Homecoming

I wrote most of this a couple of weeks ago but didn’t get a chance to review it before posting; hence, the delay. Now back to my leave.

2009.08.24

Getting out of the Middle East went faster than expected. My unit was scheduled to sit in Kuwait for about four to five days killing time until we could catch a flight to Fort Bliss. The gods were on our side that day as we were directed to a customs briefing when we arrived at Camp Arifjan, which indicated we were out of there that night.

This was a morale builder that our unit needed. Toward the end of our time in Iraq, the littlest things would cause friction between the soldiers: a funny look, a faulty assumption or the wrong odor. Anything was a potential instigator, especially if it involved the commander. He earned the nickname “The Common Denominator” during our deployment because of his connection to every problem in the unit whether it was spreading rumors of sexual impropriety or the creation of hypocritical policies about religious expression like “no discussing religion in the building” after he finishes read scripture to us in formation.

Regardless, we were on our way out of Kuwait and things were looking up. Since we are a small 20-man unit, we were slipped onto an aircraft with a unit from the Texas Guard.

This was a long torturous journey, but well worth it. Our first leg stopped in Germany. I’d been to this airport a few times before. It is a regular stop when returning home on leave and heading into theater. Stepping off that plane there was the the first time going home felt real. I shuttered from the change in temperature. It was less than a day prior that my skin was stinging from the heat in Iraq. Now, the chill of Northern Europe was soothing and came with a sense of peace.

The only downside to stopping there is the torment that comes from shopping in the two stores there. They sell sell two basic products: candy and beer. Boy did that beer look good, but we were still under General Order No. 1, which meant we weren’t allowed to drink. “No beer” is one of Joes’ favorite things to bitch about and, after serving with the Brits who stop off in Cyprus to get loaded and beat the crap out of each other before they get home, I was a little disapointed myself.

Back on the plane, we stopped in Bangore, Maine, to refuel before landing at Fort Bliss in the middle of the night.

Bliss lived up to its name. It must have been 20 to 30 degrees cooler than Iraq and yet it is still a desert. It must have rained prior to our arrival because the smell of freshly moistened desert floor permeated the area. That’s got to be my favorite smells, which stirred nostalgia for me that day. Bliss was my first duty station on active duty in 2000 and that’s where I learned the majority of what I know about newspapers, public affairs and the Army.  It’s still a great post and my former boss Jean Offutt is still there telling the Army story.

As we entered the reception building, we were greeted with a shot in the arm and a paper thermometer under the tongue. The shot was for Tuberculosis – or some traditional ailment – and the temperature read was tied to the hippest new fad in medicine: Swine Flu. I didn’t have a curly tail, or a temperature, so I was a “go.”

It was about three days later that we finally got to go home, minus four medical holds. When a soldier checks the box that says “I want a doctors apointment” when filling out their exit interview, they get to stay at the de-mob station for a couple of days. Most of us wanted to see our families more than we wanted to get fixed.

Arriving in Phoenix was interesting. There was a dog and pony show waiting for us outside as we carried our gear to the bus. Those who greeted us then got onto their motorbikes and escorted us to the armory where we would receive a homecoming from the Guard, media and, more importantly, our families. Normally I would discount this hoopla treatment as mindless jingoism, but a couple of years ago I joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars. My deployment was a big deal to a lot of those guys. They threw a big party for me before I left and many tears were shed. I’m not sure if it was because they were having memories of Vietnam, or if they were drunk. Regardless, they were concerned for my welfare and they considered me a brother in arms. Their feelings were not just romantic notions of war. They were genuine sentiments from people who cared. It was very touching to me and made me appreciate their heartfelt support.

I feel that it is important for me to clarify one point about patriotism these days. I get it when Vets want to shake our hands. They can relate to our experiences. What I don’t respect are the patriotic gestures of non-military people, or people who feel like they “know what we’ve been through.” All of our experiences are different, some of which are uneventful. It hits us all in different ways. I’ve interviewed and chatted with hundreds of Iraq War vets and they all have unique stories. I just don’t appreciate the fake attitude that comes off as “See, I’m a patriot. I kissed a soldier’s ass today and said ‘thank you’. Can I get a latte with that?” It just doesn’t work for me. It’s hard to be fake back to that person and make them believe, “Yeah, I give a shit about what you think.” I’m not talking about people who are friendly and smile at us, those who are curious about us or those who understand the role of the military. They usually say, “It’s good to have you back,” and leave it at that. I’m talking about the civilians who say “thank you for protecting my family over there.” This is a slap in the face, in my opinion. People who say that are so far removed from reality, or so brainwashed by today’s political ideologies, that they have no idea what they are talking about. Iraq didn’t attack us, they didn’t have weapons capable of attacking us and the only thing we managed to do was destroy what civility they had and anger many of them to the point of responding to us with violence any way they could. We might have something to fear from them now, but we didn’t in the beginnging. Containment worked. Arrogance failed.

Now that we are home it will be weird to go back to our regular drilling routine. The last time this unit “deployed” it went to Tampa, Fla., for a year and to the Olympics in Utah prior to that. This was the first time it went to war that I am aware of, and yet it seems like there was more of an internal threat to our soldiers than from the opposition forces in Iraq. We will see if any damage was done next time we get together. In the mean time, we will enjoy our families again and, for me, that means my wife and new son.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Homecoming

  1. Enjoy your son. And although you chastised me last time for alluding to my age, I do date back to the Viet Nam days, and regardless of my feelings toward the reasons people serve, or the jobs they do, I admire anyone who chooses a career that puts them serving their country. So, if I say, ‘thanks’, it’s not because I want to feel good, it’s because I respect your choice, and that you might be going places and doing things you really don’t want to be doing.

    (My son-in-law is one of those British soldiers, btw, and yeah, they do imbibe a bit.)

    • fuzzyknob

      Hey Terry. The whole ‘thanks’ thing to me is about sincerity. It’s hard to accept the same old line as sincere when that same line was a marketing strategy for a beer company. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but Bud did that commercial a few years ago about clapping for soldiers in the airport. Guess what started happening to soldiers at the airport after that commercial came out. Yeah.

      Anyway, you’ve been checking in with me on this blog for long enough that I don’t consider you one of “them.” Part of why I went on that rant is because I had a guy come up to me at a party about a week ago and say, “Thanks for what you do,” then followed it up with “we should turn that place into a glass factory.” My gut reaction was to smack him, but reason set in first. That’s the attitude that makes people around the world hate us and want to fly aircraft into our buildings. I don’t have time, interest or patience for people like that. It’s obvious they don’t put any real effort into knowing what is going on over there. They don’t know or, apparently, care about the good people who are struggling to do what they can to survive. Part of that struggle is risking their lives to help us win the war. However, these same fair-weather patriots will quickly form a thoughtless opinion about a nation of people they don’t know and wish them all dead. I see this attitude too often and it frustrates me. It is arrogant, inconsiderate and it makes those of us Americans who want to be good global citizens look like assholes because we are guilty by association. It is a lot easier to beat someone down than it is to communicate with them and foster relationships. As long as arrogance remains a virtue in our culture, we will always have people trying to hurt us.

      I guess the reason it bugs me when certain types of people say “thanks” is because I feel the reason I had to go to Iraq was because a lot of “thankful” people didn’t do enough, if anything, to keep all of those dead and wounded soldiers from having to go there. Thanks would have been more civic debate on why we went there in the first place. It would have been a call to action when the American population found out we were duped (no WMD). It has been almost seven years, and Iraq is still a mess. Like Powell said to Bush: “you break it, you buy it.” The only difference is that “you” is us the citizens, not Bush. We own it now and there is no warranty. I guess I’ll end this rant here by saying that your sentiments are appreciated. Just, please, encourage people to think about what they are really saying. Like my first sergeant who never worked in Public Affairs before this deployment liked to say: “I guess words mean something to you.”

  2. Well, since I’m a writer, words mean something to me, too.

    I think where I’m coming from is more, “Thanks for being willing to do a job I could never see myself doing.” I see the military as a whole, not broken down into individual tasks, so my thanks are for serving, and have little to do with where the individual is sent, or what they do when they get there.

  3. William

    There is no E in Bangor.
    It is written on my record of birth.

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