It’s early afternoon in New York. My dad is just coming home from work, my mom pouring his Guinness with a shot of Jack Daniels. I’m convinced that every sound I hear is the sound of bullets pinging the sides of the plane.
Two or three hours pass.
We land. The ramp slowly opens and reveals Iraq for the first time; a gaping, never-ending black hole.
We stand up and grab our rucks, running off the back of the ramp. Outside, I take a knee and make sure my team is with me. I still can’t hear anything because of the engines. I can’t see anything, I just feel the darkness.
Once everyone is out, a team leader from another squad pounds me on the shoulder and screams something in my ear, gesturing to stand up and follow him. Confused and scared, I stand up and follow, marching in a straight line away from the aircraft.
The C-130’s engines hit a crescendo as they power up. It turns around, speeds away and takes off, disappearing in the distance. Suddenly, for the first time in hours, it is completely quiet.
A voice from the darkness, with a caricatured accent like Major Payne from the movie, “Alright ya’ll, gather ’round he’ah.”
Confused, we all jumble around the dark figure. I can only see his silhouette under the starlight.
“Welcome to Talil airfield, 82nd Airborne Division, hoo-ah!. To your north you have the 3rd Infantry Divison, Rock of the Marne, to your south you have the 7th Special Forces Group, and to the west we’ve got the Marines, oo- rah! Watch where you step, we’ve got all kinds of ordnance out he’ah. We’ve also got a fair share of creepy critters crawling around, so shake out your boots before you put them on, hoo-ah?”
I scoffed, and then laughed slightly. I was offended that my war was starting with a standard Army orientation brief.
“Your shower facilities are located to my left, your right, roger? We’ve got a mini-PX he’ah, but it’s mostly sold out. We should start getting resupply regularly, though, so stand fast, hoo-ah?.”
After our briefing, our company is directed to a staging area nearby. It was quickly becoming clear that the war, wherever it was, wasn’t here. But since this was day zero for us, our leadership didn’t want to take any chances. We formed a circular perimeter, paratroopers spreading out every few feet and laying down in the dirt, ready to repel the Republican Guard or a pack of scorpions. We went to thirty-three percent security, meaning one guy needed to be awake and alert for every three guys. It was probably around midnight.
I got into position with my team and told my two guys they could sleep, I’d pull the first shift. Directly in front of our security position were a bunch of tanks. Friendly tanks. As my guys closed their eyes to go to sleep, I settled into the prone position. I watched a soldier in full chemical gear and flip-flops lazily get out of the tank in front of me and hobble to the shower with a towel over his shoulder. He shook his head at me as he passed. “New guys,” I imagined him thinking.