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Climb on. Strap in. Lift off. The thrumming roar of the blades above your head muted by the plugs in your ears, you prepare to see a bit more of Iraq from 200 feet. Lift, tilt, thrust - and seconds later you depart. A small dust cloud stirred by your craft whirls and settles and fades as you gain what little altitude you will. The vertical climb stops, but horizontal distance from point of origin grows. A moment later the wire passes below.
Door gunners scan the ground below. Visibility is fine. The sun shines, but low in the sky. The temperature will get to 120, but has a long way to go. Below, a landscape more desert tan then green (but surprisingly more green than most would think) blurs by and begins to bake. Later, perhaps shortly after noon, dust devils will dance.
You cross a line of towers, steel skeletons designed to hold the wires that move electricity from here to there, from horizon to horizon and beyond. You squint, but can't tell if the wires themselves are there or not.
Far to the west, the heat of the sun begins to warm the desert sands.
After years of desert warfare an odd thought occurs to me: no milblogger has taken the name "Sandman". Seems like a natural.
Care package arrives. Care package is opened. Cookies are found - the home made sort, this particular batch made by my mom. They are now being distributed, by ones and twos, to those who are moments away from being outside the wire.
They have a big mission tonight. "Might even make the papers", one says to me, "though nothing we've done so far has..."
Unfortunately, if so it will be as a story of failure. The mission itself will succeed, of course, perhaps with or perhaps without a bit of the old ultra-violence, but the mere fact that the mission was required will be touted as a failure. I predict this out loud, knowing the listener well enough to know he knew it anyhow, and that such things aren't his motivation.
"Yeah" he agrees, "you're right."
There is something worse I could have pointed out - making the papers is a certainty only if one of our guys gets killed. He knows this, too, but neither of us chooses to express that thought out loud.
"You want a cookie?" I ask.
He takes one for the road.
Morale, Welfare, and Recreation - a corner of camp, a cluster of tents. A weight tent - machines and free, a cardio tent - ellipticals, recumbents, treadmills and stairsteppers (so this is where the stairsteppers all went...) outdoor basketball and "beach" volleyball courts, a small outdoor stage, and two large multi-purpose tents containing internet cafes, phones, and rooms containing big-screen TVs where you can watch movies of your choosing - assuming you're willing to wait for the folks who've chosen before you to finish watching theirs. All part of the luxurious lifestyles of the rich and famous - a few of the obscene amenities available to GIs serving in Iraq.
I wander in to use the internet cafe. On my way I pass shelves of donated books. Most are used, left behind by fellow GIs or generously donated by folks back home. I scan the titles on my way past, and the name Scalzi catches my attention. There are two copies of Ghost Brigades on the shelf - and these are new, direct from the publisher, unbent by human hands.
One goes into my cargo pocket, for later.
On the opposite wall, a television tuned to AFN news. The CNN anchor gives me the latest death toll from Iraq.
Later, in a DFAC, I hear via Fox News from a politician in Washington that the surge has failed.
Iraq continues to scroll below my feet. Towns, open land, houses, cars in driveways, cars on highways, date palms, reeds, canals, and - thankfully - no sign of war. (And believe me when I say I was looking for just that.) Then we cross another wire and are over another base, and then we land, and unstrap, and once again put boots on the ground.
The helos lift and go. A hundred yard walk completes my journey, and I can set my helmet and armor aside for a while. Pulling off the vest, I notice my shirt is damp with sweat, though it didn't seem all that hot outside.
It will dry quickly now, though. Because it's a dry heat.
Somewhere to the west the desert winds begin to blow and stir the dust and sand and lift it so that the ground becomes part of the sky.
The story continues here.