Sunday, February 27, 2005

24 HOURS FROM TEXAS

OK, having insured that none of us are carrying knives aboard the plane, the stewardesses direct us to stack our rifles, machine guns, and pistols under the seat for our flight home. I will always treasure the memory of hearing the stewardess come on the loudspeaker system and tell everyone to make sure that there rifles were pointing in toward the center of the cabin. Tell the truth – even on South West Airlines, have you ever heard that?!! And no, I don’t know why it was important to have the weapons pointed toward the center of the cabin. Looks to me like they would have put a hole in the fuselage no matter which way you pointed them…oh, I get it! They were hoping somebody’s body would stop the bullet before it perforated the fuselage. Good thinking; I probably wouldn’t have thought of that.

I got a window seat, which meant that my left side got smashed by the plane body, and my right side got crunched in by the 280 lb Ranger in the seat next to me. He was a pleasant fellow, courteous, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, probably reverent…and I disliked him intensely within the first hour when he effortlessly went to sleep. I can’t sleep on planes, and I’ve always considered it extremely rude of other people to be comfortable when I can’t. I cleared my throat. I hollered to my friends at the back of the plane. I turned up my headphones to “detonate” and put them by his head. The only thing that would wake him up was if I had to walk across him to get to the aisle and walk to the bathroom. He must have thought I had a very tiny bladder, but serves him right for being so thoughtless as to be able to sleep while I couldn’t.

We had several in-flight meals, which looked suspiciously liked microwaved MRE’s (Meals Rejected by Ethiopians, or Meals, Ready-to-Eat, take your pick). We also had several in-flight movies, some of which even included the latest technological advancement, the “talkies”. What will they think of next?

After eight hours of annoying my row-mate (is that a word?), we arrived at lovely, vibrant green Shannon, Ireland. Well, I assume it’s vibrant green, based on their advertising. We got in about 0130 their time, and everything looked pretty vibrant black as near as I could tell. Ah, but here’s the good part: Shannon, Ireland is well outside the CENTCOM (Central Command) AOR (Area of Responsibility), which means that the infamous General Order No. 1 no longer applies – and for those of you who haven’t been paying attention, GO #1 was that bureaucratic masterpiece that prohibited (theoretically, at least) the consumption of alcohol so as not to offend our Muslim enemies. The Charge of the Light Brigade had nothing on the Charge of the Dehydrated as everyone except my teetotalin’ self attacked through the terminal in search of the nearest bar. Fortunately, we only had about an hour and a half at Shannon, so no one was able to do any serious damage to themselves.

After paying our respects to the Irish brew masters, we re-boarded the plane and set sail (well, wing, maybe) for Bangor, Maine. Deep in the heart of Yankee country. I started practicing my New Jersey accent in case anyone still carried a grudge about that little misguided family feud about a century and a half ago, but I was worrying for nothing. We got in about 0530 Bangor time, and as we left the plane (headed in search of yet another open bar) we were greeted by about a dozen wonderful Americans waving flags and offering cell phones to anyone who needed to call home. Then they opened up a little shop they had stocked with cookies, candy, and coffee and reminded us all once again of why we were damned proud to be Americans. I tried to leave a donation at the counter, and darned near got the bum’s rush – they weren’t about to take money from a soldier. On the other hand, they were collecting patches from all the different units that came through, and one of the guys was able to scrounge up the famous CID “Which Way Next?!” patch and leave it with them. I think everyone of us came away humbled and moved by the obvious affection of dedication of people who would make their way to the airport at 0530 on a Saturday morning just to welcome home a planeload of disheveled soldiers. God Bless’em everyone.

Another 4 hrs of cramped, sleepless flight and the pilot announced we were approaching Biggs Army Air Field, El Paso, Texas! The Davis Mountains sure looked good as we started our approach, and even if the country was desert, at least it was OUR desert. There was a loud cheer that went throughout the plane when the pilot announced that we were now at Fort Bliss, Texas, and as he turned the plane to taxi over to our dismount point, I caught a view that I’ll remember forever: a huge American flag that the base fire department had erected from one of their ladder trucks, blowing straight out in about a 30 mile an hour wind. Lord, that looked lovely!



Everyone was ready to grab their weapons from under the seat (all carefully pointed toward the center of the plane, by the way), and bolt out of the aircraft, but the Army insisted on doing things right. There was an honor guard and a band to greet us, and as we staggered off the plane the first person to shake our hands was the Fort Bliss Commanding General.

OK, I was impressed.

I was less impressed when I found out that we were supposed to assemble in an orderly formation and march off the tarmac to the reception area. I’m a CID agent, for heaven’s sake – what do I know about marching?! I was pretty sure that you led off with either your left or your right foot, but after that it all got dangerously hazy. My only hope of not spoiling the mood was to blend in with all the other desert cammie-clad troops and try to disappear.

And I nearly pulled it off, too…until we marched past a line of waiting family and friends and I saw the War Bride waving her little American flag and looking, oh, so lovely! Hell, I figured El Paso was so close to the border I could make my get away if they tried to court martial me for breaking ranks, so I ran over just long enough to collect a well-deserved and much-missed kiss from my Darling War Bride.


Gee, it’s good to be home!

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