"Ladies and gentlemen, we have just crossed into American territorial airspace, welcome home," said the pilot of our chartered 767 airplane, to the applause and smiles of all onboard. Under two hours later we were at BWI airport. The journey began over 30 hours prior when we reported to the Navy Customs Battalion at Camp Arifjan.
There, our luggage was systematically taken apart and inspected, one item at a time, to the point of ridiculousness. Now, I can't blame the Navy for this since they are doing a job the Army asked for help on but I can tell you now, of the 45+ countries I have visited, I have never been exposed to anywhere near this level of scrutiny. Apparently at the beginning of the war, Army guys were returning home with everything from live grenades to pet scorpions, so now we all go through this three to four hour process. Thanks Army!
Our ride home.
The last time I had a beer before noon must have been in college . . .
Our plane made a three hour fuel stop at the sprawling Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany around 0800 on Saturday morning. Displaying the type of enlightened leadership that Navy Chief Petty Officers are known for, Chief Morton (center, with cover on) commandeered a taxi and lead a highly successful expedition to the commissary for beer. A light mist falling from the ashen gray skies by no means dampened our celebratory leanings, and Chief Morton went old school with a 40 of malt liquor, in the paper bag, for extra effect.
But the best part of the entire trip was the huge and heartwarming gauntlet of well wishers, from Cub Scouts to USMC veterans, all part of Operation Welcome Home, on hand to greet us at the airport when we exited from baggage claim. Cheering and waving American flags, this robust and noisy bunch, numbering well in excess of 75 folks, young and old and in-between, offered hand shakes, high-fives and a bag of snacks to all of us weary but exhilarated service members.