The Way Back Home….Part 3
This is the third installment of a story about my experiences in August 2003. The first installment was about the disintegration of my crew due to forces beyond our control. The second was about how we found out that half of our Squadron was going home and how the other half would be staying behind.
The day after Timmy told us how we were going to split was probably the toughest of the war. Most of the crews flew that day. They left out for their 20 hour day not knowing what they would find when they came home. That day KK was making the decisions about who would be in which group. The Go-Home group or the Leftover Group. When a crew came back from their missions, they looked at the list. Some of the guys were excited and some were depressed. The worst part was watching your tent mates pack their bags. The guys in my tent were very respectful of Tracy, JR and I, but it was tough for them to hide their happiness that they were going home.
Out of the twelve in our tent, we were the only three to stay. Nine of the twelve guys in the tent were going home (Paul had already left on a medical flight). There was lots of packing going on. As I remember JR tried to stay out of the way while Tracy and I banded together, starting with making claims on the most precious thing the guys left behind, space. We started telling guys how we were going to take their space and put in a hot tub, a movie theater, or a dance club with a disco ball. We made jokes to keep from crying. It was a very difficult transition.
It was tough to call home and talk to my wife. We were married in July 02. And at this point in the marriage, we had crossed the point where we were apart more than together.(By the way, we didn’t cross back to more time together until 07 or 08) I had missed her birthday the year prior because of a trip that was extended, and now I was set to miss it again along with our first anniversary. It was tough, but all things being equal we were still together. Two of the guys in my tent were going home to sign divorce paperwork. A guy in the tent next door was going home to meet his daughter for the first time; she was born in June while he listened in on a telephone. Even the best situation was tough. It is hard to go to war; it is doubly hard on the family that stays behind.
Two new guys moved into my tent when they joined my crew. Tracy was still my Loadmaster, JR was still the Navigator. Steve “Money Man” C. was my co-pilot and Richie L. was my Flight Engineer. I was very excited to have those guys in the tent and on the crew. Our first big decision was how to set up the tent. We agreed to have about a foot more personal space each, we each got an additional 25% more space up from 36 inches to 48 inches each! We used the extra space to make a common area. Once the other guys left, we improvised a couch and set up a TV in the front of the tent. It was a nice set-up.
Steve was a new pilot to the unit, he had finished training just before the war kicked off. At that point in his career, he had more Combat Flight Time than he did regular flight time. He did a great job and he quickly acclimated to the pacing and tactics that I wanted. I was ecstatic to have Richie as my Flight Engineer. Richie is an old school kind of Engineer, he had been flying at that point for almost 20 years and he literally knew everything about the airplane. His first pilot was Bill Grimes and when Billy went home, Scotty took over his crew. Bill and Scott were two of the best pilots in the Squadron. I was honored a couple of years later when Richie told me that there were only three pilots he wanted to go to war with; Billy, Scott and myself. That single compliment was worth more to me than any piece of medal that I ever received.
Money Man and I were the only two married guys on the crew. A couple of days after the other guys had left. Steve came into the tent upset. He had called home and his wife told him that he would be home in early September, but only for 35 days. After the 35 day break, he would be heading back over. His wife got an e-mail from a Sargent who worked for the Family Support Group. He was upset for several reasons mainly his wife was so emotional because he would not be coming home to stay, and we were he had never heard this from anyone else in the chain of command. It was an emotional time for all of us.
I called home and asked if my wife had heard this, since she didn’t participate in the Family Support Group, she did not know about it. I asked KK if he knew anything about this rumor, and he did not have a clue. But KK did tell me that I needed to make a payment on my Air Force issued credit card. On the way over in March, I had to use it when we stayed one night in Lajes. I owed 60 dollars and the finance people back home didn’t like seeing my name on the needs to pay list. I told KK that I would pay it when I filled out my travel voucher. He said that we couldn’t put in a voucher until we got home and I tapped my nose and said exactly. He understood and let me slide for the moment, but he was not pleased with my in-subornation.
Unfortunately, for the Sergeant back home I had reached my breaking point. I totally broke and used my neophyte writing skills to craft a scathing rebuke. As I remember, I used words like irresponsible, inappropriate, difficult, front lines, non-deployment, warfighter, and support functions. I wrote about how it was not proper to spread rumors, how she was manipulating the heart strings of the families, and placing my crew in additional danger because Steve was not totally focused on the task at hand.
Today, I feel horrible for losing control of my emotions. I usurped the chain of command by commenting directly to this lady. But more importantly, I was the person who was out of line, hateful, and inappropriate. My hate ran deep and wide. I made the unacceptable act of turning on someone who was trying to do her job. In many ways I was an American Taliban, my service to the country is greater than your service to the country therefore I must attack you. My job in the machine is more important than your job in the machine. In my mind, I thought I had earned the right to say anything I wanted and I felt justified to in my actions.
But at the time I did not care, I never apologized for the comments, and when I saw her several times after the war I refused to even speak to this person. I was wrong then and I have been wrong all of these years for not making things right.I am currently in the process of reaching out to this lady and repairing the damage that I did. I had repressed this memory since I left the Guard. Actually, it did not come back to me until this weekend. It would be very easy to not tell this story, easy to act like this short period never happened, but that would also be dishonest with myself and with the Sergeant. Since I know I was wrong and I claim to be a changed person. Then I feel like I have a duty to prove it with actions. I have the e-mail address of this lady and I will send her a hopefully more positive e-mail telling her I am sorry. I deserve and fully expect to get the reply “Up your nose with a rubber hose.”
I made things tough on KK as well and it didn’t feel good to attack someone who was actually trying to help. But it happened and to our collective surprise, that young Sargent was the only one who was right. Yes, we were going to be home the first of September and Yes we would only be home for 35 days. By the way, my credit card was declined on the way home because I told my wife not to pay it. Maybe the finance folks were taking care of their friend and teaching me a lesson. When my card was declined, I told the person at the front desk to cut it up. I got in trouble for that too. I was a bitter guy, but I didn’t know I would have the chance to make a grand entrance when we came home. And yes, I got in trouble for that too.
Until next time, keep on rockin!