The Fat Lady Sings
Few alarms went off as the bulk of Soldiers in my open bay billet woke on their own or to the sounds of the others around them. We did final packing, and had our final briefings. The chaplain from the base we mobilized and demobilized from showed us a presentation for a memorial service to honor Soldiers from the Indiana National Guard who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
The mini-movie was a conglomeration of other movie scenes and footage from various sources. The background music was apparently a popular country song whose name I don’t know, which transitioned into the Army Chorus singing a song about Soldiers coming home. The all male chorus music was a backdrop for scenes of at first cemeteries, and then Soldiers performing the greatest honor one can by paying tribute to their fallen comrades.
Many an eye was filled with tears, and without command the entire group rose and saluted a picture of a flag draped casket. Nobody had to name the five from this mission that are not going to go home. We all knew them or knew of them. Most importantly we knew what their jobs were and what they went through up to that final moment.
Many then loaded a buss bound for the local airport, some rented cars and drove. The team which moved from our Iraqi battalion together was slowly picked apart for different movement times. Today only four of us remained together. We joked with each other as usual like Soldiers do and embraced like family does.
We stopped to get our hair cut, and MAJ B bought coffee for us. While the cut was not what I anticipated it was done. I waited for MAJ B, and CPT G to finish up. I looked in the trash can outside the barber shop and noticed an antenna from a hand held radio.
I froze in my tracks, torn with what to do. The past year had taught me to question everything and take it as a threat. I looked again to ensure I wasn’t hallucinating. I turned and said to MAJ B and CPT G, I have to do it, but I don’t want to. Their perplexed look urged me on to explain.
Notifying the authorities would surely have locked the terminal down. Civilian authorities would have investigated, questioned and delayed thousands of travelers. We debated it was just a junked radio. It didn’t work or some parent was forced to throw them away as their children were using them inappropriately. It was not what I thought it could be. I worried and fretted over that decision for days.
My flight was a brief one to a larger regional airport where I shared some humorous stories with another advisor who served with me near Baghdad, until he left on his flight. Like a mental review I found myself one more time reviewing the past year. Memories of sights, sounds, and smells filled my mind, some pleasant and others not so much.
I sat in the large terminal forcing myself to sit in the middle and face my fears. Still I found myself looking for angles, avenues of approach and regress, scanning faces in the crowd and determining courses of action and contingencies. I stopped this behavior by beginning this entry in my deployment journal.
I briefly called my first sergeant. I had been warned not to change my flight as someone from my unit would be traveling to see me. So I felt obligated to notify him. I told him when I would arrive and that if he or anyone else from the battalion was planning to arrive I would acknowledge that they had in fact been there, unless of course it was the commander. This chap had taken over mere days before I left and had not contacted me once. No email, no phone call to my wife, no letters, nothing for a year.
The called my flight. I stood and waited knowing my seat was near the front of the aircraft I knew I should be one of the last on the plane. As I stood in line a woman in front of me turned and thanked me. I replied I was just doing my job. Her traveling companion, a work mate didn’t hear our conversation, and then herself thanked me.
The crowd that was at best unknown and aloof to me was now warming. I could see smiles across the room. Smiles and waives of appreciation. This wasn’t so bad after all. Gratuity would become the hallmark of the day.
We boarded the plane and the flight attendant made a special announcement regarding my presence, though it would have been hard not to notice anyone boarding this small craft. The passengers erupted in applause and I was humbled.
As the plane flew I looked over the very familiar landscape, terrain that I had driven over many times when I lived at Ft. Knox. I recognized rivers and eventually the sight of Pittsburgh airport, then key lakes mountains and other terrain features as we approached our final destination.
I was giddy and excited to look upon the ground and watch traffic move in my home town. My home, my friends, my life were below me waiting for me to return.
The plane touched down twenty minutes early, and I was concerned my family would be there to greet me. As we taxied the attendant again recognized me and again the plane applauded and I almost wept tears of joy. I was beside myself.
I was torn between running and walking slowly enjoying the stares of the local citizens who don’t see a lot of Joes and Jenny’s moving through their airport. I settled on a brisk pace to my loved ones.
As we embraced and talked a few folks came by to thank me. Soon my entourage and I would leave. My wife brought clothes for me to change into so we could celebrate with a dinner out.
Oddly, I recognized a pair of pants as having a tear in them immediately but couldn’t remember directions or some street names. Some things were pure muscle memory, and others were like amnesia. This pattern would continue for a few days, but that mattered not. I was home. Mission accomplished.
Rogue 3 OUT