- Posted February 12, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The war through your eyes: Iraq 10 years on
A Journey of Bemusement: Embarking on a Deployment to Iraq
People are always afraid of change. At least I was as I sat there completely intoxicated in the passenger seat of my best friend Samuel Shin’s Small car as we careened down the I-5 at 2:45 on that cold morning of January 7th, 2008. I grumbled to Sam that we would be late getting to the staging area on Camp Pendleton, but he just ignored my complaint as he drove, staring blankly out at the vortex of rain pummeling down on the windshield through the rays of light from his high beams. We had just finished packing our gear and throwing on our desert camouflage minutes before. We had also been drinking since maybe 5 that evening at our friend Jared’s house, who would be joining us on deployment. I turned up the volume on the CD player in Sam’s car to get my mind off of my best friend Ashley. I had said good bye to her hours before and I could not get my mind off of how I would not be seeing her or any of my friends and family or experiencing any of the pleasures and comforts of my existence in Southern Orange County for the next 14 months. I only had a rough idea of what my job would be as a Command Center Operations Specialist (otherwise known as the Map Expert and Computer Nerd of the Marine Corps). I had even less of a clue what levels of violence I would expect to experience (or rather not experience) or what my living conditions in Iraq would be like. I abruptly snapped out of my stupor to Sam violently smacking my chest and telling me to help him get our gear into the gym on The Marine Base where we would be awaiting the buses to take us to March Air Force Base in Riverside. We dragged all of our gear from the car in one rain drenched trip, an encumbering two 50 lbs satchels, a 30 lbs combat pack, and a computer case in addition to our M16 rifles. As we immerged from the rain, I immediately caught sight of my Superior, Master Sgt. Holland, a tall bald man with a rather peeked complexion and permanent look of disgust painted on his face. He barked at us as we walked into the gym for being 5 minutes late and told us to stage our 150 lbs of gear in an orderly fashion in line with that of the other 300 some Marines and their families and friends who were crammed into the small yet brightly lit gym.
And in that gym we sat until daybreak. I napped on my gear, headphones crammed into my ears to keep out the sounds of crying wives and the bickering of some of the younger Marines. Hours later, around 8:30 I believe, our commander called us to grab our gear and get ready to load up onto the buses that had just arrived outside. The 300 of us that comprised Regimental Combat Team 1 (RCT-1) stood there in formation, surrounded by about just as many lingering family and friends. After role was called and the gear was loaded up on the buses, we were dispersed to say our last farewells for a few minutes before loading on the buses. My friends Jared, Sam, and I had Jared’s wife Magen take one last picture of us in the United States before we shuffled onto the buses. I sat on the bus, looking out at the melancholy faces of the friends and families watching us prepare to embark. I remember clearly the last Marine to get on the bus was a Sgt Owens whose son, who must have been about 4, refused to let go of his leg. As he handed his son over to his wife the young boy screamed with tears in his eyes “daddy don’t go!” ; At that moment I felt the collective hearts of everyone on our bus sink. I recall someone joking “Thanks Owen! I really wasn't pissed off about this whole ordeal until your son decided to carry on like a drama queen!” We all laughed to break the tension but I really don’t think anyone thought it was funny at all.
We arrived at the Airbase in Riverside about two hours later, the rain had subsided by then thank but I don’t think anyone was really concerned about the weather anymore. Before we boarded the plane that would take us to Minneapolis and then on to Kuwait we had to pass through security. Two Air Force reservists stood there waving magnetic wands over us. As I approached the wiry young Airmen in charge of boarding us he gave me his well rehearsed speech: “Show me your I.D. Marine, do you have any weapons to include knives over 3 in. and lighters?” I slowly looked at the M16 rifle slung from my shoulder and then gave him an amused look. “Aside from my gun you mean?” I said, laughing at the asinine situation. Needless to say, his search of my person with his damn wand resulted in me giving up both my lighter and my pocket knife (which apparently wasn't within code to board the chartered jet). My assault rifle however, was perfectly fine.
So there we were, some 300 Marines with our rifles and packs, crammed onto a 747 Jetliner for the next 24 hours or so that it would take for us to fly to Kuwait. A sense of ennui combined with a horrible strain of Cabin fever (that only so many men and women in their late teens or early twenties deprived of nicotine and caffeine can have) settled over the jetliner like a plague. Nerves were high and the sounds of arguments, and poorly thought out practical jokes malingered through the air of the satiated jetliner. I sighed, plugged my headphones into my ears and tried not to think about how much I needed a cigarette and eventually nodded off into a restless sleep.
I awoke to the feeling of the Jumbo Jet’s tires screeching on the asphalt of the runway as we landed in Amsterdam to refuel for the flight to Kuwait. It must have been early afternoon because I recall it being light out as I peeked out through my small window at the tarmac and the buildings and the green fields that comprised the Amsterdam airport. Sadly though, we only had a fraction of an hour to walk a tiny well guarded portion of the terminal. I recall wandering outside of the jet needing fresh air (and a cigarette) but the black uniformed Dutch guard coldly rebuffed my plea to go outside and insisted that we must stay in our designated area. The hundred or so of us that even bothered to leave the plane re-boarded after only a few minutes of strolling in the tiny terminal, feeling rather dejected that we were not allowed outside. As the plane took off I took in the beauty of the verdant Dutch scenery. I knew that would be the last green grass that I would see in quite a while.
We touched down in Kuwait at some ungodly hour on the morning of January 8th. Floodlights and Soldiers yelling at us to make our way to a large structure near the tarmac greeted us as we disembarked from the 747. The clear sky was faintly aglow with either the light before dawn or of that reflected from the many buildings of various sizes that made up Kamp Victory Kuwait. A freezing wind cut through us as we dragged our fatigued bodies into a large ampetheater where we were issued our ammunition and instructed to unpack our armored vests and helmets. I found my friend Sam whose sunken eyes and disheveled hair spoke of the lassitude that we all must have felt at that point. MSgt Holland called our section of about 15 Marines together and told us that we would be staying in tent 3 (wherever that was) for the next day until planes became available to fly us to Iraq. We were all so relieved at the chance to have a decent amount of rest after the long flight from the States and restless night before. “Tent 3” ended up being essentially an old makeshift hangar tent with enough cots crammed into it to fit almost our entire unit (which it did). I unpacked my sleeping bag and crawled in to hibernate until the next leg of our next journey began. I was awakened by Sam who had in his friends a McDonald’s bag. He sat down and began munching veraciously. We were all quite hungry as all we had been subsiding on only bags of chips from the plane and whatever snacks we had brought with us over the past 30 some hours. I inquired as to where he got this delightful cuisine and he informed me that it was next to Cinnabun and Subway behind the shower trailers. I was a bit shocked by the prospect of having fast food available on an Army base in far off Kuwait but was far from unpleased! I quickly made my way there myself. Aside from indulging in fast food, we languished in Kuwait for the next 20 some hours with very little else to do aside from talking amongst ourselves and gazing off into the terra-cotta ocean of the Kuwaiti desert that surrounded the base wondering about the things to come on this very long year that we had ahead of us.