Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Notes on the Ride Back to the Sandbox

Sometimes I think half of my time on this earth has been spent pondering life while staring out an airplane window.  My two weeks of R&R leave have evaporated and I'm now on the first leg of the long journey back to Bagram.  The sun is setting out the opposite windows and I feel the tinge of the presence of an old companion. The shadowy figures of homesickness and depression, demons from my past who I thought I had long since banished are wafting up and down the aisle, slipping between the seats amongst the hundreds of soldiers on board, now and then finding time to touch me briefly with a heaviness of heart.


Like a certain smell that evokes memories of childhood, the touches of sadness bring to mind with crystalline clarity the waves of depression and homesickness that used to sweep over me like clockwork in the late afternoons twenty years ago as I struggled through the catharsis that is Basic Training.


I know that the sadness will not overwhelm me tonight as those onslaughts did years ago, leaving me to repress sobs while a shower before bed hid my tears; today I gratefully fear that I am much too callous for such emotions.  It serves to remind me though of the youth that surrounds me, and the obligations that I hold.  It reminds me of the pain that Pam must feel without benefit of the years of emotional conditioning.  I know it is incumbent of me to ease the suffering around me and push forward to those better days that are now just around the corner.


Just as clearly as I remember those cruel afternoons of depression, I recall the giddiness of impending success and freedom that followed as I approached graduation from Basic Training, and I know that this happiness will follow just as surely as the sand continues to fall through the hourglass.


A beautifully clear full moon has now appeared through the pink stratus clouds out my window and as I look at it, I can hear the amazement in Max's voice as we peered at it 2 nights ago through the telescope in the back yard.  Scientists have been wrong all this time.  There is a man in the moon after all.  Well, at least a boy.


It's 0430Z and we are continuing our trek across the Atlantic after a refueling stop in Gander, Newfoundland.  As I gaze at the fluffy white carpet of clouds spread out thousands of feet beneath us, I realize it is 9 A.M. on Sunday the 18th of September in Afghanistan.  I know that beneath those clouds, the ocean, as Melville closed Moby Dick, rolls on as it did 10,000 years before, but the polls are open in Kabul and today the world beneath me is changing.


After a 3 hour layover in Shannon, Ireland, we are called to board.  200 soldiers begin making their way out of the small terminal towards the gate.  Several of the American tourists in the terminal position themselves near the door and shake hands with soldiers or clap them on the back wishing them good luck as the exit.  I remember visiting Dublin last year and having our host go out of her way to show me some anti-Bush posters on lamp posts and billing them as a general indictment by Ireland against the war.  Today though, as I near the terminal exit, I hear the clapping start sporadically then rapidly spread throughout the terminal.  Looking over my shoulder I saw every person in the terminal on their feet applauding.  My eyes misted over as our contingent made our way out of the terminal and back towards harms way, thankful for the hospitality of the Emerald Isle.


An hour layover in Budapest followed by another 4 hour flight brings us to Kuwait City.  The plane hits the runway at midnight local time, 27 hours after I left Pam at the gate in Colorado Springs.  Another hour bus ride to Ali Al Saleem, another briefing and billeting assignments.  I get to a tent at 4:00 A.M.  Not much sense in sleep now.  Roll call at 9:00 A.M. and we are told to be prepared to leave at 1330.  Another roll call followed by another manifest and another bus ride back to Kuwait City.  Flight canceled tonight, get something to eat and get back on the bus.  Another hour back to Saleem with the air conditioner set somewhere between “Meat Locker” and “Cryogenic”.  Another billeting assignment, another 9:00 A.M. roll call. 1230 departure time and we’re back on the bus to KCIA.  This time, the air conditioner is pitifully low on Freon and struggles in vain to counteract the 120 degree outside temperature.  We are all bathed in sweat as we reach the airport.


At 6:00 P.M. we leave the terminal and the dust in the air obscures the setting sun, serving instead to cause the entire western sky to blaze a deep orange as though by some distant inferno as we walk across the ramp to the C-17.  3 ½ hours later as the engines slow, we are directed by the load master to secure our seatbelts.  The cabin is illuminated only by pale green lights.  The plane takes a decidedly nose down attitude, then banks sharply to the left, straightens, banks sharply to the right and straightens again.  Air brakes are applied and we are pulled sideways in our seats towards the front to the cabin.  I hear the hydraulics whine as flaps extend fully then the nose levels.  Only now do landing lights appear through the cabin window and we bang heavily onto the runway.  The engines reverse, we are pulled sideways in our seats again and the two 5-ton trucks in the center of the cabin strain at their tie-down chains as this mammoth airplane tries desperately to rid itself of the momentum it carried onto the ground.


R&R is over.



Anonymous said...

I am just another person that wants to say thank-you for all you do. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone over there and not a day goes by that we don't remember how bleesed we are to have freedom, because of people like you.

Anonymous said...

Yes, thank you. I wish I was at the Shanon airport to stand up and cheer.

Mr Bob said...

Thank you doesn't seem to be enough, this is why you guys get medals.
I pray for your safety and peace for your soul, and peace for your family.

Anonymous said...

Reading your account reminds me once again how blessed I am to be an AMERICAN with men and women such as you to protect us. Know that even with the those that don't approve or accept that your presence is a must, that I - along with most others applaude each of you and pray for your safety and swift return.... THANK YOU will never be enough.

Candice, NC USA

CWO Frazee said...

I have to say that you were right on the money in your description of this place. I'm sure I am walking the same paths in the sand that you traveled not too long ago. And sitting through the same briefings. I hope to continue my trek back to Texas within the next day or so. Have fun in BAF.

devildog6771 said...

As I read your blog and those of other troops I am often reminded of another time and another war. There is such a stark difference between soldiers now and soldiers during Vietnam. There was so much animosity shown the troops, then. They rarely discussed their true feelings about what they did and why.

There were plenty of jokes about killing "gooks" and the "Mama sans," the drunken antics, the drug abuse. It was almost like many of them felt this was expected of them; and, for many, it was their only release.

The haunted look in many of their young eyes when they returned after their 14 month tours was what struck me most. Then there were the ones that couldn't be startled from sleep because they came up fighting, ready to kill. There were the one's who never talked. They just kept it all inside. So much could have been so different for them all had someone occasionally shook their hands, stood up and applauded them as they came and went at the airport terminals.

Even I hated to wear anything military off base or discuss the military.
I hated to see the draft cards and flag burned. I hated the names they called the guys.

But that was another time and another war. We didn't know then that we were in the middle of a "civil war." That knowledge came later. We weren't attacked here at home, or repeatedy attacked elsewhere in the world. And, though many European countries had much to say about us being there, they all seemed to forget that many of them caused what happened there with their imperialism and failure to let go of old colonial empires though the people wanted to be free.

As I read about us being an occupier and imperialists and our readyness to jump into any war I am often angered. Some of these countries, France in particular, still hold the reins in many nations. But they wear UN symbols on their uniforms, yet are they most out spoken about our efforts.

But we don't occupy, at least not in an imperialistic manner. At least not in the true sense of the word. We do have some territories from WW II for strategic purposes, islands. But once we got Japan on its feet again with a new government that was representative of all Japanese, we left their country. We are now allies and friends. I don't doubt that on both sides there aren't some bad memories. But, we have gotten past that.

We helped rebuild the European nations and their economy under the Marshall plan. Though it benefits us too, we have bases all over Europe. But, if asked to leave, we would do just that!

None of the European Nations was left in any shape to handle the Communist threat when Russia, under Stalin, made its aggressive moves. Russia could have been stopped then, but I think the fear and shock of the two bombs we dropped on Japan to end the war, shocked us and Europe. I don't think anyone really realized what we were unleashing.

We have embarassed ourselves with our inteference in the South American and Central American countries. Likewise in the Middle East we have done the same thing. But, we learn from our mistakes.

We honestly don't want to occupy any other country. And, finally, this time, we are doing it all right.

We are giving our troops the respect they deserve. We are fighting back before we are attacked again. Unlike so many European countries that still think appeasement and negotiation will always work, we have learned it won't, much as we might wish it so.

You cannot negotiate with terrorists and fanatics. But as we take the fight to the enemy, we are also helping the countries so long subjagated by evil people become free, self governing nations. No other country has ever done this before that I am aware of, not even us.

And who is doing all the hard work, the fighting and rebuilding as we go.? Our troopos. The best damn army of men and women in the world,. Possibably the best ever of any country. I say this because you troops have fought the war, but you have held on to your humanuty. You have remembered to be watchful and compassionate of the every day people in Iraq and Afghanistan. You have given them back their dignity, one step at a time.

Maybe in that other time we might have done the same thing had the support from home been there. But, I don't think so! I think much has to do with having an all volunteer military. Much has to do with the marked increase in the average educational level of our military both in the non-comm ranks and the officer ranks.

There is much that the rest of us can learn from our troops about honesty, integrity, duty, and honor. There is also much we can learn about sacrifice by you troops and your families.

God Bless you all Thank you for your sacrifices and those of your families.
Lke the song says, " You gotta believe in something1" I believe in you all.

yankeemom said...

My daughter is at Basic now, going through all the emotions you remember. And I just want to tell you how I appreciate that there are men and women such as yourself that will be watching her back! God Bless! Just can't say Thank You enough~