Soldier's Diary: Sweet Goodbyes, the Long Awaited Trip Home From Iraq

Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.

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20 September

More often than not, goodbyes are a sad, emotional event. Over the last 24 hours or so, goodbyes have entered the bizarro world. Many of us have stopped by offices to see people who we have worked with over the year; this includes fellow soldiers, civilians and Iraqis. In some cases, a unit coin is exchanged; in others, it's a hug or a handshake with an exchange of e-mail addresses. From our side, knowing that we will be seeing our families soon, there is no feeling of sadness — goodbyes have never been so sweet.

The colors were cased this morning, meaning that the unit flag, along with the American flag, were rolled up and packed for transport with us. It was a small ceremony; no speeches and no music, just a silent salute in deference to the colors.

As I stated in the last entry, the past two days have been filled completely with boredom. Other than a twice a day sensitive-item check, time is filled up by getting to the gym, reading and sitting outside a trailer exchanging stories with fellow soldiers. Cigar time is happening every evening. If you didn't know any better, you would think we were in a retirement home.

This is not to say all soldiers have nothing to do all day. Members of the brigade and battalion staffs are working flights for the outbound soldiers, ensuring the latest flight times are sent out, making sure trucks are ready to pick up baggage and all the other details that go with a movement of an entire brigade.

22 September

My company started to filter out of Baghdad this morning. We are split up over seven different flights. There are only so many airplanes with so many seats; we get soldiers onto the planes as they become available. Sgt. 1st Class Miller, who is serving as my forward first sergeant, assigned the soldiers to each plane, doing his best to keep platoon and sections together for the flight down to Kuwait.

My company is the last from the brigade to depart Baghdad. By the time I went to the dining facility for lunch, there were no familiar faces sitting at the tables.

The process for flying out is fairly simple. The soldiers assemble a couple of hours prior to departure. COs check each bag to ensure it is properly marked for identification when we arrive at the final destination. Speaking from experience, when you fly with an airplane full of soldiers, it's a good idea to have your brown duffel bag clearly marked. You can spend hours trying to figure out which bag is yours. We also conduct a final check to ensure no one has any ammo left in their bags. It all stays behind and will be thoroughly checked by customs in Kuwait.

After checking bags for marking and any possible contraband, the bags are loaded up on a truck, soldiers board the bus and it's off to the airfield for the two-hour flight to Kuwait.

0200 24 September, Camp Virginia

We boarded the plane last night and took the trip down to Kuwait. It was a short flight on a C-130. I have learned over the course of my Army career how to sleep in a variety of conditions. Some of those include in loud cramped paces — inside a C-130 surely makes it onto the list.

All the flights I have taken have been packed with as many passengers as we can carry. There is an old joke I am always reminded of when I travel with the Army. "How many soldiers can you fit into an airplane? Answer: One more." The joke also works with buses, helicopters and any other mode of transport you can think of.

We arrived in Kuwait and were bused to Camp Virginia, where we wait again for our customs clearance followed by our flight home. We won't spend a long time here, just long enough to catch up on some sleep, grab a couple of meals and send an e-mail home saying we are almost there.

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