Friday, November 9, 2007

Boots on the Ground - Kuwait

Kuwait City at night looked about the same as I left it three years ago. Bright lights came up out of an almost invisibly black desert as we approached. I flew in almost two weeks ago for my third combat tour in Iraq. The flight came after a hectic few weeks getting my family moved from our remote outpost in Texas to a Jewish community with schools for our children.

I thought back to the Sunday we flew out from Fort Hood. I had driven to Starker Gym, which was being used all day to manifest planeloads of soldiers from the Regiment. There, I waited outside, watching soldiers and families slowly drift towards the gym. I waited for a friend and congregant who was going to take our old car and donate it to the new Kollel down in Austin. When Robert drove up, I was surprised to see his whole family with him. "Rabbi, we knew your family couldn't be here to see you off, so I decided to loan you mine!" he said, leaning out the window of their mini-van. I really appreciated that. We hugged and chatted for a while, then I finished packing some kosher food in my rucksack for long trip and then said goodbye.

Once we got to Kuwait there would be a lot to do. Soldiers have to go to the ranges, test fire and check their marksmanship within a few days of arrival; briefings to attend, on the local poisonous snakes and scorpions, some of which require anti-venom from other countries, including Israel. Counter IED (improvised explosive devices) training to get ready for the push north. Traveling nine time-zones from Texas to Kuwait also has a cost, as people try to adjust as quickly as they can, and the pilots get some rest before flying our helicopters up from the port.

Not everyone had the chance to adjust. Tragically, a young soldier a few rows up from me on the flight in to Kuwait City didn't make it. A few hours after arriving I was starting to help the command through the events that always come with the death of a soldier. Only a few people knew for the first day on the ground; the others couldn't be told until the family was notified. At difficult times like that, chaplains play a major role. Over the space of a few days, I was guiding the command through a memorial ceremony and helping the other soldiers with their loss and grief. It was so unexpected and deeply sad. Everyone was thinking it was a heck of a way to start a deployment. That filled my first four days back in South West Asia.