Tour of Duty

Welcome everyone! I set up this blog for Sam, family, friends, peers, and students while I am away. Due to OPSEC I will not be able to talk about names, units, operations, and other specifics. I will post photos and news of how I am doing. I expect to hear from you all! ---Rich

Monday, August 08, 2005

Full Circle - Forward

This will be my last post.

I am back at my desk in my office at Cornell. After returning to New York a month of travel, work on the house, XboX, and general malaise when there was nothing else to do passed by rather quickly. I am glad to be back to work.

Over the last month everyone I meet asks the same two questions in one form or another, "how was it" and "how are we doing over there?"

The answer to the first part always goes like this, "it sucked." I think to say anything else would be lying. To say it was the most rewarding, or scariest, loneliest, boring experience of my life, or any other adjective, doesn't quite hit the right chord and isn't necessarily true. Describing nine months away from family and friends plus having to deal with the challenges of day to day life and death over there the word suck floats right to the top.

The second answer surprises most people I speak to. Yes, we are making a difference. However, I tell them, the Iraqi people are meeting more and more of the challenges before them. Mover over, the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police are gradually gaining the confidence to become effective. I remind people that the IA and IP use methods that we would never dare to. All of the populace may not like it, but they understand it and comply.

I also tell people that had it not been for the genuine act of bravery of the people in January as they went out and voted, I would think that Iraq is a lost cause. But...The people did vote and their voice was heard. They shocked the world who doubted so much. That spirit; wherever it came from, however it rose to the surface, is still there in the people and they are waiting to show the world again that they will rise to the occasion.

I throw in a couple of good will stories about the schools we have fixed, the water towers we built and finish with the standard line that it will take a long while for true results to be seen and felt locally and globally. As it did in Germany. As it did in Japan. As it did in America when we won our freedom.

People thank me and welcome me home and I continue on my way. Those exchanges are happening every day and probably will for a while to come. I don't mind. I think that one responsibility Soldiers have is to recount the positive things they are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to remind the public that the cause is still worthy.

Do I miss being over there? Not at all. I try to keep up with the news from the FOB just to know how people are doing over there. Other than that I do not follow the news from Iraq that much. I guess I just don't want to see it right now.

I am so glad to be home.

Getting life in order and getting into a routine is the next big task for me. That will be hard with my wedding coming up in two months; a joyous occasion that I am gleefully looking forward to. Once that event is over with, then, maybe, things will settle down.

The first step in getting going occurred today by coming back to Cornell and sitting down to my desk and reclaiming it for myself. I started my blog from this desk. It seems only fitting that I end it here.

I have reconnected with my daughter, who just turned eight years old. She is wiser and more mature than other kids her age. This in part because of the way her mother and I raised her. Another part is because of the 9 months I was away from her. Every once in a while a question will come out of the blue, "were you scared?", or, "do you have to go back?", or, "why can't you just quit?" Sam missed me and she lets me know it. She is pretty free with her affection for her father, and I in turn show her the same amount of love and devotion. I hope for her sake that I do not have to ever go again. In the event that I do I know that she has the strength to meet the challenge.

I am off to go get Lisa from the airport. She has been on a sailing trip in the British Virgin Islands as a camp counselor. Although we reconnected before she left we now have nothing to pull us apart from one another.

Another chapter in my life is unfolding with her. As Iraq becomes more of a memory and my marriage to her gets closer I look forward to writing the rest of the story with her.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Home!

I am in NY! Wow! The last week and a half has been crazy, wonderfully crazy. Here is a short synopsis:

Sam rushed into my arms at the Syracuse Airport. We had a long moment where we wouldn't let go of each other. The news was there to capture it - Sam in mid-air, flying into my arms, me with a big smile.

Mom and Lisa were there to make the homecoming complete. Mom was decked out in red, white, and blue and Lisa just looked great.

We all went to the Dinosaur BBQ where I received a round of applause and a cold Sam Adams beer on the house. The ride to Cortland was refreshing to have lush green rolling hills go by the windows. It was good to be home...

I unpacked and repacked for a trip to Orange County, NY for my twenty year high school reunion. What a trip into the past that was! Not only did I reconnect with life in the United States but I also saw so many faces from so long ago. It was very cool and I had a lot more fun than I expected.

I am leaving for vacation with Sam - dad and daughter time to reconnect. We are heading to Myrtle Beach to play in the surf, ride the water slides, and get crazy for a few days.

I am glad to be home and facing all new kinds of stress - good stress; wedding plans, vacation, going back to work, arranging meeting times to pick up my daughter. Stress I can handle.

I will write again!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Fourth Of July

I am back in the United States - wow, thank God, happy Fourth of July. I have been home for five days. Five wonderful days.

The task force flew out in two commercial planes from Kuwait early in the morning of June 29th. Because of the customs process we had been awake all night long and we were already exhausted and ready to sleep as the plane lifted off into the dawn.

The planes departed over an hour apart and met up in Shannon, Ireland during the lay over. Shannon airport has a pub in it. This is information we had before hand. We had the General on our flight so access to the pub was in question. We exited the jetway, walked down the hall, and entered the terminal to find 200 Soldiers already bellied up to the bar with pints of Guinness in hand. A communal cheer went up throughout the building - and with that the party was on.

An hour and a half and two pints later I was back on the plane. I was sound asleep before the plane ever took off. Eight hours later we were on approach to Pope AFB, right next to Ft. Bragg. Looking out the window the ground was green and lush. When I left nine months ago the scenery had been the same and I made the mental note to remember this sight. It was remarkable to see it again in stark contrast to Iraq. The wheels touched down around 1530 hours and another cheer went up. Before the plane stopped I had called home.

Exiting the aircraft I was overwhelmed with the humidity - it was choking and oppressive. There were Generals at the bottom of the steps shaking our hands and welcoming us home. The entire group marched off to a large hangar where we were met by a band, speeches, and family. The band played the National Anthem - the first time I had heard it in nine months. Hearing it gave me a warm, tingly feeling.

By 1900 we had all of our baggage unloaded, we were in barracks, changed into civilian clothes, and dismissed for the night. Beer magically appeared and the process to convert from a combat theater to "home" began in earnest.

On Thursday and Friday we attended briefings and medical outprocessing. Friday night we were released for the holiday weekend. Friday night I saw Lisa again. Friday night one facet of my life was made whole.

Friday night I held Lisa again in a long embrace. It had been over six months since we last held one another and it was wonderful beyond words. Over the last few days we have been in each others company, reconnecting, readjusting. We have had no plan or agenda and have flowed through the days without rushing. Tonight we will get together with several of my former students and celebrate with dinner and fireworks.

It is great to be home. What a stark difference. I always appreciated our way of life and how we, as Americans, generally conducted ourselves with good manners and civility. However, it is experiencing that stark difference between here and there in such a dramatic manner that makes me realize how special this country is.

God bless America.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Lay Over


Layover In Shannon, Irleand Posted by Picasa

A brief stop in Shannon, Ireland produced beer and smiles - we were eight hours from home.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Leaving, On A Jet Plane

Yesterday I left Baghdad, Iraq for Kuwait. It was a very anti-climatic event.

Naturally, the trip was frought with delays, cancellations, aggravation, cursing, and an endless night that ended at 0830 this morning at a re-deployment camp in Kuwait.

By 0330 we were silently walking across the tarmac, our shadows following us into the belly of the plane.

Because of the aforementioned delays, cancellations, aggravation, cursing, and endless night when the C-130 powered up and took off most of us were asleep or too tired to care that we had just left Iraq after 270 days. There were no cheers, no hurrahs; just the silence of each persons own reflections or quiet dozzing.

I slept until noon and got some chow. Shortly after that I ran into one of my former students. When I first met her she was a senior in Cornell and a darn good cadet. Laura is now a Captain and a Company Commander of an ambulance company in Kuwait. This is her second tour. We detoured to Starbucks near the PX (oh, to be near civilization again!) and caught up on the last few years. Two hours and a couple of photos later my day was made.

Tomorrow we start the process to clear customs and bus out to the airport for a chartered commercial flight to North Carolina.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Entitlements

I am now a veteran. No longer do I merely have the label of "Soldier", or "officer", but I have the added distinction of having been in a combat theater. With that comes certain entitlements.

I know there are certain military benefits I will receive now and in the future. I know there is a big parade in November, certain brand name businesses give discounts, and I get to hang out at the VFW and swill watered down beer and begin each story with, "there I was...". However there are other entitlements I am looking forward to as soon as possible upon returning home.

Here is a short list:

My daughter's arms around me in a great big hug that steals my breath and lasts as long as she can hold on.

A good steak dinner with my father in North Carolina.

The beers promised to me by Pat, Gregg, and the gang at work.

Lisa's smile and twinkling eyes...in person.

The smell of my lawn as I cut the grass.

BBQing in my backyard.

Sleeping a bed longer than I am.

Talking to mom without getting cut off by the satellite phone's poor reception.

Getting let off for at least one ticket for driving too fast.

A nice bottle of wine to share with Lisa.

The feel of jeans and a T-shirt.

Not carrying a weapon everywhere I go.

Laughter; good, hearty laughter.

Swimming in the ocean.

Finding a place of peace and quiet without the sound of generators, explosions, helicopters, tanks, and every other thing that pollutes the air with noise over here.

The days in Iraq are coming to an end. This camp is a step in the right direction. This place is all military. There is no sign of "Iraq" in any direction for miles; no traffic, no buildings, no locals, no sheiks, no imams. We are mentally unwinding. The next step is to get to Kuwait and then quickly move on to North Carolina.

I will keep you posted.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

More Than I Deserve

I have had some time to reflect some more on my tour. I have been thinking about the "Support Our Troops" stickers and magnets you see all over. Even though they are going the way of the "Baby On Board" signs, the support I have received these last nine months needs some re-addressing.

None of you would be reading this blog had it not been for Gregg from Texas. One of my best friends, married to one of my other best friends, he urged me to write about the tour. Gregg, although against the war and the current administration, has been a tremendous help, even though he thinks cookies, CDs, and comics are small things. I look forward to seeing Christine and Gregg and holding them once again.

The support from work has been outstanding. Packages, emails, and being kept "in the loop" reminded me that I was missed and expected back in the office to continue to do that job I love so much. It helps, I suppose, that the job is an Army ROTC program and that most of my co-workers are all in the military. However, the office went two officers short last year because of deployments and had to cover the same material with less personnel. Thank you, Sir.

I need to thank Stacey, Sam's mom, and her family who did a great job keeping me informed of Sam's ups and downs over the school year. Stacey allowed Lisa to spend time with Sam so that the two of them could develop their own special relationship. Stacey made sure Sam sent me letters, cards, and artwork to cover my walls in my room. The deployment was easier knowing that Sam was okay.

My family did a great job keeping in touch. Mom did her best to hide her fear and worry from me and dad actually used a computer! Andy, Mare, Lucas, and Alyssa entertained Sam on several occasions to keep her connected to the family.

Over the last nine months I have been able to get to know Lisa's family. Betty sent me wonderful cards and letters with pictures attached. She is a lively spirit who still enjoys being involved in life. Linda, Mark, Kira, and Grace have taken the time to make me feel like part of the family and I am deeply appreciative.

For everything everyone has written, sent, or done in some way to support me, thank you.

However, I could not gotten through this deployment without Lisa. Lisa has been my refuge, my rock, and my link to the life I long to return to. Thanks to Instant Messaging, I have been able to "come home" to her at the end of my day and share in the frustration, anguish, and success that I had that day. I have found myself laughing and smiling at the computer screen on more than one occasion - sometimes with her, sometimes at her, sometimes at me.

Lisa and I continued to grow and build on a relationship that started on a solid foundation. We avoided the longing, sorrowful messages of missing one another during the long mid-tour months. Instead we shared and answered questions on what our relationship would be like in the near and far future. We wrote of ideas, and desires, and dreams that we could achieve together. We wrote of children, work, money, vacations, and all of the good things that come when two lives are shared. We wrote of handling the hard times and how we would find strength in one another and God.

In the end Lisa became the ideal of returning home. Being separated for more than six months she took on a mythical quality. She existed in a world that I wanted to be in. Her face graces my walls and my computer and looking into those eyes I can find refuge and solace. She provided me the comfort I needed after a long day from her life thousands of miles away. She reminded me that I was loved beyond words and that love would be even more real in person that over email, IM, or satellite phone.

She is more than I deserve and I know that every day. I cannot wait to be in her arms again. The anticipation gives me goosebumps.