“Welcome to Baghdad, ladies and gentlemen”, the pilot said. The attendant opened the hatch, and the scent of burning garbage reached through and tickled my nose. I was back in Iraq. I flew up on a Gryphon Airways plane, direct from the Kuwait City airport. That meant a few hours of waiting at the airport after leaving my hotel, rather than a day or two waiting at the main air force base for a military flight. I also got to fly on a normal passenger plane, instead of stuffed into the back of a hot, cramped C-130. I’ll take that trade any day.
I spent the next 4 hours waiting again- this time for the RINO, which is a big armored black bus. It looks like a prison wagon, and I can’t imagine it would fare much better in case of an IED. The route into the International Zone was along the infamous Route Irish- at one time listed as the most dangerous road in the world. Now, route clearance checks the road before the RINOs move along it. As we left the gate, I saw an RG pulling in, and I was suddenly homesick for the road, and for my old truck “Roadrunner”. Our RG took more abuse than ever intended- we blew the engine out of her twice, and blew the entire front end nearly off once. We replaced every single window in her at least twice. The guys before us blew off the back axle. That was a truck whose creaks and rattles I trusted utterly, unlike the RINO I took bumping down the road last night.
While I was waiting for the RINO to come, I spent a fair bit of time talking to a British Aegis Corp. contractor. Aegis is like the British version of Blackwater, without the allegations of shooting civilians. He was former British military; I mentioned that I had deployed to Iraq before, doing the ‘ol route clearance. He said “Oh, so you were the crazy nutters in those big trucks!”. Indeed we were. I was crazy enough to come back again. The Specialist with the press center that came to pick me up asked if I’d ever been to Iraq before; I explained a little of my history, and he asked if I’d brought my pipe along with me, because he wanted a hit. So there you go- not everyone feels that pull to come back. I bet he misses it a little after a few months home, though.