Saturday, June 16, 2007
Standing on the rooftop of the old Iraqi Air Force control tower my eyes scan the horizon stretched out before me to where the desert meets the sky of this barren lunar landscape. The hot wind and temps even at 8:30pm make me sweat even with my cammie top off and standing in a t-shirt, I bite down on the cigar I have been smoking for the last 20 min as the hot wind flows over me. I gaze out over the runway before me lighting up as the sun sinks slowly in the horizon giving this place a surreal quality as the hum of generators and turning CH-46's fill my ears. It's becoming night and the helos are turning their exterior lights on and they begin to flash. Off to my left I hear the familiar slapping sound of rotors turning on some Cobra's, they will take flight under the cover of darkness... we own the night. As I stand viewing all the sites around me I soak it all in. I feel good after over a month now on the ground I am comfortable, strong, proud and confident. As a Marine this is where I want and need to be.
I have spent the week at this former Iraqi Air Force base now a major hub for the Al Anbar area of operations. I have spent five days with four different squadrons and some tenant activities aboard this logistical Juggernaut of a base. I can not help but think of the things I have seen and heard this week, some that caused me to step back and now on the rooftop reflect a little.
I have attached two pictures to this posting one is of a CH-46 casualty evacuation helo, this is the war time ambulance in the sky, you get shot or hit an IED and there is a good chance the Marines of HMM-161 the "Greyhawks" could be the difference between living and dieing. I spoke at length with a young combat corpsman who in civilian terms would be a paramedic in the squadron who told me horrific stories. Tales of evacuating Marines and Soldiers and having to make decisions of who has the best chance of surviving and making the decision to move on leaving a Marine or Solider to god and working on those with the best chance for survival. This young man was maybe 24 years old. He is here making decisions on life and death....daily
I also had a gut check of my own when I made a visit to the Personnel Recovery Unit, this is where the Marines prepare the dead to be flown home one last time. I was met a LtCol who was the commander of this unit. We spoke at length and although the words said one thing as I gazed into the face and eyes they told another story, I saw the sadness and fatigue I can only imagine comes with such a difficult job. But when I asked how the Marines cope with this difficult task I was told " We are helping a Marine or Solider who can not help themselves get home" I swallowed hard when hearing that. I just nodded my head no words were worthy of a response.
I also had a good day with the Marines of HMM-262 the "Flying Tigers" an Okinawa Japan based squadron on their first combat deployment since Vietnam. Interesting story, they have formed an association with former Flying Tiger Marines who made the last combat deployment to Vietnam, and the old vets keep in constant contact with the squadron. They even had a coin made that on one side shows the squadron logo while on the flip side it states " RVN (Republic of Vietnam) to Iraq, we got your back". I was told by the Executive Officer that air crew members have taken to making a cut on their squadron patches and slide the coin in behind the patch and fly their mission with the coin in place....Marines taking care of Marines even now some 40 years later.
The second picture is my view on the roof, so now I gaze at my watch it's 9:00pm time for me to get moving so I can catch my helo back to Fallujah. I take another draw off my cigar and put my cammie top back on. I take a final look out at the darkening sky then close my eyes and just listen for a moment... remember this... I grab my pack and strap my pistol back on... time to move.