Update - 22 Mar 06
I am finally back off of two weeks of leave, and ready to start putting some of the stories up on the blog. As usual, I’m very sorry for the delay. I can sometimes have the attention span of a goldfish, and now that I am back, I can focus better. Since I am remaining on active duty for a while yet, I will try to post as part of my daily routine for the next couple of weeks for sure. Besides, my memory is starting to already fade on some of the details, and I want to get this stuff down before it fades completely.
We’ve been back for a month now, arriving in to Cherry Point MCAS on 17 Feb 06 after about 30 hours of traveling). Truly hard to believe. Our arrival into North Carolina went pretty smoothly. Once we arrived in Kuwait, we stayed for less than 24 hours at Camp Victory before being bused to a different airport for embarkation on a 747. Prior to embarkation, we were linked up with about 200 other Marines who would be traveling back with us, and together, we began the Customs goatrope. Of course, by then, it was night. We got the standard briefs about no ammo, no explosives, no dirt, no pets, no drugs, etc, etc. Then, we had to head outside, find all of our gear (find your green seabag in the pile of 250+ green seabags), and then drag all of that crap into line to run it all through an X-ray machine. Now each of us had at least an overstuffed pack, seabag, rifle case with M-16A4 and M9 pistol. And yes, it was about as much fun as it sounds. In my previous deployments, then had all been done by hand, meaning everyone got on line, literally dumped everything out, and inspectors with dogs would come through. As painful as it was, it could have been worse. There still were those unlucky SOBs who would get pulled aside to dump everything anyway. At least one of our guys had a 5.56 round wedged (unbeknownst to him) into his cartridge belt and the X-ray tech actually spotted it; he got to go “old school” and dump all of his trash out (it’s OK, sir; it could have happened to anybody).
Following that cluster, we got to wait in another line with our carry-on stuff (backpack, computer, etc.). After getting read the riot act again there, we were required to dump all of our carry-on stuff for detailed inspections, and then… That was it! We moved to one of several permanent buildings with TVs, pre-packaged dinner, chairs, etc., and waited about three hours to load the aircraft. Hell, there was even a privately-owned coffee shop (trailer, really) in the little compound, so I personally was GTG. When the word finally came, we moved out in an orderly fashion, had a final roll call, and loaded the buses, which then rolled out for the short trip to the airport. Once there, we ended up having to wait about three of four hours while the loadmasters loaded and then re-loaded the aircraft (there was some sort of weight distribution problem). I got to spend that time seated on the bus seat above the left rear wheel well (read “unable to sit with feet on floor”), with my backpack on my lap. I thought I would have to be carried off the bus in the fetal position when we finally were told to load up. Good times!
Once we loaded the aircraft, it all moved quickly. First, a stop in Germany to refuel, then several hours to Bangor, Maine where we received the now well-known FABULOUS reception from the USO volunteers there in Bangor. Fantastic. At least 15-20 of them, all eager to shake the hand of every Marine coming off that plane. If you a looking to donate some money to someone, try the USO. They were a welcome sight from McGuire AFB where we were initially marooned in June, to Bangor last month. One other GREAT thing about Bangor was that we were on the ground long enough to hit the small airport bar there and finally - FINALLY – get our first beer after eight months. None of us were more relieved of delighted than Gy Ellis (as those who know him can surely attest). From Bangor, it was a short hop to Cherry Point, NC, where we loaded on to buses and moved to Camp Lejeune. On a personal note, my parents both live in Durham, NC, only about two hours away, so they, my step-mother, and my lovely wife Joy were able meet me there at the airport. The beginning of the end was at hand.
I won’t bore you with the remaining outprocessing details. It was truly surreal for me to be back at Lejeune, simply because I had not been back since I left active duty in June of 2000. A very strange walk down memory lane, compounded by the fact that the Drifter team was about to be no more. Master Guns Kistler made the trip down from PA, so for the first time since September, all 11 of us were in one place. And now – suddenly – we are not.
I won’t get all weepy here, but I could not have asked for a better lash-up of Marines to go into combat with. Most of us are artillerymen, most of us are reservists, all of us are pretty senior in rank. It could have easily been a pretty dysfunctional deployment, with us stepping on each others toes. Believe me, between life with the Iraqis and the fact that we had never really been TRAINED for a “special ops” / indigenous personnel type operation, we could have really had some friction. But we didn’t. Our team coalesced early as a team, and stayed that way throughout. We lost Master Guns to foot trouble, and SSgt Walsh to wounds; we made two moves with 3-2-1 (Habbaniyah to East Ramadi, and East Ramadi to West Ramadi); worked with four different coalition partners (1-506th, 1-110th, 2-69th, and 3/7). We had a couple of spats (like families do), but we also stuck together, and adapted and overcame. The strength of our team, the secret of our success, was that Drifter was indeed greater that the sum of its parts. After all the trials and tribulation that this blog has passed to you - the reader - about our deployment (and more to come), we separated as brothers in the truest sense. Will I miss Gy Ellis taking his boots off in a closed room after a patrol on a hot summer day? Why, no! Will the CO miss me snoring loud enough to wake the dead? Probably not. But there are times – I must admit – that I miss doing Marine-like things with those guys. Getting shot at is never a goal, but if it is going to be a part of your life, go with guys you believe in.
Stay tuned; more pictures and stories to follow.