On that cold, rainy North Carolina evening the room that I shared with Colonel Dale Foster in a dilapidated World War II barracks filled with officers and soldiers of the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade. The object of our attention was my transistor radio, tuned to the local National Public Radio station, from which we expected to hear a speech by the President of the United States. We were all wearing crisp, newly issued Desert Camouflage uniforms. I still carry the memory of the raindrops forming on the window panes behind the radio.
|March 19, 2003 Packed and ready to go.|
I didn't know if this speech would be the start of the war or not. I had been working full time for almost five months preparing my unit to go to war and in that time there had been a series of important speeches and announcements, any one of which could have been the one that signaled the start of hostilities. On March 10th I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary at Ft. Bragg without my spouse. I had kissed my wife goodbye, not knowing when I would return or if I would be going to a war, not once, not twice, but three times. The fourth time, on February 8, 2003, I squeezed her hand, gave her a smile, and jumped out of the car. That was the best we could do. I wouldn't see her or my family or my home until December 21, 2003.
The crowd in my barracks room showed no outward display of emotion after the President's speech, even though this was a very significant event in our lives. We were going to war, some on us for the first time. For others, like my good friend Leo Rivera, who had served in the Gulf war, this would be his second trip to Iraq in a U.S. military uniform.
The next day, March 20, we finally got the word that we had been expecting and waiting for since we had arrived in Ft. Bragg six weeks before: Donald Rumsfeld had decided that it was time for the civil affairs units to "start flowing into theater" (in the quaint Pentagonese term for it all). On March 21 we loaded out luggage (2 duffel bags and a ruck sack ) on a truck and climbed into buses with our carry-on items. Our immediate destination was Green Ramp at Pope Air Force Base.
|March 21, 2003 - Waiting for a plane at Green Ramp.|
|March 21, 2003 - Boarding the plane|
|March 22 - Camp Wolf, Kuwait|
We all agreed with the Air Force Sergeant and did our best to comply.