Running headlong into a fury of sand and gravel, the eight soldiers hurried to the rear of the Chinook the instant it touched down. Working quickly, they dragged mail bags from the helo to a small corner of the pad about 50′ away. When all the bags were off-loaded, the eight, in what was clearly a practiced maneuver, threw themselves across the cargo while the helo lifted off, heading to another remote FOB (Forward Operating Base) or Fire Base. Without the weight of the soldiers pinning the cargo to the ground, the accelerating rotors would have blown bags and boxes of mail over acres of rocky terrain.
The mail then was taken to the Alamo, a compound with large mud walls and enclosed structures baked hard by the sun. As the bags spilled envelopes and boxes across the concrete courtyard, the soldiers quickly gathered to help sort or listen for their names in the first mail call in six weeks. Mail call, even in the age of email, is an important occasion at bases throughout the theater. Most of these soldiers have daily contact by email or phone with the important people in their lives, but it’s different to have something tangible recently held by a family member, friend or, sometimes, a stranger who cares. What else would explain the joking and laughing and end zone dancing? The sudden brightening. The shared moment that reassures and eases the passage of time and loneliness. — Terry