Friday, September 09, 2005

God Bless the State of Texas

Ok, this is a little difficult for me. You have to remember that I am a Colorado native, raised in the heart of the Rocky Mountains that hunters from Texas invaded like clockwork every fall with bottles of Jack Daniels and high powered rifles; a place where the elementary schools used to teach "Reading, Riting, 'Rithmetic, and Texas Sucks". Now I have to retract every evil and mean-spirited thing I've said or though about the Lone Star state.

The trip home for my 2 week R&R leave started with an early morning flight out of Bagram to Kuwait. Stepping off the C-17 in Ali Al-Saleem (sp?), the sun hadn't yet risen and it was a comfortable 75 or 80 degrees. I should have relished it while I had the chance. By the time the buses got us to the Personnel Holding Area, the sun had cleared the horizon and the temperature was rising exponentially. We were herded from building to building where the customs and safety briefers strained to make themselves heard over the air conditioners which were fighting an increasingly futile battle to keep the indoor environments habitable. By 2 P.M., I fully expected to see signs above the doors leading outside saying "Abandon hope all Ye who enter here...". The temperature was pushing 125 and if there was a breeze, it only served to make things hotter, like putting a fan in front of an open oven.

By 5:30 P.M., the 265 troops from Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan who would be making their homeward bound connections through Dallas had finished the briefings, cleared customs, and were in the "Sterile Area" waiting for the buses to Kuwait City. By 10:00 P.M., the temperature had finally started to drop, but it didn't matter as we were herded aboard a fleet of air conditioned buses and whisked across the Kuwaiti desert behind our MP escorts. A little after 1:00 A.M., the DC-10's landing gears tucked up into the belly and we rolled onto a heading which would take us to Ireland.

I drifted off for a couple of hours, and when I opened my eyes and looked out the window to the east, a pale band of white light stretched from north to south across the horizonand perfect spectrums of color rose above it into the black sky where stars still shone above us. As if on cue, the plane rolled further to the west and while not quite fast enough to outrace the light, we held the cusp of the new day on the horizon. Only when the engines slowed, and we began to descend, did the sun finally begin its ascent, illuminating the lush green fields of Ireland.

As we stretched our legs and prepared to disembark for an hour layover, I felt genuine pity for the Captain who had been given the assignment of troop commander who had to announce over the intercom that there would be no consumption of alcohol. What kind of twisted mindset takes 265 troops out of the desert where they have been sober for 6-8 months, drops them into the land of whiskey and Guiness and tells them not to drink?

6 hours later, after the third in-flight movie, I opened my window shade and saw fields of crops stretched across the American Heartland, crossed with the perpendicular farm raods and dotted with small towns. Wispy white clouds stretched across the horizon and my eyes moistened as I felt like I was 8 years old on Christmas morning.

After a descent and approach into Dallas that seemed to last for hours, the plane thumped onto American soil, and as we turned onto the taxi way, the captain came over the intercom telling us that if we looked out our windows we would see that we were being welcomed by the city of Dallas. The airport firetrucks had positioned themselves on both sides of the taxiway and streams of water arced over our plane as we passed between them.

Finally the doors opened, and we collected our belongings and made our way thourough customs. Aiport attendants asked each of us our final destinations and directed us towards our respective terminals and as I rounded the corner, to leave the terminal, I was greeted by a throng of cheering supporters. There was easily more than 100 people cheering and waving flags, reaching out to shake our hands and welcome us home. By the time I reached the terminal doors, I had bags of brownies, posters from the Dallas Mavericks Cheerleaders, bottles of cold water, and tears in my eyes.

American Airlines opened their Ambassador Lounge to us as we waited for connecting flights, allowing us to take showers, sit in the lounge, and feel like normal people again. I will neither confirm or deny that I imbibed in alcohol before I reached my final destination, but I will say that for all the well-wishers in that lounge I couldn't have bought a drink if I wanted to.

I was graciously upgraded to first-class for the short flight to Colorado Springs and the next thing I truly remember is sitting on the floor in the middle of the Colorado Springs airport holding my wife for the first time in 8 months with tears rolling down both of our faces.

Now there have been days of roller hockey with Max, celebrating his 6th birthday with a new bicycle, Brats on the backyard grill, a Sunday afternoon Rockies game at Coors field followed with a night at the Brown Palace in downtown Denver. And now, we are sitting at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park waiting for the opening of the 29th annual Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival.

As good as the last week has been, as the next 3 days promise to be, or as I hope the next week will be, I will never forget the reception that 265 weary warriors received from the wonderful state of Texas.

15 comments:

CW2 Steve Frazee said...

Sir,
It's always a pleasure to hear good news about home. As a Texan, I couldn't be more proud of the people in my state. I'm happy that you are enjoying your time with your family as I will be enjoying the time with mine in less than two weeks. I don't look forward to Ali al Saleem but the discomfort is welcomed if I'm headed home.
Salerno is still here and fun as ever....

Papa Ray said...

Hey,

Well, glad you made it home. Yea, Texan's either are really great or a big pain in the ass. There is no in between.

I remember my final leg coming into Love field in 70, seeing Texas for the first time in over two years. Of course we didn't have any "welcoming crowd" then, just the opposite.

I'm so glad that our Warriors now are getting the reception and gratitude that they deserve. It is long overdue.

Enjoy your time with your family, then,

Continue the Mission.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA

Agnieszka O. said...

Welcome home!
It looks like somebody is spaming Milblogs lately...
I'm glad that you had a really nice welcome in TX.
I've been reading you for a while now. I think few weeks ago you mentioned that you grew up in Colorado.
Anyway, I live in Denver and I'm AnySoldier supporter.
Have a great time in Estes Park with your family!
Agnieszka O.
ponar@comcast.net

devildog6771 said...

You just brought tears to my eyes reading your post. This is how it should always be for all our troops. As a Vietnam Era Vet, I too remember another time.

That time made me ashamed of my country for the way it treated the troops. They risk their lives for an ungreatful nation.

Only now is that stain starting to fade. It will never go away completely which is as it should be. We must never allow that terrible time be repeated.

God Bless you and your family. Enjoy your leave. You surely deaerve it.

To the wonderful people in Dallas, THANK YOU! Semper Fi!

Stacy said...

You brought tears to my eyes also. My son was just home on R&R in August, and he said the same thing about Dallas Airport. I thought that was just wonderful. I only wish that they would have had a welcome home like that here in Mississippi.

Our soldiers were the last to even get off the plane when it arrived. I really thought that the other passengers would have had a lot more respect for our soldiers. Usually people from MS are very friendly. Not sure what happened to them on this day.

I am glad that you are enjoying you R&R. Thanks for all you are doing for our country. Stay Safe.

Teresa said...

Quote: Now I have to retract every evil and mean-spirited thing I've said or thought about the Lone Star state.

I know just how you feel! I too grew up in CO (and really miss it), however, have lived in TX, NE of Dallas, for just over a year now. And have found I like this area, the people are proud but certainly for the most part friendly - and they are darn proud of their service members! Coming from a military family (Dad and brothers), and my boyfriend being a Marine, I really appreciate that about them.

Any way, I am glad you received such a reception (even if you didn't get any 'alcohol') and Welcome Home!

Mark D. said...

You have become the kind of man any brother can be proud of.

I proudly display a service banner to let everyone know it, too.

Love

Mark

Michael said...

Hope your stay at home was great!You deserve it. Stay Safe

Pebble said...

~ Welcome Home Soldier ~

Anonymous said...

Glad you were able to pass through Texas. Like Pebble Pie says..."welcome Home Soldier".
Cheryl, from Texas

GunnNutt said...

Thank you for this wonderful post. Its great to hear about our troops being treated so well. You deserve it!

Levi Hochstetler said...

Welcome home soldier! I'm very glad you got to enjoy time with your family. You and your family deserve it. THANK YOU and YOUR FAMILY for all you ALL have and are doing. Being a 'Nam era Marine I will always support all of you and what you are doing for Freedom... Semper Fi!!!

Subsunk said...

FF,

Welcome home, son. As a serviceman and a patriot, you will always be welcome here in Texas. I am glad you received a welcome you deserved. God bless you and all of your mates for what you do. And as long as Texas breathes, she will honor your name, and welcome your service and sacrifice.

Press on, son. To Victory.

Subsunk

Kalena Willard said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rosemary said...

Hello! I cannot make it to too many places, but that is not going to stop me from saying, "WELOME HOME! Thank you for your service for our country and for me. I will always be grateful."

I hope it is as wonderful, even more so if possible, than your words can express. You write beautifully, so that will have to be a great, GREAT life! lol. Take care.