Sunday, March 19, 2023

My Memory of the Iraq War 20 years later: March 2003

March 21, 2003, Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina

I took this picture on March 21, 2003 at Green Ramp on Pope Air Force Base. The line of faceless, helmeted soldiers carrying rucksacks and rifles was dramatic. Since the Army liked to do things in alphabetical order I was, as usual, at the end of the line. I vaguely remembered and discarded a prohibition against taking photographs on Green Ramp. I stopped, pulled out my camera and took this this photo. . 

I'm glad I did. The picture is framed and hanging on the wall of my office.

The United Airlines 747 was chartered to take us first to Germany and then on to Kuwait City. I have two big memories from that flight. The first was the announcement by the flight attendant after we boarded to "Please move your machine guns out of the aisles." Have not heard that announcement on a airplane before or since. The second memory was of our approach to Kuwait City Airport in the darkness before the dawn. The pilot asked us to close our windows since the plane was extinguishing all lights to ensure that we were a more difficult target. More reassuringly, he advised us that two US Air Force fighters would escort us the rest of the way.

As this anniversary approached I was confused about the date that the war started. I vividly remember sitting in the ancient World War II barracks on Ft. Bragg, NC that had been our home for the last 4 weeks (the same barracks where I mobilized for the Bosnia operation in 1996), listening on Public Radio as the President announced that the long anticipated war had started. This was the dreary, cold evening of Wednesday, March 19, 2003. I was disappointed. I thought that we were going to be in Kuwait before the war started. 

The Washington Post announced this morning that the war started on March 20. A quick Google search verified the date. Did I have the date wrong all these years? No. March 19 in North Carolina was March 20 in Iraq. We were both right.