A last photo at the Police Training Center barracks.
The flight came a bit early, which meant we parked, I threw my gear on and gave quick hugs, and got on the bird. It was the first and only helicopter flight I’ve gotten that was resourced through my higher command. Better late than never. The quick hugs were in a way a good thing- no awkward waiting at the landing zone, just go, quickly. Like ripping the band-aid off, I was gone. I really had a good year down there, and I’ll miss the work challenges, the fraternity, etc. I won’t miss the smells, I won’t miss the bugs. I won’t miss the distance from family, the intermittent power and poor communications. I won’t miss convoys just to get food and mail. I won’t miss the knowledge that I was one of the 20 Americans on a base with up to 7,000 Iraqis at a time. I was and am proud to have served there, but never liked the idea of how vulnerable we were- and how my colleagues who remain there are now. But it does make it hard to paint us as occupiers there- it truly is an Iraqi base, Iraqi run, with the U.S. providing some mentoring and advising, but we don’t run the clown show anymore.
General Sabar honors me with a couple of great gifts-
almost missed him as he rolled in just before my departure.
The flight was a time of reflection as I looked out at Iraq below me. This was it. Last helicopter ride. I’ll take an armored bus from the IZ to the airport when the moment arrives for the movement out of country. For the most part we flew over green and irrigated areas around the land of the two rivers. The Tigris and Euphrates keep these parts of Iraq alive. At times, though, we’d be over drier, sandier spots. I was noticing what I first thought were large craters, and guessed they were impacts from bombing. Upon further inspection, these areas revealed themselves to be a bit more orderly, and I would be able to spot HESCO barriers and sand-colored tactical vehicles. The holes were made to yield sand to fill the HESCO barriers, providing protection for the isolated outposts the barriers surrounded.
I thought during the flight about what I was leaving behind- the National Police, my replacement, etc. And consistent with my experiences throughout the tour, I was pleased with the fruits of my labors, knowing regardless that there were other things I could have done better. On the whole I know I made a good effort to do the right thing and try to make improvements throughout. As my Iraqi brothers would say, through interpretation- “you were very serious in your work, and we have learned much from you.” I can hold my head up high as I return home and know that when I was called, I stood up and answered the call. I worked through fear, through health problems, disappointments, danger, and sometimes even a strong sense of loneliness. But I’ve almost made it home now.
The goodbye from my friends' perspective- I'm in that bird. Photo credit to Steve.