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January 13, 2012 > Greetings from the Middle East

Greetings from the Middle East

Two days after Thanksgiving, I wrote my first letter home after deploying to the Middle East. I was sitting at an airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan, awaiting a flight to the north. Thanksgiving 2011 was celebrated over dinner with my Kandahar Team at the "American-style" dining facility named Niagara. Five years previously, to the day, I had spent Thanksgiving in Iraq though it seems as if it was only last year.

Spending Thanksgiving on deployment makes me thankful for what I have. I am thankful to be married to Maria for more than 25 years and for my family.

We said our last good bye and took my last photos with Maria and the family in mid-October 2011 just before heading to Fort Benning, Georgia. Saying "good bye" does not get easier. Fort Benning stirred many memories - I attended Airborne School at Fort Benning in 1986 and Infantry Officer Basic and Advanced Courses in the late 1980s and early 1990s. My father trained there in the 1940s before serving in Korea. More than 60 years later, it feels strange to find myself training at Fort Benning again prior to my deployment.

Just before leaving the US, we transitioned to "lock down" and awaited our final transportation overseas. During this time, our commanding general visited our team and bade us farewell.

We stopped at Hahn, Germany en route from Atlanta to Kuwait. I also stopped there on my way to Iraq in 2006. Nothing had changed. In fact, the air base still has the same vinyl sign hanging by the entrance to the passenger-waiting area.

Arrival in Kuwait in October 2011 was much more comfortable than my previous visit in July 2006. It was not 140 degrees on the airfield at 2 a.m. The mild fall afternoon was pleasant.

We travelled from Kuwait International Airport to Ali Al Saleem Air Base where our headquarters company commander and first sergeant met and took us to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. On arrival, we checked into billeting and, during the first week, received additional in-theater training before beginning our "right seat ride" with those whom we were replacing.

The pace has been non-stop. After spending time with my team in Kuwait, I found myself on a small C-12 airplane with three of my colleagues en route to Qatar to discuss communications projects for the Southwest Asia region. I am replacing Col. Rick Meador. The timing of this trip was fortuitous; it allowed me to meet many of the region's key leaders with whom I shall work over the next 12 months.

The day after returning to Kuwait from Qatar, I took a C-130 airplane to Sather Air Base in Iraq to spend time with my Iraq team. Yes, Iraq. In the midst of the Iraq draw down, one couldn't escape the historical significance of this event. I shall remember my time in Iraq during this momentous event for a long time.

From Sather, I visited the Al Faw Palace at Camp Victory where I had served in 2006. At the height of the Iraq war, the Al Faw Palace had vitality. Strange as it might sound, I have many fond memories of Camp Victory. The Al Faw Palace now looks deserted. Yes, we are leaving Iraq. We took our last photo in Iraq displaying the American flag with my Iraq team; another memory that will remain with us for years to come.

We flew via helicopter from Sather to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Union III where we support the Office of Security and Cooperation for Iraq (OSC-I) with communications. We also travelled to FOB Hammer in Besmaya and to Erbil where the Department of State now has the lead. At FOB Hammer, I updated the three-star general responsible for OSC-I.

Travel in Iraq has its challenges and security concerns. The nation remains a dangerous place and we must take extra security precautions. Air travel is safest. We have been aboard various aircraft, including Black Hawk, Chinook, Department of State helicopters and a Dash 8 fixed-wing aircraft to Erbil which is unlike the rest of Iraq. Those in Erbil refer to their part of the world as Kurdistan. After about a week in Iraq, we returned to Ali Al Saleem Air Base in a C-130 airplane and were collected by our Kuwait team which took us back to Camp Arifjan.

Two days later, I returned to Ali Al Saleem Air Base to fly to Afghanistan. As luck would have it, I caught a 1 a.m. flight to Kandahar Air Base in southern Afghanistan. Kandahar is overly dusty and the fine grit finds its way everywhere. The terrain reminds me of the southwest region of the United States. In Kandahar, my team and I enjoyed our Thanksgiving dinner together. Earlier in the day, we had visited our storage area where we posed atop a shipping container for a group photo with the American flag.

Garrett Yee
December 19, 2011

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