Last Shift: Quitting Time: Turn Out The Lights

Well let’s see. Its cold here. That’s good. Not many missions. Just every now and again. The locals are waiting for us to leave, and kinda keeping it quiet to see if we really do leave.

The polo shirt and khaki cargo pants guys are taking over everything. The world’s biggest embassy. Interesting. I’m sure the locals will open their arms to them once DOD is finally out. (Although I think Sadr has other plans.)

It’s like a Going Out Of Business Sale around here. Units are ripping out everyday with no backfill. Ripping is “Relieved In Place” (RIP). We’re leaving the local government with equipment, installations, and vehicles. The vehicles – cars, trucks, and SUVs – are the things that crack me up. I’m sure the DOD paid top dollar for all the vehicles and now they’re giving them to the local government for pennies on the dollar. They’re pretty well used. I think I’d rather buy a used taxi or rental car than use these.

I got a bunch of new guys out here, some pretty young. They’re crew chiefs, gunners, and maintenance, and 18 to 23 years old. It’s funny, they can only drive the trucks and SUVs that have automatic transmissions. They’ve never seen a stick shift and we don’t have enough time to teach them. Also funny, they still carry their cell phones around, but there’s no cell service here. They don’t wear watches so they use their cell phones to tell time! It’s a whole new generation.

Knowing this is my last rotation is kinda bitter sweet. Throughout the war I’ve made a lot of friends from the different units that we always run into out here – from the teams we work with, to the many other aviation units deployed here. The TCNs (Third Country Nationals) always remember us. They’re the guys who do our laundry, serve us food, do the day-to-day cleaning, and are mostly from the Philippines. They’re a work force that will soon be out of work and headed home, some for the first time in 4-5 years.

Everybody around here will keep tabs on what the locals end up doing with the freedom we purchased for them with American lives and treasure. Interesting – we kinda feel vested, but really don’t have a good feeling for the future of this country. Too many blood feuds to be settled. My bet is somewhere between the Wild Wild West and Mad Max. We’ll see.

Did we effect change? Yes and No. We rid the country of a tyrant (Saddam) and his two miserably evil sons (Uday, and Qusay). But we’ve also set up the country for the Shi’ites to take over under pressure from Iran. A more stable Middle East? I don’t know. These folks have fought each other for generations. Maybe stable as a moving target, or an adjusting scale.

For me and the other reservists, I guess we go home and go back to work. Strange, this will be very strange. Kinda forgot about the normal 9-5 grind. I’m so used to being in some third world country and on the road, it’ll take some getting used to. Weekends? Football games not at 2am? Actually being home for the holidays and special occasions, without Middle East deployment as an excuse to keep from showing up?

I still remember the beginning of the war and guys crawling all over themselves trying to get here and do their duty. We didn’t want to miss the biggest game. Nobody thought it would or could last this long.

I’m lucky. I’ve met and worked with a lot of great people, and I’m returning home in one piece. I’ve lost friends both here and in the other theater, lost one marriage, and about 5 girlfriends have giving me walking papers for not being home on holidays and usual special occasions. But I still feel lucky.

Peace – j