Morning In Balad
I'm in Iraq.
This is the first thought that greets me when I wake every morning.
Surprisingly, I'm content in the knowledge.
Stepping out of my trailer for a smoke this Sunday morning, I find myself
greeted with a cool breeze and the sounds of finches bickering. The sun has
yet to rise over the Jersey barriers, but the tops of the second-tier
trailers are already bathed in auburn light. To the north, a flight of
pigeons disembarks from a towering ficus. Their wingbeats compete with the
distant thumping of attack helicopters.
Our smoking area is a wooden gazebo, covered with brown camouflage netting,
halfway between our pod of trailers and the company HQ. To the east, past a
concrete guard towers, I can see The Wire, and beyond that a verdant expanse
of Iraqi farmland. Clumps of date palm break the flat expanse of horizon
periodically, and but for those distinctive trees I can almost imagine
myself back home, wandering around my parents' backyard. I light up and
take a drag.
I take a seat, exhaling and listening to the breeze through the palm fronds.
I like mornings. This is the one day a week when I'm not required to wake
up before six. It's 630 now, and from the looks of things I'm the only one
awake. I'm a bit hungry, but I have nobody to serve as a battle buddy for
chow. I shrug to myself. So be it, I think. I take another drag and sigh.
Right now, the leaves are turning, and the first snows are falling on Lake
Superior. The trees won't have fully lost their leaves, and so the woods of
the Hiawatha forest will be still and crisp with the amber tang of fall. I
miss the way the cold breeze chafes my ears, even the way it makes my nose
run a little bit. I miss walking about by myself through downtown Port
Austin with a cup of black coffee. I dreamt again of snowstorms and muffled
footsteps last night, and now once again, here I am, miles from home. I can
hear a flight of F-16's roaring off in the distance.
Am I homesick? A little, yes. But I'm happy. I have a mission coming up in
the near future, and I haven't talked to my wife in six days, but for now
I'm sitting, listening to the finches, enjoying my smoke and the rare
pleasure of being alone on an October morning. Such a pleasure is rare, I
have found, within the cramped and dysfunctional family of the military.
Six days more, and the tally will be one month down. Eleven to go. Those
figures are as good as any I can come up with.
I am, for what it's worth, content.
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