Never got her name….

credit: ESO/H.Dahle

I wonder how she did. I never got her name. Never really saw her face….I hope she got home….

Summer, 2003. It was still early in Operation Iraqi Freedom, troops were transiting Qatar in units or ones and twos, going forward into Iraq. Most of us who arrived in Qatar, got a bed, quick trip to the DFAC, and told when to report for a flight into Iraq the next day. Hurry up and then wait….

Hurrying up was good. It kept me busy, but the waiting? That gave me time to think about the future. I had deployed before into a combat area, but this time was unknown. Forces were still actively fighting. Some people had ballistic body armor, but many of us still had flak vests. Many of us would be flowing into Iraq for the first time and it was scary.

Dinner was over and I was one of those traveling solo into Iraq. I would hook up with my unit at BIAP (Baghdad International Air Port). I was restless and a bit lonely, so I went on a walkabout. I left the transit billeting and wondered out the door into the night. The stars were out in incredible brilliance. I had not seen that many stars that clearly in a long time. I found a table away from the lights by the doors and sat down to enjoy the stars.

It was relatively quiet and warm, sightly humid. Funny how I can remember that so well all these years later. I was watching the stars and thinking of what awaited me. The quiet doubts — would I measure up? would my training work? How would I react if someone fired at me? Would I survive? I remember murmuring Shepard’s prayer (please, God, don’t let me F — up).

I sensed movement near me. A person, in uniform was approaching in the darkness. I heard a voice ask, “Mind if I sit here too?” A female. “Sure, no problem, just sitting here thinking.”

She took the far corner of the table and sat quietly looking at the stars as well. It was a long silence that anywhere else and time would have been awkward, but in that place, that time, it was comfortable, companionable…

Then quietly, she said “Are you going in?” There was no need to clarify, I knew she meant Iraq. “Yep, tomorrow. Showtime is noon”

She was quiet for a bit, then “I leave tomorrow morning.” I nodded. Looking back I wonder if she saw my nod in the darkness, but in a bit, she continued. “I have never deployed before. 16 years in the service and I have never deployed. Didn’t think I ever would. When they asked for volunteers, I raised my hand…” She was quiet for a bit. “I’m a school teacher. It didn’t really hit me about what I had volunteered for until my kids all came up to hug me on my last day before mobilizing. I’m a personnelist…have you heard anything about where you will be?”

“I’m headed to one of the bases at BIAP. Camp XXX, how about you?” “BIAP too, but at Camp XXXY. Maybe we will run into each other. You know I have not had to fire a weapon for years until I was getting ready for this. …I’m a little afraid…”. She said with just a slight catch in her voice and it seemed to me that she was ashamed that admission had slipped out….

“No surprise there. You aren’t alone. I’m a little afraid too…” I heard her exhale in relief. It got quiet for a little bit, back to companionable silence. Then she said “I really hope I don’t mess up….” I chuckled a little and said, “I was just thinking the same and praying Shepard’s prayer.”

I heard the question before she asked “Shepard’s prayer?”

“Yes, Shepard’s prayer. When Alan Shepard, the astronaut, was about to launch into space he prayed “Please God, don’t let me F — up!” She paused, then giggled. “I will have to remember that!” It got quiet again….then she said, “I guess I better get some sleep. Are you going in?”

I got up and we walked to the door of the billeting area. It was dark there, the ever present lights were still a few years away….Just before we parted at the doorway, I said “You stay safe, good luck, and remember that prayer.” I could sense her smile as she said “I will, you stay safe too…and thank you.” We shared a friendly hug and parted.

I never got her name, never saw her face….I hope she got home safe….