When my first Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) tour was complete in May of 2004, I went through all the robotic motions necessary to process out of Iraq followed by the same hum drum procedures leaving Kuwait days later. Leaving Kuwait was more annoying because we had to put up with a few screaming MP’s who thought that they were still at boot camp or took personal the fact that we were actually leaving a war zone while they were coming unglued in Kuwait.
Once aboard the chartered aircraft that would take me home, I exchanged greetings with the smiling flight attendant. Moving down the aisle, I scanned the seats for an empty one, away from the crowd. The jet’s AC unit must have been running on high because there was a chill in the air that had the whole interior cold. I spotted the seat I wanted and proceeded to throw my gear into the overhead compartment. Others were sure to join me soon enough. Everybody wanted to go home. Why not? We did our time. Assuming we were all thinking on the same wavelength, none of us ever wanted to return to that Godforsaken place again.
John Mayer’s, “Clarity” was playing over the intercom. How fitting indeed.
…I worry, I throw my fear around
But this morning, there’s a calm I can’t explain
The rock candy’s melted, only diamonds now remain…
More weary soldiers continued to pile into the aircraft lugging their carry-on ruck-sacks. I reached for the headphones and placed them over my head.
…By the time I recognize this moment, this moment will be gone
But I will bend the light pretending, that it somehow lingered on
And I will wait to find if this will last forever
And I will wait to find, that it won’t and it won’t because it can’t
It just can’t, (It’s not supposed to)…
When I finally get to the other side, hours later, my wife of 21 years will be waiting for me! My son and daughter will be there also! I smiled at the thought. I can’t wait to see them again. It was a long year. Too long.
…Was there a second of time I looked around?
Did I sail through or just drop my anchor down?
Was anything enough to kiss the ground?
And say I’m here now…
Once the soldiers settled in, one of the flight attendants gave the safety instructions over the intercom while the plane moved slowly into position for takeoff. After a few idling minutes, we lurched forward and quickly gathered the speed needed for liftoff until we were airborne. Jethro Bodine once made the statement on Beverly Hillbillies, “Uncle Jed, if this thing gets going any faster we will be flying off the ground.” This revelation was during his first flight in a plane when he thought he was on a fast bus.
Airborne; yes, I remember it well. I earned those silver wings after completing five jumps at Fort Benning, Georgia during the record-setting temperatures and miserable hot summer of 1980.
One of those jumps was a night jump. That is when, for a brief second or two, I thought life here on earth was finished for me. The night was darker than I thought it would be once I exited the aircraft. I was mesmerized by the night lights over the horizon. Suddenly, I noticed a canopy (parachute) looming large out of the corner of my left eye. I tucked myself into a tight body position and tugged hard at my right main risers to pull away from the approaching jumper, praying hard to avoid a mid-air collision.
Too late! I felt solid impact racing across my left side from lower leg to upper shoulder. I was now facing skyward with my feet in front of my nose. I’m rolling over his chute in mid-air! Just when I expected to see a new paradise, I noticed that my arms were joyfully jumping up and down on the ground, where I found myself lying safely on the ground.
I had just completed a dynamic Point of landing fall (PLF) and did not realize it at the time. In the excitement of avoiding a collision (so I thought), I did not even feel my feet hit the ground.
…How ’bout you? And I will wait to find
If this will last forever. And I will pay no mind
When it won’t and it won’t because it won’t…</
I closed my eyes. I just want to get home again! By the time I recognize this moment, this moment will be gone