The road home is a bumpy one that has no ending, yet

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 26, 2008

One of my favorite Phil Collins songs is “Take Me Home.”

I can’t help but hear it playing over and over in my head as I write to you from perhaps the most unlikely location I could have imagined on my Afghanistan deployment.

I’m writing to you from Iraq.

My journey home has become an adventure — or better yet, a bad dream. Getting from Kabul to Bagram was easy. The guys I worked with all volunteered to take me on a convoy up north and the trip was enjoyable and incident-free. After saying my goodbyes to them, I ventured into the Air Terminal and that’s when the fun started. For reasons unknown to a Navy officer like me, the Air Force stopped flying direct from Bagram to Kuwait.

After many hours of waiting and quite a few delays, I finally got on a flight out of Bagram Air Field to Al Udied Air Base in Qatar. The procedural disorder there of trying to get checked in, processed through Qatar customs, and arranging follow-on transportation is a story all in itself, but I was still in a great mode as I was a step closer to home.

After many more hours, numerous changes to flight plans, and different stories depending on who I talked to, I finally got put on an Air Force C-17 transport/cargo plane out of Qatar but there was a catch; the plane would have to stop in Iraq to pick up some cargo and a few passengers before heading on to Kuwait.

We landed at Al Taqaddum Airbase in Iraq, which is approximately 74 kilometers west of Baghdad.

Upon rollout from the runway to the flight line at Al Taqaddum, commonly referred to as “TQ”, the Air Force ground crew held discussions with the Flight crew.

Next it was announced that all Navy, Army, Marine and DoD contractor personnel were going to be removed from the flight due to a high priority unit movement from Iraq to Kuwait.

It was nice to know that all the Air Force passengers were allowed to remain onboard.

So we deplane and are told to grab our luggage and carry it to the terminal. Once there, that was it. No follow-up directions, no follow-on flight info, nothing.

Just get a bed/tent assignment from billeting, and check routinely for a flight. As we make our way to the billeting office I realize just how funny it is to be in the situation I’m in.

I mean, didn’t I mention in my last email wanting to go to Iraq?

Seriously, just before I left Kabul, I got an email from a master chief which discussed the Navy’s Warrior Transition Program (WTP) and how the redeployment process and WTP were designed to be stress-free and relaxing as sailors prepared to go home. Thinking about it now, it all seems funny, or perhaps surreal. Oh well, I know life could be worse.

So I’m currently in temporary quarters in Iraq which means I’m in a big clamshell type tent.

The Air Force can’t tell me when I’m leaving Iraq for sure.

I keep getting many stories, but nothing is holding true. At least I have all my combat gear, my weapon and all my ammo. There were 18 of us that became stranded here and I somehow became the leader of this forgotten group. I’ve managed to get 12, including an emergency leave case, moved on to their destinations. Just me and five others are left.

On the bright side, “TQ” has one of the finest dining facilities I have ever eaten in while deployed to the Middle East. The food is excellent and plentiful. Desserts included real cheesecake and Baskin Robbins ice cream.

I even got to eat on real plates and used silverware vice the paper products in use in Afghanistan.

Not one to sit around and be bored, I decided to hitch a ride around the base and take in whatever sites I could. I was surprised at just how large this compound was, but what surprised me even more was a lake. Yes, a large lake in the middle of the desert.

Lake Habbaniya is a beautiful blue lake sitting next to “TQ.”

I’m told that the military cannot use the lake for swimming and other recreational purposes, but it certainly gives you a relaxed and peaceful feeling as you look at it while in the middle of this hellhole.

I came across a few other surprises at “TQ” such as aircraft once belonging to Saddam’s air force, the bombed out bunkers used by Saddam’s army, and a few friendly faces of shipmates from the past. The Navy really is a small place. I was also surprised at the acclimatization I faced. I sensed the start of some respiratory problems on my first day in “TQ”.

The dust, sand and heat were quite different from Afghanistan. I will tell you that over here, you can taste — yes, taste — the dust and sand in the air. It’s a taste I’ll never forget, and each morning I’m blowing strange stuff out of my nose.

So getting back to my dilemma, even though it’s been 13 months since I started this deployment, I’m being very patient. Anxiety is trying to set in, but I’m fighting it. This speed bump will soon pass and I’ll be on my way home before long.

Wish me luck.

Don Wilson, a lieutenant with the U.S. Navy, is deployed in Afghanistan. He e-mails a letter home each week, and this is an edited version of that e-mail. His family lives in Ivor. His letters appear on Wednesdays.