Reflections from the Desert café-Part 1: The Texan sun, though hot, was not as uncomfortable as it could have been in the month of April. Seven of us soldiers had just finished a full day of class at Fort Sam Houston, Texas in San Antonio. We represented a sixty-man Special Forces Aidman class, an advanced medical course, which was part of Phase 2 for those soldiers desiring to become an 18D, Green Beret medic. The year was 1981. Going through the Dining facility (DFAC) line, sliding our trays across the silver barred ledged, we selected our choice of food for dinner and sat around a large circular table, squeezing all seven of us around, elbow to elbow. Conversation eventually led to World War 3, our impending war with the Soviet Union, how it would play out and where it would take place, most agreeing with the Fulda gap scenario in eastern Germany. As opinions varied from one to another, I decided to add mine. “I think we’ll be fighting in the Middle East instead of Europe and we’ll all be wearing brown uniforms, have brown equipment, and brown armor.” The chatter subsided and I received the looks. One finally said, “What makes you think that?" “Because it was prophesied in the Bible.” There were a few groans and chuckles. “When is this supposed to happen?” “I’d give it ten years from now.” More laughter. “YOU give it?” “Well, the Bible doesn’t really say when, but yeah, my own prediction.” Everybody finished their meal, departed, and went their separate ways for the evening, most of them to the local community college library to “study.”
The crowds cheered loudly and the band played as the Pan Am 747 parked near the end of Green ramp at Pope Air Force Base. Steps were wheeled to the front door and more than three hundred soldiers, wearing the brown, “chocolate chip” uniformed, emerged from the aircraft and made their way to a mass formation, keeping in step with the drum. Nobody remembered the words spoken from the podium but when the commander dismissed the troops, we immediately merged with the throng of civilians and other soldiers, most all of them family members, as they welcomed us back from Operation Desert Storm. My wife nearly knocked me over when she found me in the crowd, and between her and my two kids, ages eight and six, we did a lot of hugging. Over the ensuing weeks, I often heard, “Great job! We kicked butt! Congratulations!” I distinctly remember telling one of those exuberant Americans, “Yeah, but it isn’t finished. We’ll be back, only the next time, it will be our sons and daughters,” I added sadly. I was a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
Looking out the small, dirt-stained, glass window of the C-130, my first impression of Iraq was, God, people live in this wasteland? It was a colorless view. Everything was brown. Everything. Even the sky. Maybe it's just a dirty window. “Sir, you’ll have to take your seat now because we’re beginning our descent.” I stumbled back to the canvass seats and leaned back against the red straps felt the aircraft drop into a corkscrew, circling down without and level approach. The year was 2003. Eventually, we landed, the plane came to a stop, engines cut off, the heat sweltered, and American soldiers emptied the iron bird from the back onto the tarmac at Balad Air base, north of Baghdad. They all look so young, I thought looking at most of the soldiers standing around me. The age of my own two, twenty and eighteen. I also took in my new surroundings, Camp Anaconda. Nope, the window wasn't dirty. Everything is still brown. Actually worse on the ground. The night before while waiting in Kuwait, a young female soldier around my daughter's age sat down next to me, saluting me before she did and smiled nicely. “Hi sir.” “Hello.” I said smiling back. “Mind if I sit here, sir.” “Not at all, please.” “Sir, can I ask you something?” “Sure, go ahead.” “Do you ever get used to this? I mean, war?” I thought for a moment. “I hope not.” I finally answered, more for her sake and many young Americans like her than for mine. I was a major and although I didn't know it at the time, two years away from retirement. “You shouldn’t either, if you can help it.” Still holding a beaming smile throughout the conversation, she answered. “Thank you, sir. I just had to hear this from a high ranking officer.” By the spring of 2004, there was a shift in the philosophical strategy for Iraqi Freedom. Our nation was in the process of shipping more soldiers, equipment, more contractors, and more…This is when I knew we were in for the long haul and it would be a while. Most likely, things would get uglier before they got better.