September 28, 2007
Name: LT Carl Goforth
Posting date: 9/28/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url: desertflier.blogspot.com
Nostos (Greek: νόστος) (pl. nostoi) Homecoming. It is a theme dealt with in many Homeric writings such as the Odyssey, in which the main character, Odysseus, strives to get home after the Trojan War.
Fishing trawler a half mile up the coast. I just walked over the berm from the cabana, and the trawler is the first thing I spy. She's slowly crawling my way, and only several hundred yards from shore. Great booms reaching out over the water like the tentacles of an octopus. But it's the birds that really nab my attention. A cloud of shorebirds lazily floating, diving, and endlessly rotating around the old trawler. The atom doesn't exist without the electrons, and the electrons have no function if it weren't for the atom. It's like that.
The surf is washing over my feet. The sun is climbing with nary a cloud in the sky. And it dawns on me: I'm here. Shorts, bare feet, and a beer. This is me, I'm doing this, and it just won't process.
Forty eight hours ago I was going through customs at Ali Al Saleem in Kuwait. We get briefed on the x-rays, screening processes, and I get to hear the same old story about the Marine that tried to smuggle two grenades just yesterday in his sea-bag. This is by far the busiest Marine ever, because he's smuggled thousands of them by now.
After carefully packing my gear, a customs officer and I dismantle the entire thing again as we look for indigenous plants, M-16 rounds, and any domestic farm animals I may have run across and decided to keep. I ask her for the list of authorized contraband, and she rolls her eyes. I was asking more for my amusement and sanity more than anything else -- and thought it was decent original material until she said, "Yeah, yeah, we've heard all the jokes before. Even that one."
After customs, we were locked into a little compound with tents and a Green Beans Coffee Cafe. Each tent was packed with units going home. We shared with an Army medical unit out of Baghdad. They were reservists out of Michigan, and the soldier sitting next to me was from Detroit. Talked about the state of the Lions and Jon Kitna this year. I gave him credit for how Barry Sanders found a way to de-construct my Bears at least once a year when he was in the league, and we laughed away an hour talking about military medicine, family, football, and all we would do when we got home.
Ten p.m. they load us into a bus caravan for the two hour drive to Kuwait International Airport. And there we sat. Ten minutes became twenty, and humorous rumors swirled around the bus about how they were tricking us. As if to prove the prediction, a customs officer hops onto the bus and tells us to get out. What?!
"Two weapons have been lost on the base, and the gates are in lock down," he tells us. A few of us offer our weapons if it gets us to our planes any faster, but the offer is politely declined. So we pile back out and sit around the customs compound another half hour. A few shouts to form up, and we get excited again. False alarm.
Midnight ticks over, and we get the go-ahead. Form it up! Head count! Get on those buses! My pleasure . . .
The second the wheels lift from the tarmac that plane erupted in shouts, laughter, and clapping. It's official: they're actually letting us go home.
Eight hours later, and it's a dash through the Shannon, Ireland terminal. Over a hundred and twenty very thirsty Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines have a fever. And the only prescription? A pint of Guinness stout is the way to cure this malady. We order our pint and extras. After the first one goes down, it's a balderdash as we mix and match the rest of the beers on our table. The last seven hours of the flight went much better than the first eight. . .
Saturday morning landing in Cherry Point, North Carolina. The cheers and clapping bring the plane to a roaring good touchdown. Flight crew laughing and clapping right along with us. After unloading and loading our gear several more times on the flight line, we board buses for the hour ride to Camp Lejune.
Families are there waiting. We coordinate to make sure new Dads get off the buses first. And there we are: exhausted, soaked in sweat, and smelling up the bus like a petting zoo.
Nobody cares. Buses roll up. Wives are holding their cheeks, crying and trembling in their beautiful summer dresses. Dads rush off first with laughing and running children jumping into their arms. Moms join the fray. A few parents make it too, and they stand patiently in the back waving little American flags. I hang back a minute or so, just taking it all in. A Rockwellian moment comes to life outside my little bus window.
And right here, right now: all somehow seems right in the world.
A few of the guys will wait before they re-unite with family. Some are from as far away as Washington state and Guam. Tim rented a cabana on the beach for Saturday and Sunday night. I finally made it out Sunday morning after finishing some paperwork. Dump the daybag, ditch the uniform, and grab a beer. It's shorts, flip-flops, and an immediate walk up the berm onto the beach. And the beach is where I stayed the entire day. The cabana was just a beer outpost. . .because I have so much to catch up on. Every second savored. And that magnificent fishing trawler is only the beginning.