Saturday, June 2, 2007

Wheels Down

After arriving in Kuwait, we mostly waited for three days. There were long lines everywhere: for the phones, for the MWR computers, for meals, for McDonald's and Pizza Hut...and I can vouch for the fact that Joe will stand in line for McDonald's, especially if it's been months since he's had any! The waiting was made a little more bearable by the many MWR game systems and TVs set up for individual movie watching. I also got in a good workout, staying mindful of my lesson learned on 6 March: don't push too close to muscle failure! I was afraid I would have to lug my three duffel bags, black box, and assault pack carry-on through a few large airports.

Finally, on the night of 23 May, we dragged all our luggage down to wait for the customs inspections. It amazes me to see some of the bone-headed things service members have attempted to take home, like rocket propelled grenades. I personally had none of these things, but I was lugging along a personally owned upper receiver I'd used on my M4. Practically every soldier who'd seen me with it, and noticed it wasn't stock, had assured me I would have trouble bringing it back to the US. When I had mentioned it to the C CO supply sergeant, he had told me, "You will not tell them that (the truth). You will tell them that the lower receiver was damaged, and so, you're taking the upper back for me."
With this in mind, every time on the way back someone would ask, "Hey, why do you have-", I would answer, "The supply sergeant said..." The funny thing is, no-one in Customs asked me about it, which is fine, since legally, it is no more a firearm than the (also personally owned) scope and buttstock I brought back with me.

After having customs rummage through everything of mine- which somehow ended up packed more efficiently, for the first time ever- we waited a few more hours, and then took our buses out to the flight line. We climbed aboard our ATA 737, and headed home on the morning of the 24th.

After flying out of Kuwait, our first stop for fuel was in Hungary. We were not allowed to deplane because of a lack of sufficient security, but I still eagerly drank in the orderly green fields and civilized look of the houses beneath us, so very different than the shabby, filthy, parched land I had just left. Our next stop was in Ireland.

Ireland is green, my favorite color, the green of lush fields of grass and sturdy trees. It is also very obviously a wet place, and as we dropped towards the runway, there was so much moisture in the air, I could see the small trails of turbulence from our lowered flaps. We were reminded by our attendants of our two drink limit. Those of us who actually care about such things (most probably just cheerfully broke the "limit" without consideration) were reminded of the injunction of Sergeant Major Connelly (showing surprising deliberation) and General Pritt, that the "limit" was really a "don't get stupid" limit, and we could drink whatever we could handle without incident.

I was near the back of the plane, and by the time I "range walked" (nonmilitary might call this speed walking) through the terminal, I was still faced with a long line of soldiers waiting to buy two drinks from the bar. I thought. And I looked around, noticing that to my side was a store holding lots of cheerfully waiting bottles. Easy enough- I headed for the duty-free store.
I was about halfway to the store, when a soldier gleefully informed me that there were free samples of whiskey being given out inside- and so there were.

Now, if you took over a hundred and twenty mostly youthful, rambunctious soldiers, deprived them of alcohol for a year in a stressful environment(except perhaps for two weeks of vacation), and then dropped them into an environment with free liquor, you *might* have a problem, don't you think? For myself, I enjoyed some Irish whiskey, and a wee dram of Carolan's, and picked up a bottle of Irish Mist to take back to the States. I then went and bought a single glass of Scrumpy Jack cider, and returned to the airplane, to be sure our weapons guard had been given a chance to get off the plane.
As I walked, I thought fondly of the welcome I saw from the Irish in the brief moments I'd had to talk to them, of their concern for our safety and their cheerful friendliness. Someone else had already relieved our guard, so I just found my seat and watched everyone straggle back. There were no incidents.

We touched down again briefly in Canada, and then finally landed in Colorado. There was a line of brass waiting to greet us, and a couple of guys from McDonald's handing out Quarter Pounders. I smiled and shook the hands of those waiting for us, but couldn't keep the tears from my eyes before reaching the end of the line.

Colorado was a flurry of turn-ins and briefings, some of them infuriating. We were forced to watch a video about "battle mind", in which a squeaky-voiced Lieutenant Colonel had the audacity to solemnly advise us that carrying or keeping a loaded weapon as a civilian was wrong. That went over well with a group of Oklahoma boys!

I turned in my field gear, and late on the afternoon of the 27th, was told I was flying back to Georgia at 0650 the next morning. I called Jordy, asked if she was back in town, and when she said she was, said, "What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?" She gasped.

I'm back. I haven't taken the many good things in my life for granted for years, but I suppose you can never deeply appreciate just how good life here is until you see what life is like in truly desperate places.

Warts and all, I'm damn proud to be an American.


Jamie said...

Warts and all, we're damn proud to have you as an American! Welcome home.

Unknown said...

So good to have you home.

Hollie said...

Welcome home John!! I am so glad you are back in Georgia. You know I don't take lightly the fact that you helped maintain the American freedom - thank you friend!

charlotte g said...

When Matt posted your return, I did get tears in my eyes. After reading you for so long I just wanted you home. Safe! and you are. great picture, btw. Says home to me. There's just no other word. Welcome.

J.R.Shirley said...

Thanks, everyone. Holly, maybe I'll see you soon.

Matt G said...

(Heh. That's not Holly.)

John, I wish I'd caught you on Jordie's phone the other day; I'll call back in the morning.

I'm so glad that there was a reception for you; you deserved one.

J.R.Shirley said...

I'm sure we'll talk in the next few days, Matt. Schooner is my friend Holly, who lives in Statesboro.

The Lily said...

Kick ass. Welcome home!

Oleg Volk said...

Glad to have you back, brother.

A. Mad Mann said...

Welcome home, Soldier! My family and I want to thank you for your service. We will forever be grateful for what you and others like you are doing and have done for us.