After almost 6 months in country, I fly out for Kuwait late this afternoon. My head is swirling with mixed emotions - the anticipation of seeing my wife again after half a year apart, the longing for a return to normalcy, and the relief of peaceful safety are tempered with regret at leaving work unfinished, fear of the unknown as I leave the regimented regularity of my days in Iraq, and heartache at leaving some great friends behind.
That said, I can't wait to be home.
I'm currently at our District Headquarters at Camp Victory, near Baghdad International Airport. Unlike the surreal civility of the Green Zone, Victory reminds you that there is still a war going on. It's hot and dusty, helicopters flit constantly overhead, and occassionally you'll hear a Bradley or Abrams rumble by. You see the convoys of Humvees filled with heavily armed soldiers returning from security patrols. And we're close enough to the action to have our own artillery batteries. In fact, I was awakened this morning by the staccato bursts of outgoing 155mm rounds, probably lobbing extended range rounds towards the remaining pockets of insurgents near Fallujah.
It's ironic that artillery would be my alarm clock on my last day in country. Six months ago, I had crashed out in my cot shortly after arriving from a punishing 3-days of traveling. At about 2am, there was a series of percussive booms. With the briefings I had endured at Fort Bliss still fresh in my head, and the adrenaline still coursing through my body from just putting my feet on Iraqi soil, I dove from my bunk pressing myself as low to the floor as possible while pulling my flak jacket over me. I cowered on the floor as another series of rounds boomed. I did not know yet that this had to be outgoing as the insurgents would only fire off one set of rounds before running from the inevitable helicopters. After this second round, I lay on the floor for several more minutes. Eventually, I crawled back into my bunk and drifted into an uneasy slumber while thoughts of "what the hell am I doing here?" ran through my head.
This morning, as a grizzled veteran of a dozen mortar and rocket attacks, I quickly recognized the disciplined rhythm of outgoing artillery. I rolled over and went back to sleep.
It's time to go home.