A Long Way From Home
Best Book Bit:
No one ever yells “incoming!” like in the movies. There’s no heroic figure directing soldiers with a burning cigarette in the corner of his mouth and his hands on his hips while the battle rages around him. There is only chaos and the inescapable desire not to get killed days before going home.
Most of my soldiers were already asleep when the rocket roared overhead and exploded in an empty field beyond the security walls of our compound. There was confusion. Panic even. We were less than a week from convoying down through Iraq and to Camp Doha, Kuwait. Our war was supposed to be over. I was one of a handful that had already deployed to Afghanistan in late 2002 and joined our unit after the initial Iraq invasion campaign. Two entirely different wars in two different years and I was dealing with a heavy rocket attack from Iraqi insurgents. I couldn’t help but think of how charmed a life I led and, even as the attack continued, my mind wandered back to two short years ago.
Our next objective was another major supply hub around the southern city of Nasiriyah. That meant going through Baghdad. My first glimpse of the fabled city was unimpressive. Rundown buildings and shacks lined the roads. A feeling of abject poverty projected from the faces of the people lining the streets. This was not the jewel described in so many movies and classic literature. Modern Baghdad was beaten down and ugly.
Anyone who has ever been to Baghdad can tell you that the roads are a hot mess. Our maps were relatively accurate but that didn’t mean much when it came to the physical translation. At some point, where a handful of major roads intersected and crossed overhead, we took a left when we should have gone right. The road narrowed down to a single lane before we found a small, very small traffic circle to turn around in. The LT passed the word back to our S3 and we were ordered to pull off to the side of the road and wait for the first convoy to catch up.
Nightfall spread over the war ravaged city. Buildings were shredded with bullet holes. A burned out government Ministry building was a blackened ruin. Much of the city was still without power, leaving an impossibly dark hole in the middle of the largest city in Iraq. We pulled up below a series of confusing overpasses and waited. Then word came back that the first convoy had done the same thing we warned of. Damn.
I highly recommend Author Freed’s memoir of his more than twenty years in the Army. His story, which reads as part diary and part friendly conversation, is both a personal story, and a story of our times. Mr. Freed gives readers a clear look at the thoughts and actions of a professional soldier and his part in U.S. history.
Writing with a clear, direct style, with plenty of details, the author also injects some humor. The initial reception phase of basic training is kind of like an amped up Boy Scout meeting.
Readers may be surprised to learn that Master Sgt. Freed (I apologize if I am not using the correct rank) spent years hoping to serve in a war. When his time finally came he served one tour of duty in Afghanistan and two in Iraq. He provides rich stories of the operations in both countries.
My first glimpse of the fabled city (Baghdad) was unimpressive.
We get insight into Saddam Hussein, the events of 2004 in Iraq when terrorists decided to use Iraq as their playground, and the momentous historic democratic voting in Iraq.
I was riveted by the events he described, events that I had only known about from the news. The only thing I had trouble with was that the author used army letters and acronyms that confused me, as I didn’t know what they meant. On the other hand, it made the stories seem like actual dispatches. I also thought about the title of his book, A Long Way from Home. I wonder if Author Freed really was a long way from home. In many ways, it seemed as if the Army was his true home.
Thank you for a captivating read, an important story about our times, and most of all, thank you for your dedicated service.
My need to be part of something far greater than myself made me sacrifice any semblance of a normal family life.
It doesn’t matter what we call ourselves; soldier or marine, sailor or airman. We have all answered the call within our hearts to step forward.