“Home is an invention on which no one has yet improved.”   Douglas 

     Hello Everyone.  Welcome back to the final installment of this blog.  The Iowa team has been back home for two months now, and so it is time that I complete this.  I must say that this has been one of the hardest parts of the deployment, the “How to end this record of my journey.”  I have thought about, and struggled with it for a long time, on how I can put into words what I experienced as we left Afghanistan.  Well, here goes, and hopefully I am able to capture everything appropriately into words.      Getting out of the country wasn’t as easy as we had hoped, and it seemed like it was never going to happen at times.  Transportation out was certainly not an easy task, especially for the amount of people that were have trying to get out of there.  There were a lot of time spans in which we simply sat around and waited until our ride showed up.  Once the team got out of Gardez, and moved to Kabul, the waiting game definitely took hold.  We were able to out-process of Kabul within a day or so, so that went pretty quick.  Then the movement to the next station, Kuwait, took entirely way too much time.  We spent a lot of our spare time drinking coffee at the Green Bean, the local java hangout at lovely Camp Phoenix.  We also went to the PX numerous times.  Although I really didn’t have anything I wanted, or needed to buy, it was just something to help pass the time.  The rest of the time was spent reading, watching the ‘ol iPod, or sleeping in the tent.  Finally the day came, our flight was confirmed, and we were off to Kuwait.  Thank God.  We loaded up our stuff, and ourselves in the back of giant trucks, for what would be our last convoy in Afghanistan.  It was the best ride of my life.  The choking dust, horrific smells, oppressive heat, and cramped space was the usual horrible, yet the ride was awesome.  This was it, the last one, and after a few hours of waiting at the Kabul International Airport, we were in the air.  Good Bye Afghanistan.  Although I couldn’t wait to get home, and back to my “normal” life, I still felt as if I were leaving something behind.  Hard to believe that I could actually be saddened by the thought of leaving what was my home for just over a year, but it was true.  I was sad for the soldiers, both US and Afghan that I was leaving.  I have made some lifelong friends there, and leaving them was not easy.  I am sure the thought of returning home, and trying to assimilate myself back into what was my life also nagged at me, somewhere in the back of my mind.  How does one who has spent the last year of life go from living la vida loca to living la blando Iowa?  The year was spent on edge, always being totally aware of everything, and now I will no longer have to do that.  I don’t have to worry about someone lobbing rockets at my home, or trying to blow up my car on the highway, or at least I hope not.  But I knew that this metamorphosis had to take place, and I think the nagging part was the how it was to occur.  

     I am abruptly returned to reality when the C-17 aircraft we were flying in started its decent into Kuwait.  I vaguely recall the flight, so it must not have been all that bad.  What I do clearly remember is Kuwait is the hottest, windiest, and driest place on planet earth.  As we stepped off the rear of the aircraft, and into what I am sure was indication as to what hell may be like, we were immediately shuffled onto air conditioned busses.  Another Thank God moment on the journey home.  Again, we were subject to several days of wait time, and everywhere you went had to be via movement outside in the windy heat. Uhhhggg, but at least in Kuwait we had a McDonald, Pizza Hut, and KFC to eat, and huge movie rooms to hang out in, and other creature comforts that made the time pass by a bit quicker than it did in Kabul.  The only thing that really sticks out in my brain about Kuwait, besides the various camel spiders we encountered, was the customs process.  Simply put, it sucked.  I know it has to be done, we certainly wouldn’t want American soldiers to get caught trying to sneak their interpreters home, but seems to me we could do away with some of the crap they had us do.  Well, we make it through the process, and now we are finally on our way back to the United States of America.  After several hours in the air, a quick pit stop in Germany, and then several more hours in the air, we are over America Air space.  Of course the plane erupted with cheers, and the excitement level of everyone in the aircraft went up about ten notches, but we still have several hours to go.  Our first stop back in the USofA was Colorado to drop some stuff off, and then we had to board a bus for several more hours of seat time for our bona fide destination.  Fort Riley, Kansas, for one of several out processing episodes we have to endure.    Once at Fort Riley, we were afforded an opportunity to catch up on our sleep by having to sit through two days of briefings.  They were pretty much the same ones we received in Kabul, and I am sure to be the same ones we will have to sit through once we return to Iowa.  Now don’t get me wrong, the information given out in the briefings is important, and we should pay attention to what’s being put out.  But when all that is on your mind is being a couple of hours away from home, where my family and friends are, and the realization that the journey is finally coming to an end.  It was just too hard to try and pay attention.  I was doing all I could to hold myself back from running to the nearest Hertz, renting myself a car, and heading back to Iowa.  I don’t think that would have gone over to well at all, but it was tempting.  Now the final ride home.  The last day spent at Fort Riley was short, we all loaded up on a bus for the last leg of our voyage early that Fathers Day morning, off to Newton, Iowa.  What a Fathers day to remember.  I don’t think that freaking bus could have gone fast enough, and the energy on that machine was nuts.  There were signs posted along the highway as we neared our destination, and we even got an escort from some cops and Harley riders.  It was an interesting mixture of fellows that shepherded us in, but none the less, it was a great American sight.  Finally arriving in Newton, God, and the emotions that welled in me is indescribable.  Once lined up, we marched into the High School gymnasium, and made a line across the floor.  On display for everyone to see, their heroes were home, at last.  I saw my family right away, and once again, inexpressible.  There were a couple of people that wanted to publicly thank us, and that’s cool, but I really didn’t hear a word they said.  No disrespect, but they were just not at the front of priority list.  Thankfully, they understood that, and kept their comments quite short.  Then we were released to our families.  I lost sight of everything, and everyone else, and sought my family out.  We hugged and kissed, and in between answered questions from reporters, extended family, and friends.  It was one of the most awesome moments of my life.  Oddly, the second I was with my family, all the time that was lost due to the separation immediately melted away.  It didn’t seem as if we were gone at all, like I was able to shed that layer of skin right off.  The brain is such a wonderful organ, having the ability to bring me right back to where I was before I left, so I thank you memory.  We loaded up the car with the stuff I had, said some quick goodbyes, and we were off to an unknown destination.
 
     Since that day I have since returned to work, and an almost normal life again, so that’s cool.  And, of course, I have the memories of one of the greatest vacations of my life.  Now off to my next adventure, and who knows what it will be.  I certainly want to make sure that I thank everyone, who contributed in every facet possible, to make the vacation a success.  I appreciate the support of my family and friends, for without them, this journey would have been pretty empty.  Lastly, let me thank whatever Supreme Being there may be for allowing me to remain unharmed while away, there were a lot of my brethren who were not as fortunate, and may that same divinity smile down upon them.

Signing Off,
Mark
 
P.S. Look for postings in my new Blog http://www.createthecarrot.com/.  It’s a collection of musing about nothing in particular, but evenrything in general.