We quickly take flight and I settle in for the hour or so jaunt from Kuwait to our destination in Iraq. My mind wanders to my cherry ride in 06 with Song and our SFC from Germany. To say I wasn’t nervous would be a blatant lie, but it wasn’t from the flight. I remember thinking about doing my job and whether I was ready to see what I most certainly would see as a combat medic. I was more worried about failing my platoon than dying. The uncertainty of death was more appealing than the certainty of humiliation.
Weightless, just for a moment but seemed like minutes, then the corkscrewing combat landing like some ultimate rollercoaster from 6,000 feet. Around and round we go, dropping altitude and my breakfast is soon to follow. Going from near zero-G to perhaps 2 or 3-G is not a feeling that is easy to explain, I just keeping wishing for the all-important screech of the wheels and solid ground beneath our wings. Just as the thought completes in my head, I hear that sound and relief washes over me, another flight without any embarrassing moments of uncontrolled breakfast release.
We taxi quickly to the terminal and the rear door opens with a sudden rush of hot air and light. Soldiers wake up and begin grabbing their gear and I look at them with quiet envy that they can sleep through those rides. Lurching to a halt, we all begin to stand and file down the ramp, one by one stepping into the searing hot prop wash to exfile another safe transport by our friends in the Air Force.
He helps us load our things and we jump inside to head into the unknown as neither Andrea nor I have ever been embedded before. Looking around as Major Huff navigates the roads, we begin to see palm trees and bushes and right away the landscape looks familiar. Though we are only a few hundred miles north of Kuwait, the difference is palpable in terms of heat and aesthetics, though that will change in the days ahead.
Major Huff steers toward his Brigade building and the artwork of his soldiers, you can almost physically feel the pride of “Live the Legend” and 3rd Brigade as we file past headquarters, it is truly a stunning mural. Major Huff asks our interest and expectations during our stay with him and we explain our need for photos of art and the soldiers that create it all. He informs us of his plans to introduce us to a few that have a passion for it as we pull to a stop in front of some air-conditioned buildings surrounded by T-walls as high as a two story building.
My worship of this electronic god is broken by inquiries of dinner by Major Huff and now my stomach rumbles and I agree to his suggestions. He seems relieved and then explains that due to our quick arrival he skipped lunch and now I understand his earlier disappointment. As we load into his truck, my stomach rumbles again and food seems just what I need most as we have been given everything else by our gracious hosts. Quite a difference just a few years and a change of profession makes from when I arrived in Ramadi in 06. As we arrive at the DFAC, I realize that the changes I see are only so deep and the memories seem much deeper.
After breakfast we begin our search for art across Camp Adder with Major Huff as our escort. We begin on one side and work our way through, taking a history lesson along the way of the units that have come and gone from Adder. We meet up with some soldiers outside on a break, the full force of the sun beating down on their backs. Handing out cards and explaining what we are trying to accomplish, these men are happy to oblige and with luck we even find an NCO that had a hand in creating one of the murals. It feels like old times again, discussing the day, complaining of the heat and talking about home. One NCO remarks his son is currently serving in Afghanistan and tells me a story of when he requested of his son’s Sergeant Major to have his son drop, over the phone no less. Exactly what I could find myself doing, if one of my own boys was serving alongside me but too far to touch. I think his words were that he could still reach out and touch him though he was thousands of miles away.
Water is offered and we thankfully accept, this quite possibly is one of the hottest days I have had in recent memory. No doubt the temperature is high above the 120s and climbing. We break for lunch and take a much needed rest, the heat can squeeze ever bit of energy from you, even just standing in it. A few hours before 6 and the heat has subsided, the sun heading on to new places. We set out again to find the art we are after. Major Huff ride alongside us every step of the way. His enthusiasm is contagious and helps with our mission. He has an aura about him, something you can’t quite put your finger on, but you know you could follow him in a firefight and even smile while doing it. He has a spark about him and a walk like a field officer, very straight and determined, but his smile alerts you to his softer, funnier side. He is someone I won’t soon forget.
We finish our rounds and break for the evening full after another session at the DFAC. The day has been long, but the photos we got are more than worth it. I had no idea we would find this much here and more is to come. Major Huff has a surprise up his sleeve tomorrow, a soldier that paints here on post and we aim to interview her. We say our goodnights and I thank him for his help, support and determination to find it all for us. I am looking forward to curling up in that air conditioning, the cool rush of the room as I open the door is beyond explanation after the heat felt today. Sleep comes quickly, the steady rumble of the fan, thank God for air, thank God for air.
As we toured the center, Major Huff introduced us to SPC Freeman but she goes by Freedom. Her smile is warm and there is a sparkle behind her eyes. She is from New York City and has a passion for art. We gear up and head towards her living quarters so she can showcase her work. Andrea and I set up around the community gazebo to do an interview with Freedom while she grabs some examples of the work she does. As we figure out the last details of where she should stand as the sun has disappeared and the moon is just a sliver in the sky, Freedom returns with two examples of the art she creates during her deployment. Spectacular, beautiful creations on canvas with acrylic, I begin to ponder where I would put them in my house as she explains her passion. Andrea films and I ask the questions, simple and to the point so our fans and supporters know the individual behind the brush. You can’t help but smile as she speaks about her art, the glow on her face is enough to warm the night air. She finds working with paint to be very therapeutic and keeps her mind off her child waiting for her at home.
Major Huff heads towards the terminal to check on our morning flight and the dread of the C-130 begins to haunt my mind. As we sit there awaiting the news of the when how and where I plan out my morning which will be no breakfast, just to be sure of no unwanted discharges and multiple round pills to prevent flight nausea. He returns with a grin and I here Andrea say the flight must be canceled then Major Huff explains that Andrea will now have the chance to fly her first helicopter ride and my relief is palpable. I could not be happier with the result of this news, my stomach relaxes, I feel as if the weight of that C-130 just flew off my shoulders.
We head back to our camp and off load our gear, make plans for morning breakfast which I will now indulge in. The smile on my face is stuck, what a great day we had, the art, the interview, the helicopter to Kalsu, things are looking bright for our little expedition and success looms like the light at the end of the tunnel. Sleep comes easy tonight, the fans roaring full blast and my mind clear of the stresses from fixed wing flight, the smile still on my face as I drift into unconsciousness.