David's Last Day in Iraq
6:30 a.m.: The alarms start going off. They’re the same annoying alarms that I have heard over the last 15 months. At this point, I think when I get home I will be hearing these alarms in my sleep — especially Staff Sgt. Pearson’s cow alarm. I roll over in my bed and look over at Staff Sgt. Reeves’ bed, and surprisingly, he isn’t there. I start to wonder if I am late for something. I roll out of bed and then look at my watch — 6:30 a.m. A minute later, I hear flip-flops of someone coming down the hall, and in walks Staff Sgt. Reeves. “Man, all those alarm clocks going off; I didn’t know which one was right, so I just got up,” he says with an irritated huff while he stands in his blue towel by his bed. I gather the energy to get up and start my morning hygiene.
7 a.m.: Today there isn’t much that could upset me, having me flare up like some distraught politician on the House floor (watch C-span enough and you will see some serious professional meltdowns). Today would be our exodus from this war torn country, but before that there is a little work to do. The whole company congregates outside of the mausoleum. I notice that a lot of guys have the look of a child at Christmas — very happy, to say the least, that this is the last day. We are so close to going home you can taste it. Some men are sitting down at the smoke point and talking of good times while on the deployment while others are joking about what their plans are for when they get home. “Oh, man, when I get home I am going to get hammered.” Another soilder sitting nearby smiles and responds, “Yes, that’s on my list as well, but I think my lady is going to need some attention first.” The other soldier replies, “Do you mean you’re going to need some attention?” Everyone around listening laughs.
After some time, 1st Sgt. Ward came out and gave the word to start the moving process. Everyone jumped up like drones walking to the sound of a voice calling in the wilderness. Everyone lined up at the supply room and started the process. The greatest thing about having a company detail is that what could take four hours takes only an hour or less — productivity and efficiency in numbers.
We knocked that detail out, and then the first sergeant gave us the word to head down to the mil van in the Cav motor pool. We all showed up, but when we got there, the guy who was supposed to unlock it wasn’t present, so the first sergeant gave us the word to grab some breakfast. I hadn’t had breakfast since maybe the first few weeks of being in Iraq if I recall right. After getting a good full stomach, I headed back to the site.
Just like our customs layout before, we laid out everything, and the inspectors would show up to look at our stuff and then we would pack up everything. So everyone got in a line, and the process started. We finished rather quickly — before it started getting too hot. After the inspectors went through everything, we got the word to pack up. But before that there was a practical joke played on one of the customs guys. One of the guys was hiding in a tough box for a while, and when the inspector came and opened it, he scared the crap out of the inspector. He jumped back like 5 feet; it was so funny.
The first phase of the day was complete. Now we would go back and do our platoon’s layout, which took only a little time. After we packed our things up, next on the list was the company picture. Everyone met outside. Before we took the picture, the company commander gave us his speech about what we had accomplished and how he was proud of the company for keeping focus and resolve and also helping the new guys get on their feet. After he concluded, we made our way down to the picture place and gave our best smiles.
The only things left on the list were to clean our room and then wait for our time to depart and make our journey home. Staff Sgt. Reeves and I had cleaned the room the day before, so there wasn’t that much to do, so we just chilled and relaxed. As I awaited the word to go, I messed around online, and while doing that my lady friend I have been talking to for some time came online. I hadn’t heard from her in two days, so she didn’t know we were leaving. For the last month or so, she has been my only link to the outside world. She has been such a wonderful woman to talk to and a big help during the rough parts of the last part of the deployment. I had talked to her a few days before on the phone, and I guess my neighbors were looking forward to my coming home, so that was refreshing to know.
So I said my good-byes, closed my computer, grabbed my assault pack, and then made my way out the door. But before I did, I looked back at the room and took a visual picture of the life I had lived there, because when I get home and things get rough, all I will have to do is close my eyes and remember that room, and I am sure I will snap out if it. I made my way up the stairs where everyone else was getting their stuff. We grabbed our bags and went to load them on the truck and then marched down to where we would sign out. And just like we left in the middle of night to come to Iraq, we would start our journey back through the thickness of darkness.
We all lined up and waited to hear what was going on from the first sergeant. After some time, 1st Sgt. Ward started yelling out what chalk we would be on and where to get in line and to start the sensitive items check. This sensitive items check would be something that we would do every time we made a big move. After we got all that done, we had some time to get something to drink, so we all did. After about 20 minutes, the buses would pick us up and take us to the location where our next transportation would be.
We got on the buses according to the chalk, and we left the FOB. Everyone was rather quiet. We made our way to our linkup spot and unloaded. We got into our chalk formation, and then we had our sensitive items check. Then everyone sat down on their bags and awaited the choppers. After one hour, the birds came in. We loaded and made our way across the darkness of Iraq. The trip was awesome — and nice and short. We landed, got off and made our way to a staging place where we again got into our chalk formation and did the whole sensitive items check. After one hour the truck came, and we loaded our bags. Shortly after that, the buses came, and we got on and made our way to the tents and settled in. Four of us made our way to breakfast and then came back and racked out.
From the start I knew this was going to be a long trip home, but I can hang. Until we get to Kuwait I will sleep, read, write, and eat. I really need to be running, but there’s a good chance that we could get called to leave, so it’s not a good idea. Folks, the steps are being taken. We will be home soon.
Buses and more buses
So there we were awaiting the word to get our stuff together and make our way to the bird and make the trip to Kuwait. The first day everyone just rested and relaxed. There wasn’t a lot of moving around. The night went by, and there was still no word. The sun came up, and everyone in the tent quickly realized that it might be some time before we would leave, so the men started making themselves at home. Men started arranging things and getting comfortable for the long haul. During the day, I made my way to the PX and then to the phones to call my lady friend to see what was going on. After an hour or so, I made my way back to the tent where the word was that we weren’t leaving. As the hours and days started to mount, men started to get frustrated with the waiting. At night you would hear random guys talking across the tent. “Hey, Bobby, guess what? We are still here.” Bobby answered back: “Yep, don’t seem like we are going home.” As I lay in bed, I shouted out to Corey on the other side of the room, “Hey, one more day and we qualify as permanent party.” He responded, “That’s what it’s looking like.”
Frustration levels rose. Everyone just wanted to get the hell out of there and at least get to Kuwait. As the night fell, everyone started to listen to their music and watch movies. It was really the only thing anyone could do — just wait.
Finally, on Sept. 13 at 1:30 p.m. Staff, Sgt. Fleming from 1st platoon came in and gave us the word. “We have a flight time; have your bags out 1630.” Everyone in the tent was relieved that the next part of the journey home would soon start.
I didn’t know when I would get to take a shower again, so I scurried to the showers and got all that done. I made my way back to the tent and started to break down camp. Everyone in the tent seemed relieved that our days at this FOB camp would be over. After an hour we got our bags and made our way outside and awaited the buses to take us to the airport where we would fly to Kuwait and start the next part of the journey. The buses came, and we jumped on them like we had so many other times. Most people could not deal with how tight and uncomfortable things get when you’re traveling with all the gear that you have. It’s something you just get used to. Body parts can even go numb — especially in the lower body.
When I got on the bus, I thought the ride was going to be short, but for some odd reason, it seemed like it took forever. After some time, we arrived and unloaded and went to the holding stages. Again we conducted our sensitive items check, and then we got the word from the first sergeant that we could get something to eat and then come back and wait for our trip plan. While I was at chow, I ran into some familiar faces from FOB Falcon. While I was in line I noticed a young lady I used to talk to when I worked out on the treadmill. I wasn’t sure it was her, so I found myself staring like an idiot. I went to my seat, and sure enough she came and sat right next to me. As I was eating she started talking to one of the girls at the table. I looked over at her and said nervously, “This is so not a come on line, but do I know you from somewhere?” She smiled at me and turned red. “I don’t know do I?”
“I think I remember running and talking with you somewhere. What FOB were you at?” I asked.
She answered, “FOB Falcon.”
Sure enough it was her. We started talking, and she said that when we left things got really bad and that things had changed a lot. I wished her luck on her last months of tour and made my way back to the journey.
The time came to get on the bird. Everyone lined up outside and waited for their name to be called and then made their way in line. I was last. It sort of reminded me of elementary school — being picked last on the basketball team. Funny thing is those kids who picked me last, well, let’s just say I was leading them in high school basketball years later. Funny how that works. My name was called, and I yelled, “at last.” I made my way in line. The word came to make our way to the bird. The darkness engulfed us. All you could see were the lights of the bird. As we made our way up the ramp, it was like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders — almost a heavenly feeling. I made it — that’s how I felt. As I sat down with all my gear on my lap and squeezed tight in the seat, I began to look around at the men around me. For some odd reason I began to think about all the men who would never make this trip back home to their loved ones. The smiles and laughs suddenly seemed mute. It was like I had removed myself from the situation. I don’t think I can properly explain it without sounding like some weirdo, but the feeling of sadness was immense. I took a deep breath, put my head on my bag, closed my eyes and just thought about things in life that I may have taken for granted and made a promise to myself to work on some things such as starting to share things with people with whom I haven’t shared things because I just didn’t see it important. Sometimes in life you stop and realize how life is so short and how it can all be over in a second. Then and there was that moment for me.
As the plane started to take off, everyone errupted in applause and cheers. It was the moment that everyone had been waiting for — leaving Iraq. The plane trip was short, and there was no turbulence. The only thing that was slightly uncomfortable was the tight turn the plane made toward the runway; it was intense. We landed and dismounted and made our way once again to buses that were waiting for us. We loaded on the buses and made our way to another staging area and again awaited another bus to come to take us to our camp. In the meantime, we did a baggage detail and then just waited. After an hour, the bus came, and we jumped on and made our way to the camp. This ride was not as long, but it seemed like it because it was getting really late. We got to camp and then dismounted and made our way to our tent. At the tent we did our sensitive items check, and then guys started to rack out. I made my way to the phones and called my lady friend. Next I made my way to SUBWAY and then back to the tent, but not before I got lost, but that’s a story in itself. The tent was so dark; the first thing I did was fall over someone and onto his cot. After my eyes adjusted, I made my way to my cot. I lay down and shut my eyes. After what seemed like 10 minutes, I was tapped on the head and told I had tent guard. I got up with a huff and went outside. For once since our winter, I was cold. The sad thing is it was 80 degrees, so that is an indictor of how cold I am going to be when I get back. After an hour I was relieved of tent guard duty and made my way to back to bed and racked out.
I awoke at 10 a.m. and started getting ready for the day. I don’t know when we are headed home, but I know it’s shortly. Once we go through customs and get locked down that is the point that you know it’s almost over and home is on the horizon.