Monday, June 29, 2009

Long Walk to the Gate

This very long day of beginning my return to Iraq started really well. I got up at 0500 listening to NPR news on WITF radio. I know I can listen to NPR in Iraq, but it has to be on the internet, which is not quite the same as a clock radio. At 0550 my friend Matt Clark picked me up in his van and we went to Starbucks on Columbia Avenue in Lancaster for one last latte at my favorite coffee place and a New York Times, another habit I can't indulge at Tallil Ali Air Base. Matt and I talked and joked on the 35-mile drive to the airport. Then I checked my bags and walked toward the gate.

that was the worst moment of the whole trip. My family was between 400 and 4000 miles away, Matt was on his way back home and the only person I knew was a young sergeant getting on the same plane I was boarding. He was with his wife and mother. He was sad. They were crying and I almost lost it at that point. But when I got to security, the folks who check the bags smiled at me and wished me a good trip and said to come back soon. They know the soldiers on the morning flights in uniform looking glum are the ones going back to Iraq.

When I got to Atlanta, the USO volunteers were waiting to direct us at the arrival area. A big guy in his 60s shook my hand and said, "From the look on your face, you must be going back." By noon we had boarding passes and eight hours to wait. Most everyone grabbed the free USO food and then split into two groups: one group filled the chairs in front of the big screen TV, the other went out into the walkway around the atrium and started looking for electrical outlets for their computers or started taking naps. One of the good things about these incredibly slow (by commercial standards) boring trips is that the rest and sleeping leave us with less jet lag than high-speed travelers. Of course, it's not a great nap when every 15 minutes you hear about liquid and gel restrictions for passengers on the PA system.

I just finished a six-hour wait and am now going to the gate now to begin the next two-hour wait. I am glad these uniforms don't wrinkle easily.