taxied back where we unceremoniously lay in the dirt for four hours until a new plane could be prepped and loaded.

The flight itself was rather uneventful; not filled with anticipation nor anxiety, but filled with a sense of satisfaction that I was getting a chance to do this one more time.

6:09 wheels touch down in a decidedly normal descent into al Taqqadum, west of Baghdad. at 6:21 I put my foot on the deck in Iraq. One last time to smell the dust in the nose, the deafening noise of generators and equipment; the bustle of people and the noise of war. One last time to be among people so great I consider myself blessed to be among them. One last time into the breach. One last time so I can write the end to this book. One last tour.

Stupid Is As Military Does

Absurdities abound in the military and they never cease to entertain and annoy me. As a military unit heading into Iraq my unit was typically armed with personal weapons including M16 rifles and M9 pistols. We were to carry these with us on our charter flight. Additionally, virtually everyone brought large and deadly survival knives. So, it was with great amusement that I watched the Seabees searching my bags take my nail clipper and break off the nail file because as they told me "it's against FAA regulations". 250 guys on an airplane with rifles and pistols but thank goodness, the crew is safe from those deadly nail files.