[August 9, 2021] A year in combat on the battlefield of Iraq, and now my fellow Engineer Soldiers and I were sitting on a U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane readying to fly. It was uncomfortable sitting in the webbed seats, but we were happy to leave the warzone finally. My mind was on the possibility of SAM missiles, but our takeoff was uneventful. Going home would not be what I expected.
As we boarded a commercial airliner in Kuwait, we seemed to know that our lives were about to change once again. We were better people. We understood what it took to live through a year in what we knew was the longest year of our lives. On the flight to Europe, our first stop, the plane’s crew had turned the cabin temperature down as a gesture of those coming from a hot desert environment. We froze. I asked the senior flight attendant to please increase the temperature or, jokingly, I said there might be a riot on our hands.
I returned home directly from Atlanta, Georgia, which was our stateside destination. Bypassing Fort Sill, I traveled to Philadelphia International. Good friends picked me up, and we had great conversations on the car ride home. My family welcomed me back with a big sign and dinner.
Like I had been briefed, things changed at my home. Your family adjusts in your absence. Life goes on without you. Don’t expect folks to see you step back in like it was before you left. They changed, and, more significantly, you change even more. They may be patriots or not. Many are not because they watched the news media, CNN, ABC News, or read the New York Times.
The media “distorted” what was going on. They twisted the war into something that would sell. Many published stolen classified information and used Iraqi stringers, many of who were insurgent propagandists with an anti-American agenda. Lying about the war by some reporters was blatant if you knew what really happened. You were there and knew better.
Most folks I know back home understood me and said it was good to have me home. There was no problem getting back together. We had a few beers and a few cookouts, going to the shooting range (at my request) for a good time plinking at metal targets and yakking it up. The small town I lived in came out to greet me whenever I walked down Main Street. Men would pat me on the back and say they were happy to see me. Women would give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and tell me they had prayed for our troops “over there.”
A talk show host I know today created a radio program called Welcome Home Veterans. He did this to help our Vietnam War veterans who had a terrible time coming home from their war. They were spat upon, called names, and sometimes assaulted. Good Americans learned from that shameful experience and vowed to welcome home new combat veterans properly.
I was welcomed home properly. Some of us never returned. I cannot imagine what others before me went through, but my life would change and not all for the better.