Round Trip

An obscure Rolling Stones song started to play in my mental iPod—every soldier has their theme music! We moved in a lazy, single-file way down the tarmac toward the “Bird” at Pope AFB. A long line of two-legged packmules with empty weapons—for now at least, until A-STAN. Local and ancient war dignitaries shook our hands and gave us tiny folded American flags in the shape of those triangles that remind you of the kind they give your people as they say “We're sorry for your loss.” Think positive thoughts! Then I walk into a moment in history. The flight crew is straight out of New York on a government charted airline called World Airways: a 767 filled with us and several chalks (units/sections) of the 82nd Airborne. Flying first class to war—appetite for destruction! There were enough seats for each of us to have our own row. Too bad we couldn't put our weapons in the overhead compartments; we had to leave them butt facing out on the floor, under our seats. Stops along the way: a lonely airfield in Nova Scotia that reminded you of some Southwest Airlines shack from the 70's, to use its graffiti scrawled small bathroom and stretch our legs. Darkness and snacks...Kraftwerk's “Trans Europe Express”: stops in Leipzig, Germany, and finally Manas, Kyrgyzstan—got there on a Friday. Pretty snow capped mountains in the distance. People are descendants mostly of Genghis Khan-Russian/Cyrillic speaking Asians. Such a masala of people—left for A-STAN the next night.

Twelve months later...

“Back To The World” by Curtis Mayfield plays—a new mental playlist as my steps walk in reverse to the 767. The food was frequent and top notch along with such perks as hot towels that did little to cleanse us of A-STAN. The in-flight movies were crap—some Jackie Chan drivel (why does the dude often play these borderline buffoon roles?), and some tired comedy with John Travolta and Robin Williams. I guess showing action or war movies would have been in bad taste. We had stops in Budapest and Leipzig, Germany, (again) and finally Fort Bragg/Pope AFB. An odyssey of 36+ hours. Some of us were met with a hero's welcome of family/friends/supporters waving signs and American flags. I took my solo arrival in good stride. I was happy for other folks. A very emotional time...the real heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice—they arrive home separately on different planes every a different kind of welcome.


Gabriel Tolliver is a recent US Army veteran and a writer/producer/director of content across media platforms.   

Categories: Airplanes, Death

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