"Where we stand today is not only acceptable in my view, it is truly remarkable." - Tommy Franks The end is drawing near. Operations in Iraq are coming to a close. But there are still Soldiers laboring on in Iraq ensuring we stay on schedule. Many of them belong to my Battalion. With that in mind, my CSM and I took off on what will prove to be our final battlefield circulation and, ultimately, the last time I will set foot on Iraqi soil. Early on the morning of 13 December 2011 we reported to Udairi Airfield for our flight north. It was a bright, brisk and breezy day. Our destination would be Tallil, our former home prior to our last jump of our TOC to Camp Buehring. A good portion of our battalion remains there conducting various logistical functions - running the cargo shipping and receiving point (CRSP), manning the bulk and retail fuel farms, and keeping convoys supplied with food and water. At the same time our transportation companies continue to visit COB Adder (Tallil) almost daily in order to haul out the remaining retrograde cargo. As chance would have it, our battlefield circulation would coincide with one of our final convoys departure from the staging lanes at Adder. We cheered them on in person as they pulled out with another load of cargo. But back to the flight up... As we departed Udairi we were greeted with the endless view of Kuwaiti desert. Herds of camels were the only form of life visible in any direction. I realized how easy it can be for a pilot to lose the horizon and become disoriented when surrounded by such lifeless emptiness. But after about twenty minutes we came upon the Iraqi border, which is clearly marked by fences and security roads stretched from east to west as far as the eye can see. I was back in Iraq. I knew this would be the last time to visit this place. I remembered crossing the border back in 2003 at a place called NAVSTAR before screaming north in an unarmored suburban to Basrah and then on to Tallil. That was in the beginning. Now, eight years and seven months after my first time crossing the border, I was here in the end.
After about another thirty minutes of flight time we landed at Tallil. COB Adder looked exactly the same from the air. Soon we knew it was a ghost town. Hardly anyone remains. Our old HQ is empty. All of our old living areas are empty and locked up. The water is turned off. There are no services remaining. MRE's are still the cuisine of choice for those who remain. Iraqi military personnel are now taking possession of everything we once ruled. Our only purpose is to safely vacate all that remains. To that end, my Soldiers labor on. One of my Company Commanders and her First Sergeant picked us up at the pax terminal and hustled us over to the CRSP. It was completely empty. I could have hit a golf ball from end to end and not hit a thing but dirt or fences. We have moved every last piece of cargo out. I was astounded. When my battalion first arrived at Adder there wasn't enough room to store all of the cargo. Now there is nothing to store. Next we moved over to the fuel farm. I chatted with the Officer in Charge and some of the Soldiers - all of whom belong to our subordinate Quartermaster Company. The fuel farm was also down to its last few days of supply. There was no need to resupply the fuel. Once it runs out the place will be closed. My Soldiers would be the ones to close it for good. What the Iraqis do with it after we leave is of no concern to us. Our journey continued over to the convoy staging lanes. There we met another of our Company Commanders, who was in Adder with trucks from his transportation company as they conducted one of their final convoys. I walked the line of Heavy Equipment Transporter Trucks. Their massive M1000 trailers were loaded with giant wrecker trucks, which represented some of the last cargo to leave Adder before it closed. I wanted to give every single one of my Soldiers a Commander's Coin of Excellence but my pockets weren't large enough to hold that many coins. A select few did receive my coin and all of them received my praise and thanks. CSM and I positioned ourselves at the front of the line and then waved to and saluted each truck as they rolled. Their horns honked in reply. It was a surreal moment of proud glory to be present as witness to this and know that these were my Soldiers who are closing Iraq. We will be the ones who validate the historical accounts of this moment because we were here. Our final visit was to the Class I supply center. There I met with another of my Company Commanders and some of his Soldiers. Most of their company left already back to the states. Although their mission was direct support maintenance, a few of them volunteered to remain and run this facility to ensure convoys were properly supplied with food and water. After handing out a couple more coins we rolled back to the pax terminal for our return flight. Incredibly enough, we had already been at Adder for six hours. It was so electrifying to be back at the tip of our spear again that it seemed more like six minutes. I wanted to stay and, if it were up to me, would have stayed at Adder to the end. But alas, my HQ had already relocated to Camp Buehring at the bequest of our higher. So CSM and I accepted that at the end of the day we had to return to our flag.
It was around 1700 when we were summoned to our awaiting Blackhawks. The weather had been spectacular all day and the sun wouldn't disappoint us come sunset. As we lifted off we circled around the convoy staging lanes before turning south. There are 60 convoy lanes at this massive facility. But only two lanes had anything staged. The contrast of emptiness spoke volumes of all we've done to get to this point. Operations in Iraq are at their end. At that point I realized this was it for me and Iraq. I was watching this place for the last time. The glow of the flares at the oil wells near Basrah provided a matching patchwork of colors to the orange of the setting sun. Occassionally, the Blackhawks would pop flares to add to the fiery spectacle. Although I was very tired I stayed awake to take in all of this for the final time. Iraq, its contrasting visions of life and lifelessness, its stifling heat and oppressive humidity, its historical sites set against a backdrop of poverty and waste, it will always be seared in my mind, memory and conciousness. My final journey out seemed to provide one final tapestry of memories that will never be duplicated by any other place I have been or will ever go. Very few of my generation served here. I'm glad that I did - each and every deployment. The best came last. As my Battalion finalized the retrograde, with only two days remaining before operations were officially declared over, I got to be one of the last out. Even as we flew southward I found myself thinking of ways CSM and I could make one more circulation. But time is not on our side for that endeavor. This time would be the last time in Iraq forever. As if to add to the summation of everything, we stopped in Basrah to pick up some civilian contractors who were also leaving for good. One of them had tears in his eyes. I don't know if they were of joy or sorrow. But they were brought on by the end. Iraq - goodbye forever.