After a second deployment to Kuwait and Iraq - a grand total of 20 months in the desert - I am coming home.
This deployment was very different from my time here in 2005. I spent the first two months driving a truck and hauling equipment from Kuwait into Iraq, but for the last six months, I've been in the rear, acting as liaison between battalion and our soldiers on the road. I sat behind a desk, not a steering wheel.
Before I share my thoughts on Iraq's past and future, I want to share with you what Iraq is like as a landscape. The south and west is dominated by desert. It is an expanse so flat and desolate it is a wonder that any man or animal could survive in such a place. For me, looking out across the desert - even at daybreak when it is it's most beautiful - I cannot shake the enormity and harshness of it. It is an unforgiving landscape.
Of course, in the desert there are always camels. They are literally everywhere. It is not uncommon to see herds of several hundred while driving in southern Iraq and even northern Kuwait. And, yes, we do have to stop for them from time to time when they cross the road.
Iraq is not all desolation and harsh desert. It is, after all, home to Mesopotamia. The lush, fertile valley between the Euphrates and the Tigris still exist, and on the rare times that we were not running at night, it was possible to catch glimpses of the beauty Iraq has to offer.
I am amazed by how much has changed since 2005.
Four years ago the Iraqis were just beginning to stand up their army and police force. No one traveled the roads after dark. Today, as I prepare to leave, the Iraqis are in control of their country. We have begun the responsible withdrawal of troops and equipment and the Iraqi people are in charge of their own security.
The images that struck me most during my time on the road were the number of cars and trucks on the road. In 2005, very few people drove in southern Iraq and even fewer at night, but now the roads are filled with trucks hauling goods from north to south. It was common to pass half a dozen makeshift truck stops on some stretches. If we happened to be still on the road as dawn approached, we would see many trucks filled with produce and other goods that were being taken to local markets to be sold. Four years ago, that would have been impossible.
There is a long way to go for the people of Iraq and I believe the next six to twelve months are crucial for their long term security, but I am confident that the security forces are well-trained and the people have the political will to defeat the remaining insurgents and usher in an era of peace and democracy.
I can't say that I enjoyed all of my time spent here, but it is an experience that I would never wish to replace. I leave with no fondness for the desert and its stinging winds and relentless sun, but I leave with a profound respect for the pride and dignity of the people of Iraq and the courage and bravery of men and women I have been privileged to call my comrades.