On my 56th birthday, the ramp dropped in the back of the C-17 cargo plane at 1130 hours. We had taxied to the edge of the airstrip. More than 100 soldiers in battle gear struggled out of the five-across seats and walked down the ramp with short, unsteady steps. The same ramp in the picture above.
Heat shimmered on the concrete airstrip. The air temperature was almost 120 degrees already. The surface temperature of the airstrip was closer to 140 degrees.
“Happy fucking birthday, Gussman,” said Sgt. Jeremy Houck when I reached the bottom of the ramp. The baggage pallets were still on the plane. We would have to wait for the bags, then hope for a ride to our new homes behind 20-foot blast walls here on Camp Adder.
The base we were on was Camp Adder to the Army, Talil Ali Air Base to the US Air Force. It would be home for the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, me included, until January of 2010.
On that day, the outside of me was hot, tired, confused and miserable. I was wearing 45 pounds of body armor, carrying 50 more pounds of weapon and gear, and I was melting.
But underneath the sweat, I was soooooooo happy. My dream was not comfortable or fun, but it was my dream. I wanted to be in Iraq. I enlisted during Viet Nam, but missed the war. Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be in the Army in a war. Now 50 years later, I arrived.