It was some time in January of '03, only a few days after Defense Tech went live, that I first got an e-mail from Phil Carter. He dug the site, and I sure liked his blog, Intel Dump. In the two and a half years since, we've become pals. We've shared beers on both coasts. Pigged out at Kosher and Cuban joints. Even split a hotel room, once. More important, maybe, the former Army captain has been a grounding influence on me as I've picked my way through military issues, providing level-headed responses to my not-infrequent hysteria.So I got a lump in my throat when Phil called me one night, to tell me he was back in the Army, and headed for Iraq.This week, Phil -- a frequent Slate contributor -- has a week-long diary on his return to uniformed life. It's a must-read.
My dad volunteered to throw a backyard going-away party to gather all my friends and family in one place to send me off. The party started in a fairly jubilant mood, given the occasion; my family doesn't do a lot of big get-togethers, so this was special despite its cause. But as the night went on and people started to leave, and I had to start saying goodbye, the night became much tougher. I had resolved not to drink much because I wanted to remember everyone and everything about my last night in Los Angeles with everyone. But when it came time to hug my grandmother for the last time, I suddenly wished I had finished the case of Sam Adams I had brought. After my family departed, leaving only my close friends, the conversation finally veered to my subject of my deployment itself. I tried to explain as much as I could, but found myself saying "I don't know" more than any other phrase.By the time the day came to report, I had numbed to the thought of my deployment. My checklist of tasks was complete: I had moved out, closed out my legal practice, hugged my dog, packed my bags, and said my goodbyes. Eventually, the time came to leave. My parents drove me to the airport so I could catch the 4:30 p.m. Southwest flight from Los Angeles to Nashville. We hugged at the curbside briefly, and that was it. I walked into the airport, went through security without a hassle, and sat down at Gate 13 with my bags to wait for the flight. I spent an hour hand-writing my will on the legal pad I had brought with me to write letters home, and then spent the next hour listening to my iPod, trying to relax while waiting for my flight. It would be a while before I saw Los Angeles again.