For some of us the experience is not new, we've passed this way before, for others it is a first. Either way it's always a memorable experience, and until you have been through it, explaining the feeling is difficult.
To start, i've noticed over the years that, other than a few stress relieving humorous comments, Soldiers rarely talk on that last leg of the journey, that flight into a war zone. To begin, the noise level in the plane is too loud for a lot of conversation, but even if that weren't the case, I think the silence would be the same. It's almost like a state of meditation - a time to break with your normal life and accept your new reality. I can't speak for everyone, but for me I consider the situation, imagine all that could go wrong, review some of my training, do a gut check, prep and prepare your mind for the tasks ahead - come what may. Just before landing, I have found myself taking a deep breath and whispering to myself, "okay, here we go."
Then comes the moment you step off the ramp of a C-17 or C-130 aircraft and your boot hits the tarmac. At that moment, your eyes are wide open, soaking in the sights, sounds, and feel of your new home. For me the first thing I always notice is the smell of jet fuel, the feel of warm air coming off the aircraft engine and the wide expanse of the runway. There always seems to be a haze in the air here that casts a dreamlike feeling to the moment, and I inevitably notice it.
In those first 30 seconds after I step onto terra firma, as we follow each other single file off the tarmac, our shoulders weighed down with gear, our minds weighed down with the moment, it never seems to fail that I offer a quick prayer in my head that the deployment will go well, no one will be hurt and that we'll have a great experience.
Fortunately, the moment doesn't last, if it did you would go crazy. Before you know it, deployed reality hits you in the face. Equipment has to be unloaded and moved, in-processing to the country begins and the mission gets rolling. There are usually a few quiet moments in those first few days, but for the most part, deployed life is in full swing.
For now we are getting information from our predecessors - back briefs, lessons learned about their experience over the last year, introductions to important contacts, unloading, setting up, finding showers, finding latrines, chow halls, sick call, phones, chapel services, sending messages back home, getting in the swing.
The bottom line is, we are here. The training is over, the mission is in full swing and now we get to the business of telling the story of America's Soldiers - Boots on Ground.