“The Last Journey”

#2  Traveling Light


24 July 2010, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.  “I love it when a plan comes together”.  I remember that line by George Pepard aka, Hannibal, in the TV show A-Team.  When my kids were little, back in the mid 80’s, that show was pretty much required viewing in the Spiri household.  We all had our characters and I was of course, Hannibal.  I am scheduled to  head out for Afghanistan in less than 24-hours.  I’m not carrying much.


Today is a big news day.  Lots of things going on all over the world as I begin to take the next steps into the war zone.  Five more troops were killed in Afghanistan today, two sailors are presumed to have been taken hostage and North Korea is threatening nuculear war with the US and South Korea.  In my past experiences, things like this always transpire when I embark on important journeys. 


Yesterday, while catching some time in-between jet lag taking over my body and trying to organize and re-organize my belongings, I happened to come across General Stanley McChrystal’s retirement ceremony on the television news.  I decided to watch it intently and listen to exactly what he had to say.  The man is about my age, perhaps a year older.  He has been married to the same woman for 33-years, and I’ve been married to my wife for 36-years.  He spoke straight up and without any political dilly-dallying around. I always try to do the same.  He spoke plenty about his care for the troops.  In short, I think the General and I have lots in common. 


He spoke passionately about people in his life that were there for him during extremely difficult moments.  He mentioned right from the get-go, the matter of the Rolling Stone reporter incident which was on everyone’s mind.  He confronted the issue head on and made everyone in the audience feel at ease with a good chuckle about it all.  In short, this man spoke frankly, honestly and directly.  What I heard most in his speech however was the crushing hurt in his words with the feeling of leaving the mission behind.  General Stanley A. McChrystal retires from the most important job in the world, (in my opinion) and a day or two later I head into the battle ground he left.  To say the least, this one powerful turn of events strikes at the very core of my being as far as ironic timing goes.  I am at ease with those who have filled his shoes and know they are quite capable to finish the job.  I just know how much McChrystal cared for the boots on the ground.


After two days here in Ramstein, Germany, at the base, holed up in my billetting room, it looks like a flight out is in order for me.  In my time here, I’ve had much email correspondence with some Marines and Soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan.  They know I’m coming and are glad to know I’m headed their direction.  They also all tell me the same thing; Afghanistan is not Iraq.  I am clear on this particular piece of information. 


It surely does not take too much to realize that at this very moment, Afghanistan is more volatile than it has been since we arrived there nearly nine years ago.  I also believe it is going to be in the forefront of the news for quite some time, probably for the entire time I will be there.  Going into the war zone in Afghanistan with a camera and a digital audio voice recorder, during the most serious of times in this war, and after the whole Rolling Stone incident with General McChrystal, couldn’t be a more challenging set of obstacles to overcome.  However, it’s just the right time to go.  And I know I have some good folks waiting on the other end to receive me.  They have serious work to get done and they know it takes a real historian to tell it like it is, not some media junkie looking for a way up a ladder only to pull down the man on the top wrung protecting that Rolling Stone reporter’s behind. 


I’ve been busy the past two days, getting my things ready for the trip from here and working on the computer to keep my mailing list up to date and functioning properly.  At the moment, I’m in the pax terminal waiting for the powers that be to release a seat for me.  Already I’ve been bumped off one inbound flight.  I’m waiting for the next one, just like other folks in my shoes.  We’ll see what happens next.  In the mean time, I’m glad I’m travelling light.  It’s still a headached to lug around a backpack, PPE gear, camera bag and lap top.  At least I’m in a nice facility at the moment.  I wonder where the Rolling Stone reporter is these day that ended Gen. McChrystal’s career.  I wonder if he’s willing to go look for the two sailors that are missing outside the wire.  Something tells me he wouldn’t want to do that.  McChrystal isn’t there to cover his back. 


Jim Spiri

mailto:jimspiri@yahoo.com?subject=The Last Journey


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