The first stop we made after leaving the middle east was Shannon, Ireland. We landed early in the morning- the sky was dimly lit with the coming dawn, but morning was still an hour or more off. Before we left the plane, the Lieutenant Colonel who commanded the flight back made sure we understood that we were all still on duty status and therefore were not to "buy, consume, procure, or obtain" any alcohol. Apparently, he's been in the Army long enough to know he needs to cover his bases thoroughly. Might I say, though, that to be in Ireland while unable to purchase any of Ireland's finest exports is a torture only the military would inflict? As I mentioned previously, the process of going on leave is nothing more than a series of indignations designed to help you appreciate getting home more.
Ireland has strict smoking laws, as well as stiff penalties for disobeying them. Smoking outside of the designated areas will earn you a 2000 euro (about $2800) fine. I assume that this is a recent law- the restrooms had ashtrays built into the stalls and the sink area. Now, you follow the signs down a long hallway leading away from the main terminal. You turn the corner and walk down a flight of stairs, followed by another short hallway and another flight of stairs. All the while, you pass signs on the wall warning not to light up until you reach the designated area somewhere deeper into the cave in front. At the end of yet another hallway, the doors open into what might be best described as a outdoor pen. The green fence surrounding the area is around twelve feet high, and the top slants in. The picnic table completely covered with empty beer bottles and glasses gives some hint as to a possible reason for the fence. As it turns out, this isolated zoo cage is the only place you can go to get outside while staying in the airport, so the patio fills with soldiers breathing the cold, misty air.
After another long stretch in the plane, we landed in Dallas. The people in Dallas are great- my first glimpse of America included a fire truck spraying an arc of water over the plane to welcome us home. Inside, the terminal was almost bare, but there was a still a small crowd that went to the airport at 6am to greet us. A quick run through immigrations and customs put us back in the world- a place where we are much less soldiers, and much more kids trying to make our cell phones work.
The rest of the trip home was uneventful. My group flew standby, trying to get home just a few hours quicker. Everywhere we went, we had a few people come up and thank us. In my experience, most of those that did had a relative or friend in the military. Most people payed no more attention to us than to anyone anyone else. No one was rude.
I'll talk soon about being home, about driving, about talking, and about feeling naked.