“… And we want to remind you to stay seated with your seatbelts fastened until the seatbelt light has been turned off. Thank you for choosing Delta Airlines as your flight plan needs… Oh and thank you for your service to the world and especially the United States. The current temperature here in Kuwait City is 102° Fahrenheit. The current time is 0100 hours…”
– Kuwait –
I shook Timmie Mangrum awake at this. Timmie fell asleep from all the alcohol that we had consumed in Ireland, and had had his head-phones on. Timmie is my best friend and was my team leader for this excursion into combat; my first, his second. I trust him with my life as well as he trusts me. Timmie and I have a relationship that is not easily made; our friendship is forged in the fires of combat, pressed and molded by Jesus Christ. He takes a minute to wake up, and does not seem to be happy that we have entered into the pits of hell. He and I had planned as much as we could to make sure that we were not on the baggage detail that was to take place once the plane came to our final stop in Kuwait City. I popped my ears with my finger and asked him what was next. He just shrugged his shoulders and muttered something under his breath that was not audible to anyone near him, but I got the hint and waited until he woke up completely to ask him questions.
“Kenny… Where the hell are we?” Timmie grumbled, he knew full well where we were, but I knew that he needed reassurance because this is not a place anyone ever wants to come back to. I never wanted to come in the first place. I cannot imagine going twice. Timmie, fully awake now starts to sing in a way that mimics an Arabic prayer:
“♫Atthayyato Lillahe Wassalawato Wat Tayyebato Assalamu Alaika Ayyohan Nabiyo Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatoh Assalamu Alaina Wa Ala ibadillahis Sualaiheen Ashadu An La ilaah illal Laho Wa Ashadu Anna Mohammadan Abdohoo Wa Rasooluhoo…♫” I am sure Timmie had no idea what he was singing, but he did it to lighten the mood of all the younger soldiers that were on their way to combat for the first time. One song to the next song, each song quickly getting more obscene yet funnier: “♫And we’ll all be dead by the summer of 2008… Hoorah, hoorah – bombs and blood…♫” The song goes on with more specifics; the whole cabin at this point is dying with laughter, and we are all feeling pretty good about our safe arrival into a combat zone.
Soon our mood all changes as we start to file out of the plane in a single file line; carrying our carry-on luggage off of the plane. The very first thing that I noticed when getting off of the plane was the extreme heat. Immediately as the heat hit my face I felt like I had stepped into a pizza oven with fans blowing the heat over our bodies. ‘Why the hell would anyone want to live in this God-forsaken land?!’ was my initial thought out of the plane. It was hot, very hot!
As we got off of the plane it was apparent that Timmie’s and my plan was not going to work; the baggage detail was everyone on the plane. Everyone that was on the plane had between three and four bags which meant everyone was expected to move three or four bags, sort them by platoon, and then move them onto the buses that were provided for each individual platoon. This would have been all fine, well, and dandy had our platoon sergeant decide that that was not work for a non-commissioned officer (NCO) to do. Our platoon was about sixty percent NCO’s – this did not include Timmie or me, we each had held the title of NCO at one time or another in our military life. The platoons get each of their individual bags placed into their perspective places and start to form up in platoon formations. I stood next to Tim in the formation because I was his gunner and he was my truck commander (TC). We looked at one another and started wondering out loud to each other where the NCO’s were. Soon all of the soldiers that were left were wondering where all of the NCO’s were. Timmie and I were the highest ranking individuals in the formation. I whispered into Timmie’s ear: “Hey man you should probably stand up front of the formation – you are highest ranking here…” Tim looked at me and sneered. Timmie hated being in the limelight. He knew that if he was up front in charge that he would be tasked out to do something that he didn’t want to do. He did it anyway.
“MANGRUM!!!! Where the hell is SSG Lee?” Before Timmie could answer to the bellowing of First Sergeant Walter Kuzmin, he was already laying into Timmie to send one of the members from third platoon to go get him, and not only him, but all of the NCO’s.
Timmie looked right at me, shook his head, and gave me the look that said – “I hate you.” But he decided against sending me, “Opie, go get SSG Lee… Tell him that the ‘Kuz’ is looking for him and all of the rest of the sergeants from third platoon.” Before Timmie could finish his sentence Brandon Cunningham (Opie) was off and running. Five minutes later, Opie came running back from the buses and behind him was a line of non-commissioned officers. The next ten minutes we heard the first sergeant chewing out the NCO’s in my platoon for making our entire lower enlisted do all of the work and not helping.
The ride to Camp Buehring, just north outside of Kuwait City and south of Baghdad, Iraq, took about three hours. The whole trip there was in dead silence and not one person spoke because of everyone being extremely tired by working on the bags, and the NCO’s being physically retrained by the first sergeant. We call this being “smoked;” which brings on a whole new meaning in 100 degrees plus weather.
The weather in Kuwait was hot and dry. It was almost so hot that you did not want to move around too much for fear of sweating out all the water that was being put into our bodies by the force hydration at our own hands. We got used to a routine while we there in Camp Buehring; since it was a staging area, there was really nothing that we could do as far as missions were concerned. Our mission was to keep from getting bored. One day Timmie, my driver Jason Sobol, and I decided that we would all go to the PX (Post Exchange). As we were there I hear my first name being called out, “Kenny… Kenny… Kenny Lee!” I remember thinking who was calling me by my family name? I turned around and there was my cousin Trevor, whom was stationed in Germany last I knew. Trevor and I are about five years apart in age, but because we are family we were still close. The Holmes’ are a very close family; we get together at the very least twice a year – usually five times a year. So seeing Trevor in Kuwait was excellent for us because we had already missed the Independence Day celebration that our family has. Trevor, a military pal of his (that later was killed in action), Timmie, Jason, and I made plans to get together later that night for supper. We ate Taco Bell, just like old times! Trevor and I said our goodbyes after supper and then moved on to our perspective spots on the base. I did not see Trevor again until after both of our tours were done and we were both out of the service.
Kuwait, as I said earlier, was very hot. In the morning we did physical training (PT) because ninety degrees is a heck of a lot better than 110° in the afternoon. We did PT as a way of keeping our bodies ready for what was to come in Baghdad; however, our platoon sergeant had other ideas. He wanted us to do PT three or four times a day. The idea for him was for us to stand out from the rest of the company as “the best.” Really, honestly, there was no reason for this because none of us cared; however, it is not us that matter, just the one in charge. One day as we were running our daily two miles in the heat, a buddy of mine, Scott, fell out of the run. Scott Williamson was not known to fall out of runs; he was what we referred to as a PT stud; however, that day he was having a reaction to the heat. Scott had a previous hot weather injury; which makes people more susceptible to more heat injuries. Instead of the platoon sergeant making him go rehydrate and rest, he let Scott do what Scott wanted to do: resume working out. Scott now has heat induced epilepsy, and cerebral palsy on a regular occurrence. Later that same day some of the lower enlisted were talking back to some senior NCO’s and the platoon sergeant, SSG Lee, had had enough of the disrespect. He called all of us into the command point (CP). There he started chewing everyone out…
“What the $&#* is wrong with all of you dumb @$$#$?” SSG Lee yelled at us. The obscenities were nothing to us; we had heard worse, and sure that we would hear worse later. “I am sorry to all of you that have to listen to this that have nothing to do with it, but you all need to hear this, just in case that you are thinking about back talking a NCO, or Officer. You all need to learn that we earned our respect…” ‘No you did not,’ I was thinking sarcastically. “…The more all of you act like kids I am going to treat you like kids! Everybody on their feet!” We all stood up and started looking around to each other; we were thinking that we were going to be physically retrained. SSG Lee had other plans, “SIT DOWN!” We all sat down; “ON YOUR FEET!” We all stood back up; “SIT DOWN!” Again we all sat down, and once again: “UP!” We stood up again. “DOWN…” At this point another NCO, Sergeant Collins, stands up and yells at the most senior NCO in our platoon, “I am a combat VETERAN. I am decorated. I have awards – What the hell are you trying to prove to us? That you have authority and that you can be an ass?!” He was fired up, but there was not an individual in that CP that was not already on the same page and thinking the same thing. This platoon sergeant was on a power trip! This stopped SSG Lee from continuing on chewing out the rest of us and he focused on Sergeant Collins. The rest of the day everybody was talking about how SSG Lee tripped on power and started yelling at us; valid he may have been, but no one wanted to be treated like a child. Two days later we were on a military flight to Baghdad.
– Baghdad –
“Everybody lock and load their magazines into their weapons. We are flying into a hot zone and you need to be ready to shoot as soon as we land if the case need arise! Remember you all are headed into combat – do not shoot your friend in the back as you get off the plane through the ramp. Remember to always hydrate and keep the heat injuries away.”
Once we landed we all locked and loaded our rifles, pistols, and machine guns. We ran off the ramp of the C-130, not to be greeted by combat like we had thought, but instead a handful of United States Air Force personnel on the flight line all laughing at us ready for combat. The heat was easily ten times worse in Iraq on the flight line than it was in Kuwait. As the humiliation of the Air Force joke wore off we figured out where we were going and headed into the tents that we would spend the better part of four months in.
As soon as we got settled into our bunks inside the tent and got the air conditioning to the right level, we had a platoon meeting and were told that we had nothing to do that day, and that it might be a few days until we start doing anything at all. The moment that was said we heard it coming in. The sound was unmistakable and we had no idea at the time how many times that we would hear that sound over the next year. The whistle was loud and the following report, like a bottle rocket but 150 percent louder, shook the ground and all of our bodies. The sound of the mortars coming in was a sound that I will never ever forget; especially the first day because of the extreme closeness that came in.
We started our missions almost two weeks later in Iraq. Our mission: to ensure convoys security through the streets of Baghdad, to make sure that the vehicles made it through on the way to the other forward operating base (FOB). Through the year that we were there our company had over one million miles, with very little causalities. Thank God!
Even though we had no physical causalities our company had many mental and spiritual causalities, including me. Bad leadership played a tremendous party to many of the young soldiers having post-traumatic stress disorder. My driver, Jason Sobol, was a very naïve person; he was also very mentally disturbed. He had a very poor childhood growing up, his family lived in poverty, and he had a father that was very much like Houdini with a disappearing act, only never returned. Sobol and I had been together as teammates since Fort Dix, New Jersey. There we had a team leader Sergeant Costello. Sobol had a hard time keeping his mouth shut, and doing what it was that he was told – he always had a “better” way of doing things. Sobol was a young soldier who had just re-classed his military occupational skill to become an infantryman; he was not very good at it. Sobol literally drove Sergeant Costello up a wall – they hated each other. I, as a good gunner does, stayed the hell out of the way of a feuding driver and team leader. Eventually I had to get involved because Jason was starting to piss me off on an inconsistent level with my being. Meanwhile, Sergeant Costello had other plans; he was getting rid of us. Sergeant Costello hated Sobol so much that he went to the platoon sergeant to switch him with another team leader: they gave him Timmie’s team! That was great news for me, Timmie is my best friend! With him I knew he would hold me accountable with my walk of faith, as well as I him.
We get to Iraq and are about to start our missions; however, there is all of a sudden a hitch: Timmie Mangrum, my best friend, brother in Christ, and team leader is no longer “good enough” to be a team leader. The truth of the matter is that ever since he took charge of the platoon the platoon sergeant was not happy with him. Sobol and I received yet another team leader; of course, this time it was someone we both hated: Staff Sergeant (SSG) Justin Conley. SSG Conley had a bad habit of telling bad jokes, the type that either made your blood curdle or your stomach turn – very off color. A lot of times you could not tell if he was joking or being serious. Sobol and I had not ever trained with him – all we knew was that he was a glory hound and just a horrible human being in general. We found out how bad he was first hand.
Sobol and I never really got along the greatest, but we were able to remain civil with one another and try to joke around as if we were friends; however, as soon as SSG Conley figured out that we were not the best friends, or even true friends at all; that all we did is tolerate each other, he would find ways to manipulate the two of us into arguing. Jason and I realized what he was doing and since we were roommates we would discuss this and give him a show every now and again, but he wouldn’t know, then we would turn it on him. Being that Conley is an arrogant individual he thought it was funny. We thought this to be odd, and stupid. One day as we were heading out on a mission, Conley decided to tell me that he wanted to get a Purple Heart. I was quite literally floored. One receives a Purple Heart by being wounded in combat. The only way we were going to be wounded in combat is if we ran into an EFP (explosively formed penetrator) or an IED (improvised explosive device). I laughed at him saying this.
“Holmes, I really do want a Purple Heart,” he said coyly.
“Are you freaking kidding me? You do realize what it takes to get one of those don’t you? You also know that since I am the gunner that means I am freaking dead!” I was quite irritated, and honestly I was pissed. There was no other way to put it. I waited until Sobol got into the truck to tell him what Conley had told me.
“Sobol, this dude is freaking crazy!!! Conley said that he wanted a Purple Heart! WHAT THE HELL!!”
“WHAT?!?” Sobol yells out. SSG Conley was laughing his fool head off. The problem though with his laughing was this: it wasn’t the type of laugh you would expect from that of a sane “just joking” type of laugh; instead it was a serious type of nervousness that causes a snicker when you get caught with something that you are not supposed to have done or said. This became a running thing that Conley would do every mission, it finally got to the point that I started to think that he was kidding, but there was always that small part of me that would say that I knew there was no joke in there, but he was serious.
Soon enough though there was an issue that happened that made him change his tone.
At this point we had been in Iraq for almost three months and we were getting into the groove of things. It was our turn to be on red-cycle. Red-cycle is where the units on the post took turns guarding base priority spots; checking ID’s and making sure people’s weapons were cleared before they entered into the dining facility, gym, or the USO (recreation tent). It was October and it was very hot; we were in full battle rattle (helmet, body armor, and loaded weapons). I was on duty with two people that I normally am not on duty with SSG Kirby, and Specialist (SPC) Denney. I was on the gym as the guard for that: checking ID’s, making sure weapons were clear, and trying to make a boring time fun.
All of a sudden it all went black. The thought process of life was forever ended, and military training took place. I heard screaming, crying, yelling, cussing, and prayers. I felt the concussion of the mortar that had blown up fifteen yards from me, the shrapnel ripping my vest and scratching my shatter-resistant Oakley’s, and I felt the back of the guard shack on my back as I was pushed back into it, while my M-4 Carbine rifle’s barrel was shoved into my side.
“HOLMES… HOLMES… HOLMES… ARE YOU OKAY? HOLMES?” SSG Frank yelled at me.
INCOMING!! INCOMING!! beep beep beep BEEP… INCOMING!! INCOMING!!
“HOLMES… DENNEY… GET THOSE PEOPLE IN THE BUNKERS! NOW!” SSG Frank shouted at us. At this point I saw what was happening and I moved into action. Denney who was on the other side at the USO followed suit. Denney went into the USO and yelled for everyone to get out and into a bunker; whereas I went into the gym and yelled for everyone to get out, but there was no one in there. They had already fled. I came out of the gym just in time for the next wave of mortars.
A scream. That scream. I am destined to hear that scream the rest of my life. I did not know who it was, where this person was from, or why he was where he was at. The only thing I could think of was the mobile PX was his reason. I hope that last Snicker’s candy bar was worth it. When I got to him he had bled out of his legs that were no longer there. He was in civilian clothes, so I could only guess that he was a civilian contractor. I got over to him and I did what I could to try to comfort him, but I did not have my medical kit on me – because I had left it in my truck, but what I had would not have helped him anyway. I called for a medic; which there was one already right behind me. We got him on the back of a HMMWV (hummer). I heard later that that man had died from injuries sustained that day, and there was nothing that I could do to help. I still had almost a year to go till we were going home.
A week later we were back on missions outside of the wire, and for some reason I found it a lot easier to be on a mission than on guard waiting to be shellacked. Our first mission that we went on was to a place called the IZ, short for International Zone. This is the place where Saddam Hussein had given many of his speeches and the cross sabers were there as well. It was the second week in November and it, to me was still very hot. Complacency was starting to set in. Conley had relaxed on his Purple Heart talk and was taking more shots at being a normal guy and not manipulating Sobol or myself into arguing. We rolled into the IZ at about 0100 local time. We stopped just passed the gates to clear our vehicle mounted weapons. The weapon that I was clearing was a M2 .50 caliber machine gun, the United States’ oldest weapon system. I opened the belt cover, removed the ammunition belt, and then pulled the charging handle back and slid my fingers in the ammo breech to make sure nothing was there. Nothing.
“The weapon is cleared, Sergeant.”
“Sobol lets go to the chow hall before we go to the cross-sabers.” Conley told him. Jason complied and we went to the chow hall, and had our breakfast / dinner. No one ever really figured out what fourth meal should be called. After we had finished eating we went to the crossed sabers. Once we came to a complete stop Conley and I got out of our hatches from the top of the vehicle and was talking like adults.
“So you think you are going to marry that girl, Holmes?” He was referring to the girl that I had been dating off and on for about two years.
“I dunno, Justin, we’ll see. If she is with me throughout the whole deployment then I will definitely consider it. How’d you meet your wife?” I asked him – I wanted to switch the conversation off of me as quickly as I could because he would always ultimately become a douche bag again, unless we talked about him.
“I met her at a convention for my civilian job…” This conversation went on for a while longer, until we were tired of the conversation, then we switched to baseball, then to football, and then finally back to women – a topic among men everywhere, but more colorful in the military. I had had enough of this conversation, and I wanted to get a nap in before heading back outside of the wire. I crawled back into the truck.
“Holy shit what was that?! Sobol did you hear that?”
“What was that?” Sobol asked back to me…
“Damn, my back is hot!” At Conley saying that I knew… I knew what had happened. I had had an accidental discharge.
SSG Lee came running over to our truck: “What the hell just happened?!” Conley did not want to say because he knew that he was going to be in as much trouble as I was for not clearing my weapon after I had said that I cleared it; which I was positive that I had. What had happened was that the bullet got caught on the bolt-face and was in the barrel when I put my fingers in it; therefore, making it appear that it was “cleared.”
“I don’t know what happened…”
“Conley what is that on your back?” SSG Lee asked, as an examination. SSG Conley shrugged, but it was obvious that his back was hurting and he didn’t want to say anything because he knew that not only would I get in trouble, but so would he. SSG Lee smacked his back in order to get the black mark off of his Nomex suit. This was almost too much for him to bear and he yelled out in pain. He took off his Nomex blouse, and then pulled up his t-shirt to show the wind burn from the bullet that had whizzed by his back. I felt like I was going to vomit. So at that point we started looking for the empty shell casing that there should have been from a bullet going off. What we found instead was an empty ammo casing bag. There was no bullet casing for the bullet that obviously came from my weapon. Then we saw the hole in the bottom of the bag. From there we followed the bag to where the hole was to where the casing was; it fell into a hole in the floor in the transmission case. SHIT. I was at fault.
I was brought up on charges in the military judicial system, even though it turned out that it was not my fault completely, the weapon actually malfunctioned. There was a broken piece we found out later, it was still my fault, and I apologized many, many times to him; even wrote a letter to his family – never had the nerve to send it out though. As part of my corrective action for my fault I was under what is called “Article 15” and made to forfeit half of my pay for a month and paint the CP. The kicker was the commander, Captain Bell, made me write a letter to SSG Conley as if he had been killed and read it in front of the company. Humiliation at its worst; I knew that I had done wrong, but I had to publically admit it in front of the whole company. Many people came up to me and said that it was stupid that I had to do that, and said that I should make a complaint with the Inspector General. I let it go, or so I thought.
After my accidental discharge, the poop started hitting the fan, our platoon was under scrutiny by the command, and SSG Lee was found to have a live grenade in his truck; therefore, quite quickly and quietly firing him as out platoon sergeant. Which put our section leader in charge, SSG Ewing; thus SSG Conley was second in charge, and since the second in charge’s truck was always in the rear, Sobol and I were reassigned to another team leader, yet again. This time it was good! It was back to Timmie Mangrum.
Timmie and I were back together as a team, and there was nothing that could stop us from that point on. Sobol was annoying, but we were used to that. Timmie, Jason, and I rode out the rest of the year with little trouble, other than the few spatters that happens when people are around each other way too much!
Trouble did find me though, more trouble that is. While I was in Iraq, I had gotten into the habit of running, running a lot, three miles at the very least at a time. I would run with my iPod on one ear, listening to music with a beat that I could cadence to. The post regulation was that there is nothing covering ears while running, other than approved areas. I always ran on approved areas, always, especially on my way to the gym, where I would run on the treadmill in the air conditioning. One day; however, I was running and out of the blue there was this Sergeant First Class (SFC) that saw me running and had an issue running with my one headphone on in my ear and yelled after me.
“HEY SOLDIER!” I ignored him because I was running and I had no clue to whom he was talking to; there were plenty of other soldiers outside in the general area that I was at.
“HEY YOU!! STOP!! YOU WITH THE HEADPHONE(S) ON!” At this point I knew that he was talking to me, but I did not want to stop my cadence, my rhythm was on fire that day and I was going for a six-miler. Suddenly I heard labored breathing and rocks being kicked up behind me, and I knew that the SFC was talking to me; so I stopped and turned around to him to make sure that he was not going to have a heart attack. (I am nice like that.)
“WHAT’S YOUR NAME SOLDIER?” The SFC managed to labor this out of his mouth in between deep breaths. Me, I was irritated because he had stopped my run; screwing up my cadence.
“Why do you need to know my name Sergeant?” I asked coolly.
“Boy don’t you get smart with me, I just chased you yelling at you for the last quarter mile; now you are going to tell me your name, or you are going to be doing push-ups instead of running.” Really, I was doing PT, did he really think that I was going to be upset about doing push-ups?
“My name is Holmes. Pleased to make your acquaintance,” I said sarcastically. I knew this would get a rise out of him, but I did not care because he was ruining my run time. Clock was still ticking on my wrist.
“Boy how do you stand in front of an NCO?” Before I could answer he answered for me, “YOU STAND AT PARADE REST!” In my mind, I was thinking to myself, ‘this guy doesn’t know me from Adam. He doesn’t know my rank, and of course I have my ID card on me, but he has no arresting powers.’ I almost told him that I was a lieutenant and told him to shove his rhetoric where the sun does not shine. Instead:
“Yes Sergeant.” I stood to parade rest, my hands behind my back and my feet spread shoulder width apart.
“Now take your iPod out of your ear and keep it out! You are not allowed to have that in anywhere you go on post except the gyms. Where are you going?” I pointed to the gym which was across the street cadi-cornered from where we were standing.
“Sergeant this is an iPod approved area by our Sergeant Major.” I told him coyly; in-other-words, ‘You have no jurisdiction; so take your happy ass somewhere else!’ He looked at me with deep suspicion, and said:
“No it is not.” Whatever, I didn’t want to fight with him over it. So I took my iPod out of my ear and held it in my hand. “Can I finish my workout now, Sergeant?” I pronounced sergeant as SAr-jENT.
“Carry on.” I waited till he turned around heading back the way that he had come from then put my iPod back in my ear; however, I did not turn the music back on. I crossed the road and headed towards the gym and started to run there. All of a sudden there it was again:
“STOP!! YOU WITH THE HEADPHONES ON, STOP!!!” That same NCO was watching me; I decided to ignore him, and his harassment. I got to the gym and took wallet out of my shirt and showed the Ugandan guard that was guarding the gym. Showed him my ID, and then put the wallet back in my shirt, hanging off of my neck. The Ugandan was trying to strike up a conversation with me, but I was uncertain to as to what he was saying because of his thick accent – then I gathered what he was saying after the third or fourth time that he said the same thing:
“That man is chasing you? He right behind you, mista…” Sigh, I knew that I was not going to be left alone, and at that he was right behind me. I could hear his labored breathing and his smell the stench of hot breath. I had really ticked this guy off!
“WHAT UNIT ARE YOU (expletive) IN?”
“Why? Why do you want to know what unit that I am in?” I asked starting to get really peeved at this guy who is picking up, “and what give you the right to yell at me?”
“You see these rockers on my chest?” He pointed at the chevrons on his chest which indicated that he was indeed a sergeant first class, but I did not care – all I wanted to do was finish my workout with no more interruptions. “What is your name and rank?” He continued, “You better tell me or you are going to have deal with my wrath.”
“Threatening me Sergeant is an offence against UCMJ. All I want to do is complete my workout – I am doing what the Army wants me to do: stay physically fit. Now if you will excuse me…” I tried to push past him and he then grabbed my arm; whereas, I pulled my arm away and hard. He fought back with his words.
“You guard,” talking to the Ugandan that I had been speaking to momentarily ago, “Watch him… If he moves I want you to shoot him. Shoot to kill!” I had to do a double take at this. “I am going inside to call the M.P.’s, do not let him move! I am serious shoot him.” I remember thinking to myself, ‘What is this guy smoking? Why the power trip, all over a pair of headphones?’ As I was thinking this the SFC headed into the gym and this is where I decided to make a break for it.
“You are not going to shoot me if I move are you?” I said in a joking manner to the Ugandan, who in replies and chuckles:
“No… No… No… I can’t shoot you sir…”
“So if I run you aren’t going to shoot me in my back, right?” I was laughing but was very serious about this; I didn’t want to make it through over a year on a deployment only to be shot in the back by a guard that wasn’t even the enemy, but was made to by a power-tripping sergeant.
“No… No… No… My job is not to hold you.”
“Alright then… Bye!” And at that I took off like a bat out of hell. I ran in the opposite direction that I had been running and ran back through the trailers that housed the soldiers. I ran for about two minutes and then found a spot to stop and catch my breath. My heart was pounding so hard that I thought that I might have a heart attack. At that point I realized that my PT shirt that I had on was on inside-out. I took my iPod and wrapped it up, turned my shirt back inside-right, and then started running again. I ran the mile and a half that I was away back to the holding tents that we were in. As soon as I got into the tent I knew that I was safe. The tent was still very dark inside and people were all still sleeping. I went to my cot and woke up Timmie who was in the cot next to mine, and told him all the preceding events. Timmie being Timmie laughed his head off! He thought that it was ridiculous that I was being threatened to be shot over a pair of headphones. I am inclined to agree. Timmie and I decided that it would be best if we not told anyone about this incident because I was at times disrespectful to a soldier that did outrank me; even if he acted inappropriate, I should have acted in better graces and with better military courtesy. All that mattered from that point on was getting home and on the “Freedom Bird.”
“Welcome to Camp Ali Salam! While you are here you will be out processing and should not be here, on my base, for more than forty-eight hours… Your freedom bird waits to take you and your stuff all home!”
After spending almost a week on the tarmac at the Baghdad International Airport (that the Americans had secured very first back at the beginning of the war), we finally got on a military transporter flight that took us to Camp Ali Salam, Kuwait. Our briefing was short and in retrospect it was the best briefing that I had ever sat in on. What the briefing had told us that we would be there less than two days and we would turn in all of our mission essential items that we no longer needed, but would help someone back in Iraq. We turned in our body armor, and our ammunition – some of us had more than others because we were responsible for more weapons. I for example had at any given time five weapons on me. I was responsible for an M-4 Carbine rifle, M-9 nine millimeter pistol, M-249 SAW (machine gun in layman’s terms), a .50 caliber M2 Browning machine gun, and a MK-19 automatic grenade launcher. The last two are crew serve weapons and we left all the ammo with the trucks that we occupied in country, but I still had a lot of other ammunition from the other three weapons. I got excited when it was my turn to turn in my ammunition, which meant that the opportunity to shoot others was done!
Following ammo turn-in was Customs inspections. We had to dump all of our equipment out of our neatly packed bags, and then told to repack it in less than ten minutes to make room for the next guy. Whatever, we were going home. They could have told us to do a thousand push-ups and we would have done it! After we got are bags checked into customs and on the truck that would eventually be on our plane, we had some R&R. There was an American institution on Camp Ali Salam, and we all wanted to go there even though we were going to be able to go there in less than a day: McDonalds! Everyone decided that that was the place to go here in Kuwait that way we could have our fill before getting home.
I do not believe that I had ever tasted a French fry that tasted better than those fries that day. The Big Mac looked nothing like the picture, but tasted the same as I remembered from the States was excellent. We ate like there was no tomorrow! We ate like kings, and we paid through the nose for our McDonalds. We moved on from there to the staging area, and waited for the plane. Four hours later we were on our flight headed back to Indianapolis, Indiana; with layovers in Cypress to refuel, and Germany to refuel and deice the outer hull of the plane. While in Germany we all got very inebriated, and then told that we were doing the wrong thing, we didn’t care we were going home!
“We are now starting our final descent into Indianapolis; please put your trays up and the backs of your chairs into their upright position. The current temperature here is 75° Fahrenheit; the local time is 1:30p.m. Welcome back boys!”
As our flight arrived, we noticed something off the starboard side of the jet: there were soldiers standing out there in formation! Baggage detail! There was a whole crowd of people there that no one knew who they were until we realized that they were politicians. As we filed out of the plane in a single line we were greeted by our congressmen and the commanding general of the Indiana National Guard, and we were greeted by our rear detachment. They got us through the security gates and into buses where they loaded us on and we had to wait almost two hours to start moving to the welcome home ceremony. Then we realized what had happened. Our congressman and mayor of the city that we were in wanted to say a speech at the ceremony and they had to get there before we could. Ugh, politicians!
As we pulled into the driveway at the place where the ceremony was to be held we noticed that the parking lot was completely full; we also noticed that there was no one outside at all – it was like the zombie apocalypse took place. The Company Commander and the company First Sergeant put us into company formation and started to march us in to the building where we were marching into a garage door that opened right as we got there. As the door opened everyone, who were listening to Congressman Joe Donnelly talk, stopped listening to him and turned towards us stood up and started clapping, cheering, hooting, and hollering. Pride swelled up in my chest, as I am sure it did in everyone’s chest. They marched us in and into seats where we had to listen to many people speak before we could get up and find our family members. Once found my sister took a photo of me and my father embracing in a hug that to me will always be remembered.
The day ended finally and we would forever be remembered as the “Heroes of South Bend!”