The Last Journey
October 4, 2010
The Last Flight

In the early morning hours of October 3rd, sometime around 0200 hrs, we landed at Ramstein Air Base. I knew this place from having been stuck here way back in July, which now seems like a lifetime or two ago. It was cool and downright chilly outside but it had a nice feel to it. You could see your breath in the air. It was definitely not the desert now. The aircraft came to a halt. We were escorted down the stairs of the aircraft and waited as the stair truck pulled up to the door so we could disembark the plane. We walked down the final set of stairs on the C-5 and we got into a van to take us right over to the terminal. Everything looked familiar and clean, neat and orderly. I would not have to go through the hassle of trying to figure out how to get on the base this time because I was already on the base. All I had to do now was walk across the street and book a room at the Air Force Inn hotel which in my mind is the most convenient hotel I have ever stayed at in all my travels. And the price is excellent. $39 a night. The rooms are fantastic, clean and there is a free laundry on every floor. All I had to do was check in. I was on record of having stayed there back in July so there would be no hassle of producing a CAC card or going through the drama of showing them my orders and arm wrestling with them like I did before just to stay in a room.

It was now about 0300 hrs on October 2nd. Once I checked in, I got out a bunch of my clothes and threw them in the washing machine and dumped a lot of soap powder into the load. I chose the cycle that was the lengthiest and made sure the clothes got a good washing. They needed it. Then I went back to my room, got out my computer, hooked up the Wi-fi and contacted Candi back home on the chat line. I informed her that I was in Germany and would head out to Frankfurt at around 0400 hrs on the 4th of October. I had already contacted the shuttle service and made reservations to be picked up in time for arriving at the airport in Frankfurt with plenty of lead time for a 0750 departure time.

After I finished chatting with Candi on the internet, I retrieved my clothes from the laundry area and coordinated all my belongings and rearranged my luggage. I now did not have to wear my body armor so I disassembled it and stuffed it and my helmet into the small suitcase which now has been all over the world, again, and is beginning to show its wear. I have used it over and over many, many times. It’s been a good piece of luggage and it had one more vital trip to do before I retired it. I would check two pieces of luggage in and carry all my important stuff in my camera bag. Both cameras, the computer, and the audio recorders as well as a few more items I would not want to have to replace if they lost my luggage. I bedded down around 0500 hrs and slept until around noon local time. It was the 3rd of October and I was at Ramstein Air Base. I had heard at about this time that selected locations in Europe including Ramstein Air Base were on a watch so to speak concerning possible terror attacks.

After waking up around noon, I took a long, hot shower and it felt very, very good. I felt that I was being a bit wasteful on the water but on this day, I didn’t concern myself with that. I enjoyed this very, very long hot shower and I just let the hot water beat down on my back. My feet were beginning to become a bit of a problem. They were sore now and becoming quite cracked. They had survived without giving me any problems because I kept my socks washed and dried out and the few pairs of socks that Staff Sergeant Aguilar had given me at COP Turbett were by far one of the best things I could have ever been given. They are perfect socks for what they were used for. When I walked through the ditches and got my boots soaked and my feet wet for long periods of time, I had thought my feet would give me problems long before this. Not until the last seven days had my feet began to bother me. I washed them several times over in the shower in the hotel room at Ramstein and while walking around I used flip flops so my feet could air out.

For lunch I went to the Subway and ordered a veggie sandwich. It’s in this mall like place which is all part of the Air Force Inn hotel set up. It basically looks like anywhere in America only it’s Germany. After lunch I came back to the room and fell asleep for awhile. I was tired and had to get up by 0300 hrs which now was about 12-hours away. I would do nothing now for the rest of my stay at Ramstein. I did go to the convenient store and purchase a .55 cent tube of toothpaste and a liter of a mixed fruit and vegetable drink. Upon the purchasing of these two items I was asked at the counter to produce a CAC card. I explained that I did not have a CAC card but that I am allowed to purchase things in this store. The worker with a strong Asian accent, who had waited all day to say no to someone, argued with me about me being able to purchase items. This store is run by AAFES (Army-Air Force Echange Services). I would not budge out of line and the clerk asked me to leave. I told the clerk that I had orders on me that clearly state I could purchase things at this store. She did not believe me. So, I produced my orders and after about 10-minutes of haggling I was allowed to purchase $2.54 worth of product.

Now I know the rules, but to be hassled by a clerk that is not an American, probably, and is more than likely part of the Asian labor pool that has a corner on the market for these types of jobs on American bases over a $2.54 purchase, really kind of chaps my hide. Because, I am authorized to use the services of AAFES and it clearly states so on my orders. Some people just love to say no to me. It is such a hassle for me to constantly pull out my orders and ask the people telling me no all the time if they can read.

I nodded out on and off the rest of the night. I had asked for a wakeup call for 0300. The call never came. I just happened to wake up right on time. I took another shower, finalized all my gear, went down to the lobby, checked out and waited for the shuttle driver to get there. He was late by five minutes. There were five other passengers on this run and we all arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. I checked my bags in and got my boarding passes for the long journey home. I am at this moment on an airplane once again, having left Ramstein, Germany and already landed in Amsterdam. I changed planes and am now on a flight over the middle of the Atlantic ocean somewhere near Iceland at the moment headed from Amsterdam to Houston, TX. I have tried to detail this journey as best I can. I will rest now and catch up on some sleep once again. I have one more full story to write, and it will be about all my thoughts concerning this journey and will be written some time after I arrive home.

This morning, I picked up a Stars and Stripes newspaper and immediately turned to the section detailing the loss of life of service members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was a Marine from Helmund province that was killed just four days ago during combat operations. That means he was on patrol in the area I was doing what we did every day I was there. I checked the name. It was not someone I knew. But, it does not matter whether I knew him or not. He is family. Now he is gone.

There are times I just feel like I was supposed to record everyone and just talk with them. I honestly feel that I was supposed to do that and that in some way I failed the mission. I also have the sense that I was supposed to know everyone in theatre. I kept running into people that knew me from times past and current times. Leaving the theatre of operations is troublesome to me. Staying longer may have been even more troublesome. I would have realized that there are even more Soldiers and Marines I should have met. I just should have met them all. It’s a strange feeling. But it is real.

I set out to find four particular people on this journey. Two Soldiers and two Marines. There names are: Cpt. Rob Hamilton and Sgt. Bryan Doyle, of the US Army; and Sgt. Jimmy Bernard and Cpl. Sam Dillon of the USMC. I found all four of them spread across Afghanistan three years after I had met each of them in different places in Iraq in another war zone. I took their photos and spent time with each of them and recorded their voices on audio. Along the way, I met many new faces I shall never forget.

I don’t know how I will write the last story yet. But, I have an idea.

Jim Spiri