Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Back from Iraq

File this one under Rookie Moves I Shouldn’t Still Be Making

It was a simple enough assignment. Meet a local family at the airport as they welcomed their young Marine son back from Iraq. His flight was due at 11:15 and for once I was early. So early in fact I beat the family there. Entering a door by the Delta gate, I scanned the crowd for the telltale signs of a hero’s welcome. ’Welcome Home’ signs. Baby carriages. Cleavage. Seeing neither, I kept on walking, my lens riding low off a well-worn shoulder strap. All around me people passed, pulling wheeled luggage and clutching glossy magazines. Piedmont Triad International rarely ever feels busy, but today a decent flock of travelers made their way down the concourse as if they all truly had some place to go. Slowing my pace to people watch, I searched for any hints of giddiness among anyone loitering and came up empty. That’s when I saw him.

Mr. Carter, I think his name is. A man in his sixties with a gravely voice and a distinctive black eye patch, his kindly smile always reminds me of a Rooster Cogburn without the piss or vinegar. I’m not sure of his exact title, only that it involves airport security and returning military. The last time I saw him the arriving soldier was in a flag-draped box and small talk almost nil. This time however, the circumstances were brighter and we fell into easy conversation there by the cafĂ© with the eight dollar cheeseburgers. I find Mr. Carter fascinating. Unexplained eye patch aside, the avuncular security lunk is of considerably nimble wit. Somehow we got on the topic of Vietnam and the former Marine regaled me with tales of his time in Da Nang. A raconteur in his own right, Mr. Carter wove a ribald account of jungle R and R. - while the both of us waited to recognize people neither of us had met.

A few war stories later, they arrived - a smiling cluster of family and friends eager to receive their native son. They must have seen the fancy-cam at my feet, for they walked up unannounced and nodded like they knew me. Soon, they too became enamored of Mr. Carter, the wizened and retired Marine quickly shifting his anecdotes into more G-Rated fare. Standing over my camera, I resisted the urge to ask about the eye patch. Looking down, I saw the old man’s ID badge and realized it would probably be okay if I ever did. Surrounded by official-looking type and sanctimonious seal, the airport photo featured a smiling Mr. Carter, complete with a bright stuffed parrot sitting on his shoulder. I was still chuckling at the sight when three short words awoek me from my stupor.

“Here he comes…”

Wheeling around like the well-oiled lenslinger I claim to be, I scooped the camera off the floor and on my shoulder in oen fluids motion. I flipped a switch by feel and bright blue light filled the viewfinder. While my eyesight adjusted, I rolled the barrel of my lens into perfect focus, spotted a young man in desert camouflage at the end of the hall and plunged my thumb into the ‘Record’ button. That’s when two words filled the tiny screen and damn near took my breath. Disc Full. Disc Full? ‘How the hell?’ I asked myself as I dropped into a crouched position and fumbled for the camera’s controls. Opening a tiny door, and flipping a tiny toggle, I scrolled through countless menus as the young man in cammies drew near. Behind me, his Mom let out a great bug yell and it occurred to me how badly I needed to be rolling. But I couldn’t do a thing until I erased my disc, a process that only takes a second or two - provided you’re not being bombarded with breaking news. Cursing myself for daydreaming with Old Man Cogburn for a half hour, I stabbed at buttons and cursed, the heavy footfalls of the young Marine’s combat boots announcing his arrival. As he drew into unencumbered view, I completed the disc erase sequence and hit ‘Record’' - just as his Mom broke from the pack and enveloped him in girlish squeals and manly bear hug.

So, did I get the shot? Of course. I’m no rookie, ya know…


Brad Weaver, BC Instructor said...

I love reading your blog. It's these little humbling things that reveal the universe wants it's money back or we're just getting older and have trouble remembering.

wes b said...

At least the two words were not "No Disk". It could have been worse!

Mike D said...

You nailed it with "cleavage" as a military homecoming staple.