North Atlantic, 100 miles south of Iceland - A Northwest Airlines Airbus A330 is a pretty comfortable troop transport compared to the troopship my grandfather and his men road across the Atlantic to North Africa 64 years ago as Combat Engineers in World War II.
I've taken this Northwest flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam many times before, en-route to vacations in Scandinavia, England, and Italy. This flight isn't much different, but my eyes have changed. As I board I notice a scattering of ACU (the new digital Army camouflage pattern) backpacks in the overhead compartments. There are only a few men in uniform, but the others are fairly obvious if you are looking for them. Men with "high and tight" hair cuts and casual civilian clothes who don't look like tourists or business people. American soldiers on their way back to another war in a desert.
There are undoubtedly service women on the flight too, but they don't make themselves so obvious. I'll have to wait to see who picks up those ACU backpacks in the overhead compartments when we get off the plane.
Most of the soldiers on this flight are probably on their way back to Iraq from a leave at home with their families. Being able to hop on a plane, and in 24 hours be home with your family makes the war feel civilized to me, just another business trip. But I know it's not.
In the gate area in Minneapolis a young soldier in the ubiquitous grey sweatshirt with ARMY across the front and a baseball cap was saying goodbye to his mother while a pretty girl with tears in her eyes hung on to him tightly. How long will it be before he sees them again? Six months? A year?
For me this really is a business trip. I'm going to spend a couple weeks in Fallujah taking pictures, and appearing on TV and radio, and then hop back on Northwest Airlines. My wife will pick me up at the airport, and I'll be back to my comfortable life before I know it.
But I suspect that when I get back I'll have a new perspective on the war, and hopefully I'll have had an opportunity to share it with many of you. It's not civilized, and it's definitely not routine, and ignoring the problem won't make it go away.
Day by Day, by Chris Muir (updated daily)
Chris Muir is the cartoonist that I met in Kuwait. He spent two weeks in Iraq at the same time I was there in February 2007, and so thought it would relevant to showcase his work on my site. Here is a link to Chris' humorous travelogue of this Iraq trip: http://billroggio.com/archives/2007/03/arrival_alignright_v.php