Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Do Not Adjust Your Television Set

It has been a week since our triumphant return to the states, to America, the first world. And as it wasn't quite like I imagined in June, it was every bit as wonderful and surreal as I thought it would be. Every moment leading up to the march to the gym was met with cheers and hysterical laughter. Getting off the plane, turning in our guns, getting on a every step we got closer to seeing loved ones. You could feel it in your face and hear it in the voice of anyone you talked to.

We took a bus to the base gym, where our friends and family waited for us. We stopped short to get lined up nice and neat so we could march in with our backpacks and laptop cases around our necks. Near the entrance there were people already holding signs and clapping. Someone yelled, "hey, Horton!" but luckily I wasn't met with a barrage of cabbage and apple cores. A few more steps and we entered the gym. By the crowd's reaction, it's as if we won the Superbowl. We stopped in the center and it was still so loud no one heard the shortest speech of all time given by a general. "Good job etc, proud of you all yadda yadda, be safe and so forth." On that note, it became a mad house as people rushed from the bleachers and into the scattered formation. Foregoing all military discipline, I looked around the room while at attention to locate my family. As the gym started to clear out I found Bryan, also family-less, and we agreed to look together. Suddenly I caught a glimpse of my dad running up, with my mom not far behind and with her, Lauren.

One of the first things I said to my dad after a big hug was, man, that was a long twelve months.

Seeing my mom get teary-eyed almost made me let loose, but I held my composure by making a point to. Lauren told me she wasn't going to be there, as to make it a family event. But she decided to come and we're both glad she did. A beautiful moment with a beautiful woman. Yes, this is what I've been missing.

Now that things have settled down a little (ha!), I keep getting the same question: what does it feel like to be back? Well, imagine a kid tweaking on Ritalin and Mountain Dew IVs and trying to sit still in church.

In Iraq it feels like the rest of the world is another isolated planet. News came in bits and pieces and often by word of mouth. Our only connection to our own culture was from magazines a few months old and bootleg movies taped with a camcorder in some dank Indonesian movie theater. As much as we didn't want it to, the world kept on turning without us. Anniversaries, births, deaths, all kept happening despite our situation.

Back in the states, everything moves fast. Really fast. Traffic never exceeded about 45 miles an hour in combat, but on the highway it feels like your blood is going to boil at seventy. Every minute, tiny thing seems huge and at once, hilarious. Driving down the interstate I saw a piece of trash caught in the grass by the shoulder. Look at that! I said with a giggle. It's stuck!

Though I've related some pretty gruesome stories in earlier editions of this blog, I never provided much insight to how I felt about my own safety and mortality. I didn't want my family and friends to know that aspect while I was still in danger so their fears and anxiety weren't compounded any further. There is said to be three stages of clarity about one's life in a war. I didn't come up with the theory, but I sure have felt it. At the beginning, you feel like you're invincible and if anything bad happens, it's going to happen to some other guy. Then when people start to get hurt and killed, you think to yourself, I better look out or I'll be next. The final stage comes after the second one wears on you after awhile. Your thought is, I'm going to die next unless I make it out of here as soon as possible.

I entered the final stage on March 14, and there it remained until August 25.

There were times when many of us weren't killed due to good ol' fashioned luck, a soldier's best friend. Bullets missing heads by quite literally an inch or less (and even a couple dudes got grazed on the dome). The IED that killed Chevy was blown at the very front of the Stryker. If the guy set it off just a half second later, it would have blown under the troop carrying compartment. I don't believe in miracles, but I saw a lot of them.

From boots to Pumas, to sweat soaked and shit smelling trousers to Guess jeans, we're trying to rejoin society the best we can. But not everyone who left in June of 2006 was able to make that transition. These are the names of the fallen of Task Force 5/20:

Cpl. Casey Mellen - Headquarters
Huachua City, AZ
KIA Mosul, September 25, 2006

Cpl. Billy Farris - Headquarters
Bapchule, AZ
KIA Anbar, December 3, 2006

Cpl. Brian Chevalier - Bravo
Athens, GA
KIA Baqubah, March 14, 2007

SSG. Jesse Williams - Bravo
Santa Rosa, CA
KIA Baqubah, April 8, 2007

SSG. Vincenzo Romeo - Alpha
Lodi, NJ
KIA Baqubah, May 6, 2007

Sgt. Jason Harkins - Alpha
Clarkesville, GA
KIA Baqubah, May 6, 2007

Sgt. Joel Lewis - Alpha
Sandia Park, NM
KIA Baqubah, May 6, 2007

Cpl. Matthew Alexander - Alpha
Gretna, NE
KIA Baqubah, May 6, 2007

Cpl. Anthony Bradshaw - Alpha
San Antonio, TX
KIA Baqubah, May 6, 2007

Cpl. Michael Pursel - Alpha
Clinton, UT
KIA Baqubah, May 6, 2007

Sgt. Daniel Nguyen - B 1/12 (Cav)
Sugarland, TX
KIA Baqubah, May 8, 2007

Sgt. Jason Vaughn - Alpha
Iuica, MS
KIA Baqubah, May 9, 2007

Sgt. Anselmo Martinez - B 1/12 (Cav)
Robstown, TX
KIA Baqubah, May 18, 2007

Spc. Joshua Romero - B 1/12 (Cav)
Crowley, TX
KIA Baqubah, May 18, 2007

Spc. Casey Nash - B 1/12 (Cav)
Baltimore, MD
KIA Baqubah, May 18, 2007

Sgt. Iosiwo Uruo - B 1/14
Agana Heights, Guam
KIA Baqubah, May 24, 2007

Spc. Francis Trussel - B 1/12 (Cav)
Lincoln, IL
KIA Baqubah, May 26, 2007

Sgt. Andrew Higgins - Alpha
Hayward, CA
KIA Baqubah, June 5, 2007

PV2 Scott Miller - Headquarters
Casper, WY
KIA Baqubah, June 9, 2007

Cpl. Darryll Linder - A 1/12 (Cav)
Hickory, NC
KIA Baqubah, June 19, 2007

Cpt. Drew Jensen - Headquarters
Clackamas, OR
Died in Seattle on September 7, 2007 from wounds suffered May 7, 2007

So. What does it feel like to be back? It feels great, but it hurts, too.



Unknown said...

Alex, catching that first glimpse of you in the gym for just a split second, between all the soldiers and family members scrambling back and forth, almost made my heart burst out of my chest. Hugging you was the second greatest moment of my life, right behind watching you and Alissa being born. All my cares and worries vanished in that instant. And it was a supreme moment of happiness for your mother and me to see you and Lauren embrace. There won't be many days in what remains of my life that can top September 12, 2007.

And I will never forget Jesse and Chevy, although we never met. Through your writings and many stories about both men, I feel as if I came to know them as friends.

And a great deal of thanks should go out to Jen Stow and Bryna Erickson of the Bravo Company FRG, who were so helpful and kind in getting me and your mother through the tumultuous last sixteen months.



Steven said...

Welcome home. Now if only the Republicans would have some backbone and allow you to stay stateside for at least the same amount of time as you were deployed.

It is however, not to be as they stood with Bu$h and defeated the Webb Amendment.

I hope you don't get sent back soon, but I fear the Neocon administration will continue abusing our military.

Unknown said...

Great to see you home Soldier.I've followed and recommended your blog the last few months in an attempt to give people a clue as to what's really going on in Iraq.

I'm very happy for you, your MOM and DAD and of course Lauren.America needs some good news and you getting out of that INSANE WAR alive is the best news in some time.

Enjoy your R&R and heal, then I hope you will post much more on your Blog. With your skills of story-telling, wit and clarity you can do more than you'll ever know to make people understand the true horror of this terrible war.

Ron Campbell

janinsanfran said...

Welcome home -- just want to join others saying "glad you are alive!"

TheMindFrame said...

The only left to say is welcome back. I hope you get a long, healthy life to enjoy all the things you've earned.

Anonymous said...

Welcome home!! Thank you so much for the honesty in this post. It helps us understand and support those deployed at this time. All the best to you in transitioning.
Cathy B

Blue Girl, Red State said...

Welcome home, Alex. I teared up a little reading your post. Then when I read your dads comment, I lost it.

Marissa said...

so well put. really, amazing. i have enjoyed reading your blogs so much, alex, and i thank you for giving us insight on what the war in iraq, and war in general, is really all about. we are blessed to have you back.

Avedon said...

I'm so glad to read this, because I wasn't going to relax until I heard it from you.

Welcome back. Hope you get to stay.

mikeconwell said...

Welcome Back Soldier.

Started reading your blog a month or so ago. It's been a great read, and I'll keep an eye out for more.

Anonymous said...

Welcome home, Alex. I'm glad you made it through.

Hope you get lots of R&R. And continue your writing as it's the carries on the best line of defense our country's had since 1776: the heartfelt truth.

Lotus said...

Welcome home. Glad you made it back with body and sanity intact. And here's hoping (and working) to see the rest of the troops soon follow.

Anonymous said...

It's good to be back huh? I just wanted to say that this blog kicks ass man. A lot of people will read this blog and fewer will understand what we've went through...but you do a great job of putting into words. Thanks man! Take care!


Anonymous said...


I'm grateful you made it home alive. I wish you the best on reacclimating yourself with life out of uniform. I hope you will be able to find the time to read some stuff by Tim O'Brien. He is one of the great voices to appear out of the Vietnam war. You have that potential and I hope you will tell the story of the Iraq War. You have an amazing voice and I hope you develop it as a way to deal with whatever demons still torment you.

Best of luck and I'll be steering my readers to your stuff. I look forward to reading more of what you say. I especially hope that some day soon I will be reading novels that you have written.



The Big E, home of the Norm Coleman Weasel Meter

rangeragainstwar said...

Welcome back, Alex,

Kevin said:

"And continue your writing as it's the carries on the best line of defense our country's had since 1776: the heartfelt truth."

Amen to that, brother.

You write a fantastic blog, and I hope you will continue to post, and process your thoughts here. If you will, I would like to mention you on our blog. You deserve many readers, as you speak clearly and truthfully.

Be well,


The Minstrel Boy said...

add my own best wishes and welcome home to all ya'll that made it back alive. hope you're mostly all mentally as unfucked as possible. sleep a lot, dig on clean sheets and hot chow. my own homecoming was a long time ago, and sometimes there are still parts of me over there.

you write well, i'll keep visiting to see how you're doing.

good work soldier.

marianne from florida said...

Welcome home to you all, Alex, and I'm happy for your family and friends, the joy and pride they feel is with good reason.

For your tomorrows:

Secret Music
Siegfried Sassoon
Published 1918

I keep such music in my brain
No din this side of death can quell;
Glory exulting over pain,
And beauty, garlanded in hell.

My dreaming spirit will not heed
The roar of guns that would destroy
My life that on the gloom can read
Proud-surging melodies of joy.

To the world’s end I went, and found
Death in his carnival of glare;
But in my torment I was crowned,
And music dawned above despair.

Anonymous said...

Welcome home, Brother.

I'm glad to hear you made it OK.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you left some of your friends behind. They won't be forgotten by those close to them.

But I'm glad you made it back. Welcome home.

Big Brother is Watching said...

I just found your blog via another blog that I just happened across, so I didn't know about you until you were back in the states. So now I'll read your narrative going back in time, knowing that you made it home safely, which is wonderful.

So far I've read your current post and the one previous. You write beautifully and speaking as one old enough to be your grandmother, you do your parents extremely proud. I'm looking forward to reading about your 400 days in Iraq, although it just makes me furious that the invasion ever took place. And now those morons are trying to start another war with Iran.

Anyway, welcome home--I'm so glad you made it back in one piece.

Sonny said...

In the midst of the controversy over whether soldiers like Alex Horton have betrayed their country or shown bravery and patriotism in their reporting from Iraq:

The esteemed Mr. Rush Limbaugh has referred on-air to soldiers who criticize the Iraq operation as "phony soldiers".

No less than Sen. John McCain has responded to Limbaugh's comments this way:

"Any American who risks his or her life to defend us has earned the respect and gratitude of every American citizen, irrespective of their views on this war. If Mr. Limbaugh made the remark he is reported to have made, it reflects very poorly on him and not the objects of his offensive comment. I expect most Americans, whatever their political views, will have the same reaction. He would be well advised to retract it and apologize."

Anonymous said...

Alex & Jeff: Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings as well as you both did! And, thanks again for your service and for speaking out!

Anonymous said...

thanks a lot for your posts. i don't really do the whole blog thing, but a friend told me about this and i had to read it. i'm bookmarking your page and i plan to read through the archives. its nice to have a first hand perspective of whats going on in iraq. i can't believe the neocon flag wavers and i have serious doubts about the liberal side as well (even though i'm an unabashed lefty.) it just seems that each side is so focused on an agenda that everything we get is doctored in one way or another. thanks again, i sure do appreciate your posts and your service.


ps. have fun reading some good books.

Anonymous said...

actually, that's brilliant. Thank you. I'm going to pass that on to a couple of people.

SUEB0B said...

I'm real glad you made it home ok and God bless those who didn't and their families.