Sept 7 & 8 – Day 184 & 185
It’s been a long day. A good day but a long day. Today started at 2300C last night. As I explained, I was the only one in my tent last night. It was wonderful. I hooked up speakers to my computer and listened to music as I surfed the net and talked to friends on iChat. About 2130 I got ready for bed and read E is for ‘Evidence’. About 2200 I put the book down and feel asleep. My plan was to wake up around 0430C, take a shower, get dressed, go do laundry and finishing packing. We were expecting to leave Camp Patriot at around 0930.
At 2300 my Chief (Select) sticks his head in my tent and says, “hey Smittie, wake up, they talking about leaving, tonight.”
“OK, my shit is packed.” I rolled over to go back to sleep but Chief (Select) had left the light on. He didn’t say we were leaving, he said they were talking about leaving. No reason to get up yet, right. Hum, I probably ought to get dressed and go check it out anyway. As I’m getting dressed one of the Chiefs from Group 2, the guys that relieved us, stopped in and confirmed that we were indeed leaving tonight. Getting ready as soon as possible. OK then.
Awakened at 2300 I had all my gear at the assembly point at 2310. That included getting dressed, finishing up my packing and humping the gear about 200 yards. Of course, it was a hot and humid night. I was soaking wet and did not have time to take a shower.
There was a fair amount of confusion in getting things loaded into vehicles and what not. I lost track of time but I think we finally rolled out of Camp Patriot at around 0030 today. First stop, Customs. We all go drundling through the Customs process each of us trying to haul our two check-in bags and two carry on bags as we go. First there’s the amnesty process where you have the opportunity to get rid of anything you’re not suppose to have. Then there is the actual inspection which involves unpacking all of your stuff from all of your bags. After everything has been approved or removed you repack. Load it all up on the vehicles again, more confusion because this time we have to separate the people from the bags. And now we’re on our way to the airport. On the ride to the airport we hear the call to prayer. It is now approximately 0420.
At the airport we’re told we’re early and have to wait in a holding area outside the airport. After about two hours we finally get on to the flight line. More confusion. Apparently they at first thought one of the aircraft would not be able to fly and then changed their minds. This caused a whole bunch of confusion in attempting to consolidate gear onto the one aircraft that would fly. When it was decided that both aircraft would fly they had to un-consolidate.
Some of the gear that was already on the flight line required a 24 guard. Three men had been posted as a watch on the gear. They now needed to have their personal bags inspected by customs. I was selected to go out on the flight line as the watch relief so that the guys on watch could get inspected. While I was out there a plane landed that had come from up in Iraq somewhere. Suddenly all activity on the flight line stopped. Everyone on the flight line came to attention and faced the plane. We stood in sad and silent tribute as four body bags were transferred from the plane to a truck. Two ranks of Marines lined the path from the plane to the truck. They rendered a slow salute for each Marine as they were carried from the plane and place in the truck. It was a salient reminder of the seriousness of the business we are in.
At 0915C (0615Z) we left the ground from Kuwait International Airport with a lot of cheering. We are going home.
An 8 hour flight, largely uneventful, got us to Moron, Spain. Moron, at least the little bit of it I could see from the base is a beautiful place. It is in the South of Spain. Of course, there was a fair amount of confusion about when we would be leaving Spain. It would either be in 12 hours or 5 and a half hours depending on whether they had a crew ready to fly or not. Semper Gumby, where do we eat?
The chow hall is Moron is awesome. Of course, I may not be the best judge in the would given that I’ve been eating some pretty lousy food, mostly over-cooked chicken, for the past six months but it tasted wonderful to me. Chicken frajitas, something wonderful done with potatoes, iced tea and coffee eaten off of a real plate made of china with eating utensils made of metal. It required a conscious effort to not take two forks and two knives which is the habit I developed because the cheap plastic flatware would always break about half way through the meal.
The next endeavor was to remove the stench from my body. First a stop at the NEX Mart to pick up a pair of shower shoes, deodorant and mouthwash. Then off to the Gym where there was sure to be some sort of shower facilities. In the shower I discovered hot and cold running water. We didn’t have that in Kuwait. We had scalding hot and slightly hotter running water. I stood for three minutes in freezing cold water just because I could.
All clean I then went to the base club where everyone was having their first real beer in six months. I had a few cokes and enjoyed the weather, 80 degrees with low humidity and a nice cool breeze blowing. Without question it was the most beautiful day I’d experience in at least four months. Alas, it was time to get back on the plane. At 1503T (2203Z) we lifted off from Moron, Spain.
The flight from Moron, Spain to San Diego, California was uneventful. Most everyone slept, read books or played video games to pass the time. Box lunches ordered in Moron were passed out. Excellent food. I ate a sandwich and probably the most delicious apple I’ve ever had. We landed at 0400T (1100Z) on 08 September at North Island Naval Air Station almost exactly six months after we had left. Our tour of duty was over. My wife and kids were there to meet me. Plenty of tears of course. It is good for the family to be whole again.
Many of you have been following my deployment here for a long time. I hope you’ll stay with me as I move on to my next adventure. Not sure what that will be. For now, I will de-mobilize and be returned to my civilian life. My family and I will take a long vacation and than I’ll figure out what I’m going to do next.
There are a couple of guys in the unit that relieved us who are regular readers of this blog who are planning to start blogs of their experiences in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I will provide links to their blogs if and when they let me know where they are.