As many may have heard I am going home in a matter of days. Needless to say, the other night I had the opportunity to go on one last escort mission. OK, I really didn't have a choice, but I was still pretty stoked for one last ride. A last chance to roll down the streets of Baghdad one last time. So even if I was not on the original roster I would have volunteered anyways, call me glutton for punishment. I also had another motive. A friend sent me a "Flat Stanley",(a wonderfully colored picture of a fictional boy named Stanley who has adventures all over the world) for his child. So I thought, what better adventure for Stanley than to ride along on an escort mission in safely in my body armor. Making sure to bring a camera I secured Stanley in my body armor and we made our way to his first and my last mission.
My job this time was as an observer/consultant to the crew I was assigned to. Luckily the crew I had was pretty squared away and easy to teach from the start so I had the utmost faith in the TC . And although I was in the "VIP", a seat with no view in the back of an ASV, I was still pretty excited to hit the road again. I watched the gunner and TC and gave them pointers on a few things. As we made our way down the routes I took in the familiar sound of radio chatter as trucks called up check points as well as spot reports to one another. Because of my duty as a TC I found it pretty hard at times not to take charge of the truck. As well as biting my tongue while I listened to some of the chatter. One of the cool things was I would visualize each checkpoint as they called it. This was either a sign I had either been here to long or was going crazy. And as we made our way into our destination I decided that I wanted to hop in the gun on the way back.
During our few hours waiting to head back I decided to take time for a few photos with Flat Stanley with some vehicles and a couple buddies. I also asked the TC if he minded if I could be gunner on the way back. I think this surprised him a little, but he said sure and happily I made my way to chow. My friend "V" also decided he would gun on the way back too. Happily, I waited with my buddies for our return trip back to our FOB. These times in between I found to be the times we all talked the most, this time was no different. We joked about missions from the past months, made fun of one another ( a pastime for us), and just hung out waiting around and generally wasting time. We did this until the convoy commander yelled "load up and get ready for movement". Gearing up, we all climbed into our respective vehicles. I climbed into the turret and readied the gun for one last ride back to camp.
Finally, we left for our return trip I told the TC the machine gun was loaded and I was ready.Taking it all in one last time. And as our convoy rumbled down the all to familiar routes. The dark night sky brightened by flares off of helicopters and the spotlights from our gun trucks. The distant buildings look like shadows of a home that at times seemed so far away. The sounds of stray dogs barking, our vehicles, and the constant radio chatter as trucks call off each checkpoint and alert one another of possible threats. The smell of sewage and smoldering trash filled the air. Passing all the buildings and checkpoints that had become so familiar to me. It finally dawned on me that this was it. No more missions for us. And as we made our way slowly into the ECP, I cleared my weapon and I smiled. One last mission down and Flat Stanley had his fist mission too. Not a bad night at all.