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thedrifter
03-10-03, 09:55 AM
Time to return home though many stories left untold

CAMP FOX, Kuwait Ė As I am sitting here in my tent typing this, there is a scene in the movie ďPlatoonĒ that comes to mind.

Itís toward the end and ďKing,Ē one of the soldiers, is told that he has orders to go home. He knew he was ďshort,Ē a military term that means he didnít have much time left on his 365-day tour of duty.

But, in the movie, some bureaucratic dice rolled in his favor for a change and he was actually getting orders home a few days early.

He has just a few minutes to gather all his things and board a helicopter to begin his long trip home. He has just moments to say goodbye to everybody he knew in Southeast Asia.

I am not saying my two-week experience in Kuwait has been anything like Vietnam. It clearly hasnít. I havenít witnessed a single shot fired in anger.

The only blood Iíve seen is my own when I tried to move a makeshift wooden bench at the new public affairs office, only to find a nail poking out the bottom.

I am no hero by any stretch of the imagination. I am just a 45-year-old civilian guy who spent two weeks writing about the Camp Lejeune Marines and Sailors here in Kuwait.

I am now making my way home because Iíve been told in no uncertain terms that if I planned to leave the country, Iíd better do it now. If I put it off, I could find myself still here a month from now.

Staying another month isnít an option, but part of me wishes it was. Unlike the troops in ďPlatoon,Ē I wasnít aching to get out of here right away. As many stories as Iíve done, there are even more out there waiting to be told. But my assignment was to last two to four weeks, and you have to play the cards you are dealt.

When you eat, sleep and work with Marines and sailors 24/7, you canít help but bond with a few of them and learn to appreciate most all of them. I donít know if Iíve made any lifelong friends here. Probably not. But for two solid weeks, Iíve been given a gift. Iíve been able to chronicle life at a Marine Corps logistics base that was preparing to go to war.

Iíve talked with 19-year-old lance corporals, and Iíve talked with a commanding general and staff officers.

Iíve talked with gung-ho Marines who canít wait to taste the sting of battle, and Iíve talked to some senior staff NCOs who have seen war and its horrors and know itís not something you go looking for.

As a journalist, I couldnít ask for better access. The only time Iíve had an escort from public affairs has been when I went outside the wire.

The vast majority of my interviews have been one-on-one. Nobody has tried to censor or even read anything Iíve written before I sent it.

Iíve taken pictures and never been questioned once if I had authority to do so. Iíve done all this because I agreed to certain ground rules. I agreed I wouldnít take pictures that would give away security details. I agreed I wouldnít ask a private first class questions about grand strategy because that was beyond his scope of work. Iíve kept my side of these agreements, and the U.S. Marine Corps has kept its side.

Have I printed everything Iíve been told or seen? Of course not. Would I have liked to have more access to roam the country and visit places like Camp Doha and Camp Coyote? Of course I would. But that didnít happen.

Sadly, I think I am spoiled now. Iíve never had the access to stories like this at Camp Lejeune the way Iíve had access to them here. Maybe the time Iíve spent here in the desert will mean something back there, but Iím not sure. Only time will tell on that one.

For now, I have to pack. I wonít be taking half the things I brought with me. Anything that is edible will be divided up between the guys in my tent and a box that is going to Camp Coyote, where life isnít so nice.

My sleeping bag will probably stay here. Itís the finest bag $45 can buy, but itís bulky and on the plane trip back, I want to be as lean as possible. My poncho goes to a major who doesnít have one. My laundry bucket will be- come community property of the public affairs office.

I wonít leave with any souvenirs for myself. I got a couple of my Liberty staffers some- thing: Timmi, an empty Tabasco bottle written in Arabic; Dorian, a rock. The only sand Iíll take with me will be the sand in my luggage.

As I depart, some other Freedom Communications correspondents are coming in. As we speak, a reporter and a photographer from The Daily Newsí sister newspaper in Orange County, Calif., is in-country and will be joining up with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. It isnít likely that 2nd Force Service Support Group will get the kind of coverage itís had these past two weeks, but I also canít rule that out.

Part of me canít wait until I get back to the land of flushing toilets.

But another part of me wants to stay and watch the final chapter of something Iíve chronicled for two weeks unfold.

Liberty editor Peter Williams was on assignment with Camp Lejeune-based troops deployed to the Persian Gulf region. He has filed columns about life with troops from the 2nd Force Service Support Group, now in Kuwait. He is expected home this week where he will receive a warm reception from gift recipients Timmi and Dorian. Cyndi and Wendy Ė who apparently do not rate even an empty bottle or a rock Ė might not be quite as welcoming. But weíre all happy heís coming home safely.

Sempers,

Roger