8 years, 8 months ago
It’s been a while but now is the time to write.
The troops I covered in both Mosul, Fallujah, and other places in Iraq, including my own son in Taji, have returned home now. For many, the reunion was glorious and very long awaited. I was able to be present on one particular homecoming on December 8, 2007, at Biggs Army Airfield, in Ft. Bliss, Texas, near El Paso. Members of 2/7 Cav came home via commercial airliner and arrived to a multitude of family and friends all quite excited. It was a sight to see and a lasting image in my mind shall remain forever. I felt that it was the culmination to a long journey that had to be witnessed.
As many of you know, I’ve been home since October. I knew that the others would follow by early December. My wife and I made the trip from Albuquerque to El Paso one day in early Devcember and coordinated with the ones in charge to be present. It was good once again to be among the warriors who “have been there and done that” as the daily life routine of adjusting to the “normal” life presses on. And it will continue.
As I watched the plane taxi to its designated parking spot, I found myself once again with my camera awaiting the opportunity to snap the steps of warriors, this time returning home. In years past, I’ve been among parents who awaited their own sons and I surely knew the feelings inside. This time, I would be a comrade with a camera and feel just as close as any other family member. For these ones had taken care of me as I was able to record for history their journey and experiences in the war zone a half a world away. Now, we would all be on familiar ground together.
I would meet family members who knew of me but I did not know them. Many came up to me prior to the arrival of their warrior and embraced me as one of their own. Through the blog I had managed to touch and connect the soldier to the family from afar. It was all good.
To describe the entire scene and convey all the emotions is a challenge. But, everyone can imagine that it was just right and realize that words alone cannot completely explain it all. There were children awaiting their dads, wives awaiting their husbands, parents awaiting their sons and daughters, husbands awaiting their wives, grandparents awaiting their grandchildren and so on and so forth. In short, it was America awaiting their sons and daughters home from war. It was the heartbeat of America at full pulse, and it was good.
In the time since I’ve returned from Iraq, and the homecoming as well, I’ve pondered all that I’ve experienced in the past year or so. I can only say that I have been most blessed to be a part of the “mission”. It is true that adjusting to the life at home is full of challenges. The most complicated part of being home is trying to find ones way without a mission at hand. But in time, it comes to pass. But it is a challenge.
As I greeted each soldier that I recognized as they walked off the plane and stepped onto American soil, I saw smiles and excitement and the awareness of a familiar face to greet them. As each one was directed to the processing area, I followed them and was present as they waited to see their families. Each are taken to a warehouse type area where a brief process is done and a coordinating of the group takes place prior to the march into the waiting area where families are. I had the opportunity to see them one by one and speak briefly to many of them. Their trip had been long but everyone was wide awake. In a half hour or so, they would march into the area where the hundreds and hundreds of family and friends were waiting.
As the time came for the march to the waiting area, I made my way back to where the families were. The crowd was electric. The time had come. The automatic door was raised and the entire group marched in unison and perfect step. The crowd all cheered with screams and yells of joy that could drown out any sports stadium gathering. Then, the announcer said, “welcome home, dismissed…!” And the crowd all met the soldiers.
It was a beautiful and glorious sight.
Soon, the crowd would diminish and the flow of folks would disperse. I managed to snap some photos and observe families with tears of joy embracing one another with soldiers encompassed by loved ones. One by one they would leave for their homes. As I was leaving I found one family whose son I had covered. The father recognized me and came up to me and hugged me and simply said, “Thank you Jim”. He knew I had found his son in Mosul and relayed a story of his son’s courage and experiences. This one father had made the trip for me all the worth while. I could hardly speak but as fathers we both knew what the sons had done. We said good bye as the crowds were now almost gone.
Upon leaving the facility, we made our way down one hallway that I had seen earlier. It was here that I knew I had to pass through once more before I left. For in this particular hallway there are the photos of members of the unit that did not return home from Iraq alive. As I passed by the photos of the fallen, I stared intently at one in particular. His name was Captain McGovern, of Echo Company. I had done a mission with his men at one point in time and wrote about it on the blog. I recalled Capt. McGovern and thought of the last time I saw him. This face I had known. He was killed less than a month after I left Iraq. I followed the story over the Internet from my home in Albuquerque, NM. As I stared at his photograph, I realized that other families were suffering in the midst of others rejoicing.
Candi and I left Biggs Army Airfield at Ft. Bliss, Texas that night. We drove back the five hours late at night to Albuquerque.
I realize now more than ever that this journey never ends. I will go back to Iraq once again, soon, hopefully by March 1, 2008 and continue following the stories of more of America’s sons and daughters in harms way in what we call “The War in Iraq.”
To find out more how you can help and be a part of the next journey, contact me via email or phone at the address below.
Click pictures to enlarge.
An unknown soldier is seen with his family after returning home from Mosul, Iraq, on 12/8/07 at Ft. Bliss, TX. Photo by Jim Spiri
Photos by Jim Spiri, 12/8/07, Ft. Bliss, TX. Family and friends of members of 2/7 Cav, await the homecoming of their soldiers at Biggs Army Airfield, Ft. Bliss, TX.
Photos by Jim Spiri, 12/8/07, Ft. Bliss, TX. Spc. Doyle, Sgt. Miller and Sgt. DeCarlo, of 2/7 Cav, are seen arriving home from Mosul, Iraq into Biggs Army Airfield at Ft. Bliss, TX on December 8, 2007.
A mother and father await the return of their son from Iraq.
Photos by Jim Spiri, 12/8/07. An unidentified soldier is seen holding his son for the first time upon his return from duty in Iraq.
Spc. Simon Valdez, of Albuquerque, NM is seen greeted by a relative upon his return from Mosul, Iraq. Valdez and I traveled extensively on combat patrols in the summer through the streets of Mosul.