Thursday, October 27, 2005
Conclusion: Leaving Home
I’m glad these are the last days here. I’m going to miss them, I think.
You can miss something to which you might wish you had never grown accustomed. You might hate it, but speak fondly of it. One of our NCOs had a habit of responding, whenever others complained, “It’s free, ain’t it. Then it’s all good. It’s all good.”
Short of a week ago, our group of soldiers, the ones who I served with most closely, moved from the building we had inhabited for the past nine months. In doing so, we had to pack, ship, mail or get rid of all manner of personal and comfort items that helped all of us feel not quite so far away from the America of our leisure days (to the exten some of us had those).
A lot of us were stubborn about giving up our comforts, habits, or familiars.
What makes a place a home? Familiarity, certainly. We knew every broken door, every busted faucet, the way in which the water would settle in the low spots, and we’d use the squeegee to get rid of the water, to cut down on the bugs.
(The Squeegee, I’m convinced, was invented by Iraqis so all they had to do to wash the silt off stuff was hose everything down and then squeegee the water until it evaporated, which doesn’t take long at 120 degrees Fahrenheit.)
We had our routines, where we’d get our first cup of coffee, the Sergeant of the Guard bringing back breakfast items after posting the details. The habits of the staff, the wares of the Iraqi workers. (Rolexes, $20, DVDs, $5, all made under the unacknowledged but no less official auspices of the People’s Republic of China in state run factories.).
People make a home, too. The Nut with his boxes and boxes of everything he owned under the sun – a frustrating tale he’d not want me to share. Sanford and his junkyard truck, and scrounging trips to the dump. The Islander who can’t ever seem to get out of bed, the fitness fanatic with the wobbly digestion, the Old Timer and his rants about the Old Days, KBR, or any other piece of conversational toothjam that got caught up in his craw. The LT and his watery gruel, the CO and his workouts, the three Staff Sergeants that got thrown out of their respective rooms by aggravated roommates, and then shared a room amid friendly wagers of who would come out of the experience alive. Little Top and the precision of his daily schedule, and ability to get along with Mess, Maintenance and Supply while executing the Company’s administrative requirements. Sunday Night NASCAR, with precision tracking of whose predictions came the closest to the actual finishes of the drivers. The ever popular Mess Sergeant with her stickers, and her colleague Older Than He Looks, with his trivia questions written on the to-go plates.
I had my own room, and I know I was lucky to have it. A lot of soldiers have tents, or containerized housing units (CHUs). We were in a building that apparently was a kitchen, with a lot of tiled walls, lots of drains, and otherwise pretty spare walls and decorative flourishes. Sounds plain, and it was, but it also was very easy to keep clean, and as a result, a darn sight more livable than m ost of our buildings. Plus, we had room for everybody to have more than the minimum space and some privacy (depending on rank, of course).
We made it home. It was over to one side of the FOB, so we had a couple of close calls, rockets, mortars nearby, but thank God, nobody got hurt. A vehicle born improvised explosive device (VBIED) went off a couple of hundred yards from us, which was loud and quite a shock, and surprisingly, we were subjected to a rough rain of car parts, but nothing more.
We were a considerable distance from Battalion HQ, which was another advantage that increased livability.
We made it a home, we bounced against the walls and each other until we settled, we connected, and got to the easy familiarity of a neighborhood. And now, that part, that place is all gone.
Our relinquishing of living and work areas is a small microcosm of the overall reduction in US presence, writ large across the Iraqi landscape. As units rotate home and consolidate to several large, key bases, smaller and politically significant FOBs like ours are being emptied and turned over to the Iraqis, either the Iraqi Army or Government.
We had some fine real estate here. I’ve described the palaces. We have a near-2,000 year old Christian Church that is perhaps one of the oldest such structure outside of the Holy Land proper, and due to its age in the history of the Christian Churches of the Gentiles, of potential New Testament significance (if not known to Saint Paul himself).
I was blessed beyond hope with readily accessible Internet (CAT5 to my room), and an Internet Café and Phone Center right next door. We were able to install an Armed Forces Network (AFN) decoder/transceiver, which allowed us American television programming, if somewhat limited compared to cable.
We ran over 100 convoys, we had a couple of close calls, we still have a couple to go, but God willing, we’ve had no accidents or injuries.
We are winding down our last days on the FOB, and the entire unit is now stuffed cozily into a single building with the exception of senior officers and warrant officers. We ran the Lord of the Rings, extended edition, the past several evenings. Our maintenance and mess and supply sections – who were the ones who moved, along with my CO and I – are trying to feel at home in a new temporary home, before they get us all out of here.
We were dropped akimbo into this Other Neighborhood. This one had been inhabited only by our Intel and Staff soldiers, a place that, though very dark and dreary to our eyes, with day and night shifts sleeping throughout the entire day, had been their home, like ours. And we disturbed it. (They say we scared the fish away, but we did get the ducks to come by. And the fish return, when we feed them.)
Now we all settle into a new configuration, and grasp for semblance of home on the way back home. It has its attractions. Movie night was nice, the sunrises and sunsets are radiant.
It’s a lakeside chalet. The soldiers have enjoyed cool mornings and pleasant evenings, watching the sun come ujp or go down alongside water. Brilliant colors, a steady quiet, as far away from anything unpleasant as things get here outside of sleep.
They feed fish, and ducks. They get a chance to chat up soldiers from other sections who we haven’t really seen during the deployment. They work through new neighbor issues, the usual smack talking, trading insults, but with lighter hearts and brighter eyes than I’ve seen since we started.
Even the Battalion Commander (BC) has been seen spending a relaxed hour sitting out on the patio, talking to his soldiers.
We all had missions. Some were dangerous, some were tedious and frustrating, some were desperately dull. Dull is good, we say, boring is good. Every single one was important. Every one of us is somehow different than we were when we started.
Not least among the many things we each of us bring back from our time in Iraq, we each now have at least one new home we’ve made, and lost, and I suspect we’ll reminisce about for as long as we all sit around and tell stories to our friends and family, about those 9 months we made Iraq our home.
Links: Jo's Cafe, bRight & Early, Mudville Gazette, Outside the Beltway
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