After an all-too-brief respite, I’ve returned to the Demon World for the final leg of my Mideast adventure. Six months of living in Kuwait, though, means that home feels temporary and unusual, while the brown universe of the desert feels normal. It’s both a sad and an impressive testament to human versatility, I guess.
The journey home was uneventful, if brutally long – 36 hours spent at the LSA, then the bus ride to the airport, then three long flights (including a punishing 10-hour Atlantic crossing, flying into a 100-mph headwind). I spent so long at the LSA because R&R flights aren’t exactly precisely scheduled, which irked me at first, until I realized that soldiers & civilians from all over CENTCOM were departing through Kuwait, which can make scheduling difficult. Not everyone is within commuting distance of the point of departure like I am.
Most of the soldiers on the flight were coming from Afghanistan, by probably a five to one ratio; this was made obvious by their Multicam uniforms, as opposed to my now-passé ACUs. This distinction marked me as not of their ilk, and this made me uncomfortable among them, as if they were judging me for my cushy rear-echelon deployment. In a way, I felt like part of a different Army than them, since the two theaters of war are so different. I talked with a PFC from the 172nd Infantry Brigade who described living on a mountaintop with his platoon of artillerymen and two platoons of infantrymen, their fights among each other, and of two days in October when they fired over 300 rounds through their two 105mm howitzers, while being rocketed all day and night. Needless to say, I didn’t talk much about my experiences troubleshooting computers or configuring printers.
Once home, it was as expected: enjoyable but not truly relaxing; an incredible amount of fun but all hurried as if it might not happen again. We managed to get in our fifth-annual “MANCATION” – the trip to JoKur’s cabin for a weekend of boozing and loud yelling and game-playing. Mrs. Melobi was able to attend under the Special Wartime Wife Exclusion Clause; as such, we were unable to engage in the usual secret rituals and whatnot. Since most of the attendees are regular visitors to Casa del Delobius, though, her presence didn’t much change the character of the event. She’s used to ignoring us in our most drunkenly obnoxious moments. The alcoholic highlight for me was the Yamazaki 12-year (pictured at right), a Japanese single-malt whisky. My palate isn’t sufficiently refined to describe its taste, but I’m assured by the internet that it has strong notes of shoe leather, saddle soap, honey, and anise, with just a hint of aged gnome testicles and unicorn scat.
Seriously, though, it’s great – who knew there was such a thing as Japanese single-malt?
On the return trip I had to spend two nights in Atlanta, since a mechanical problem on a previous day’s flight had caused the whole R&R process to come to a crashing halt, resulting in days of delays. They put us up in a pretty nice hotel next to the airport, with free food at the hotel restaurant, with a mild admonition that General Order 1B was in full effect (read: no drinking); this was naturally greeted with rolling eyes and mumbled “yeah right”s. My roommate for the weekend – an air medic from St. Paul, deployed to Afghanistan – really wanted to see the World of Coca-Cola in downtown ATL, which sounded fine except all I had to wear was my Army costume. We scouted a Foot Locker near downtown and took the train, with me in uniform, which was socially uncomfortable but was made better by the fact that everyone in Atlanta looks fucking weird, so I didn’t stick out nearly as much as I would have in, say, Minneapolis.
After visiting Foot Locker I made a partial transformation by ditching my uniform top for a sweatshirt (converting to the homeless look, which enabled me to blend in quite well), and completed the change in the bathroom at the World of Coca-Cola. It was fine, I guess; free for us military types, and all the weird soda flavors from around the world that you could handle. (Inca Cola – enjoy the taste of a lost civilization!) But Atlanta – I visited the place on my last deployment, and I forgot how much I hate the place. It’s dingy, and full of bums, and doesn’t seem like a place that anyone should visit. One might say the same things about my home town, given a visit to the right spots, but still – I don’t plan to pass through again, unless I must.
After that adventure, I boarded the time machine, and a couple of days later I was back in Kuwait, disoriented and ready to pack it in by my twelfth hour back, what with the war finished and the whole theater seemingly at a loss for what to do next. But here I stay, for another three months or so; then it’s home again, hopefully for a good long while this time.