“War makes strange giant creatures of us little routine men who inhabit the earth”
One more time I am back. One last time, enshallah.
Iraq has gobbled up vast chunks of my life since 1990 when I first set foot in Baghdad in August of that year. Saddam’s Army had invaded Kuwait and NBC News sent me to Baghdad to report on the dictator’s next move. After the Iranian revolution and subsequent hostage crisis, The United States used Iraq as a proxy against Iran. Now, Saddam, too, had become a full-time enemy.
In Baghdad, war was in the air and panic in the streets. An American counter-attack was expected any day. Those with the means to leave the country were fighting to get out. Saddam International Airport was the battleground for competing prospective passengers. A plane to anywhere was the prize.
My producer, David Page and I walked off the plane and into the middle of the madness. Baghdad’s August heat only made people crazier, and Desert Storm was still 5 months away.
I thought about all of that as Carlos and I hopped off the ramp of a U.S. Air Force C-130 at the renamed Baghdad international Airport. “Why”, I asked myself, “have I come back”. Yes, we’re here to tell the stories of the men and women we’ve sent to fight this war – 200,000 troops scattered across Central Asia and the Middle East, but something else, something I can’t quite identify, keeps drawing me back to arguably one of the worst places on earth. In more trips here than I can remember, I never could answer that question. I still can’t, but I have fifteen months to try. Maybe with Carlos at my side, it will be enough time to discover what drives young Americans to volunteer for service that they know will bring them here, and in doing so, fill in the blanks for me, too.