13 JAN 2008 On the surface of the moon, again
I hope that this letter from the road finds you well. Well, what can I say, my long awaited journey home has finally started! now I will be anticipating the long-awaited end of my journey home! I made it as far as (redacted) in the wee hours this morning. The plane ride was cramped, frigid, and noisy. (And I loved it!!) We tacked on an additional three hours on our trip because we had to pick up Distinguished Visitor (redacted) in (redacted) and waited on the runway for quite a while waiting for their motorcade to show up. But no complaints today!
This is the Middle East I remember from my first visit three years ago! It is rainy, cold, barren, and there are ankle deep puddles everywhere. It is so odd to see everyone walking around in either DCU's (desert camouflage uniform) or PTU's (physical training uniform.) It is like we are two mutually exclusive teams on a big muddy playing field.
My last few hours at Balad were typical to the very end. I finished a case about three hours before my assembly time for departure. Yesterday morning I took a nice shower, and put on clean undergarments because I knew I would be steaming in them for quite a while before I had a cozy place to change. Then, of course, a fresh pediatric trauma arrives and I head into the OR to sweat for three hours while we clean and dress wounds. I walked out of that case soaked through. Good thing they don't have any freshness requirement to get on a military transport.
After the operation I said goodbye to some of the staff, and patient families with whom I had become close. It was very sad to part with these friends whose lives I'd shared for a good long while. But there was no hesitation as I began my journey. The sweetest person of all is waiting for me at the end!
We rounded up the available surgeons for family dinner. The Czar Car was loaded especially full since we had more personnel around than usual with replacements. For my last meal in Balad, I tried the fried pork chops, with a side of brown stuff and rice. A little of the new, a little of the old. The pork chops were a nauseating slap to the taste buds and ensured that my stomach would carry no lingering longing for the high cuisine of DFAC 3. I had failed to follow the sage advice of the departing troop: try nothing new in the last month of deployment. Stay with your routine, it got you that far.
I loaded up my massive rolling contractor's trunk, otherwise know as the coffin (since I could fit in it if I ever needed to return as cargo, not passenger.) We cruised to the PAX terminal, and after an extensive luggage and body cavity search courtesy of the fine sailors of Navy customs, we were on our way! The only thing consfiscated from me was my wood. I was bringing home a 2x4 from the destroyed old hospital because personnel back home wanted a piece to construct a legacy plaque. Unfortunately, the USDA forbids it because some pests can piggy back on wood. Fortunately, they only arrest you for smuggling porn, firearms, and alcohol, so I was allowed to continue with my chalk.
So I've been up 24 hours, but I'm on new turf. The biscuits and gravy taste just as good here as they did back at Balad. In fact, they taste a wee bit better because they are a wee bit closer to home! Time for a shower and a nap, and then it's back to the classic military pastime: hurry up and wait.
Be well, Friends!