Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Well, the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter than ever. Our replacements are due in any day now and everyone is excited about starting our journey home. I just got back from another trip to Baghdad. My NCOIC and I made a special trip to attend an awards ceremony for my Commander. As I've written in the past, she is a real special person and I was proud to see her being recognized for the outstanding job she has done here.

We arrived at the palace under secrecy, in an attempt to surprise her with our presence. She was asked to speak at a leaders conference and there the 18th Airborne Corps Chief of Staff was going to award her the coveted Bronze Star. She was shocked and excited to see that her soldiers were in on the surprise as she accepted the award graciously. This award is only given to those who have demonstrated the highest levels of leadership in combat situations and the fact that the 18th Airborne Corps was recognizing her accomplishments meant a lot to her and all of us.

Our replacements are due to arrive at our location within the next week. A lot is going on at this time with the Muslim holiday of Ramadan and the constitution ratification later in the month. Needless to say things around camp have been active. I still don't quite understand a holiday condones mortaring American troops.... Regardless we all remain alert and ready, knowing full well that anything can happen in a moment and we aren't home until we're home. The days have gone by, I wouldn't say fast, but still they've gone by. The weather is much better now, mid 90's in the day and dipping into the high 60's at night. We even had clouds the other day, yes clouds. You could see people all around the camp just standing outside looking up at these funny white floatie things, something we haven't seen in close to six months. With the break in the weather, I've noticed a distinctive change in soldiers' temperaments. It is amazing the effect the weather can have on people. Some may just be happy that their tour is drawing to an end. Regardless, soldiers and the civilians here seem in better moods.

The numbers of civilians working on post has dramatically increased. I know that KBR gets a bum wrap back in the states for all of the government contracts they are getting. The truth is if they weren't here doing it, the number of soldiers on the ground would more than likely be double what we currently have. I for one have close to 40 KBR employees working indirectly for me and they have done a superb job. I do have mixed emotions about their roles here. Yes, their presence allows us to have fewer soldiers on the ground but the total number of Americans working over here would probably shock the general public. Most of these employees are former military and all are volunteers fully aware of what they are getting into. These ladies and gentlemen put themselves in harms way in many of the same ways the soldiers do. Three members of KBR were killed on a convoy last week just outside our gates, so they are not immune to the horrors of this conflict.

My guys, both here and in BIAP are all eager to get back to our home life. My commander put out a great message this evening to all of us about not getting complacent. I was reminded by one of my guys about the soldier we met our first night here, the only one in the bunker after the rounds came in. He told us that he only had two weeks to go and was not taking any chances. I bet he never imagined that his words and actions would have such an effect on us. It just goes to show that you never know who is watching or paying attention to your words or actions and what they will mean to the person you least expected to reach. What a lesson for all of us.

My wife and I are already making plans for my return: parties, reunions, Thanksgiving, Christmas.... what a blessing to be making plans for events back home. What an experience the last 11 months has been. I am still very proud to be serving my country and I still believe that what we are doing here will make this part of the world a safer place and ultimately make our homeland more secure.

I will probably write one more time while on this deployment and then a final entry once I get back home. There is a whole new group of soldiers arriving daily that are going through the same emotions I experienced last December. I hope and pray that their families and communities will embrace them as I was and that they all come home safe. The reality is that some will not, and for all of them I ask that everyone continue to keep them in your thoughts and prayers. If you know the family of someone deployed or the employer of someone who was activated please continue to show them your support. A simple yet sincere "thank you" can go a long way.

Thanks, Take Care and God Bless