Well, I can’t believe that New Year’s Day is already two weeks behind us. Already. That fast.
In my years living in Las Vegas I have usually celebrated New Year’s sitting at my place, rum and egg nog in hand, flipping through the TV channels watching celebrations around the world. But especially the celebrations in New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. I’ve gone down to the Strip several times—once with my once-fiancée, once with my youngest son and a good friend of mine, and once with my sons, when my oldest was going to be married a few hours later.
The numbers of people and the sound the crowd made as the clock ticked toward midnight was incredible. And the fireworks show above the Strip, beautiful! Each midnight meant the end of an old year and the beginning of a new year with all of its incredibly wonderful possibilities.
Of course, I remember one New Year’s Eve in particular—31 December 2006 (see my photo above). I sat in my corner of a little tent that I called home for a year as the clock ticked toward midnight. My fellow Soldiers and I left an almost two-year mobilization and assignment to Fort Irwin, California, for a little spot of land in northern Kuwait called Convoy Support Center Navistar. We were a mile south of the Iraqi border, near the village of Safwan, Iraq. Every day supply convoys came up from southern Kuwait, picked up gun truck escorts from our battalion, and headed into Iraq—our gun trucks also escorted empty convoys out of Iraq.
After two months of pre-deployment training in Mississippi we arrived at CSC Navistar in July 2006. A one-year deployment sounded so long. And it was, in a way. But before we knew it, New Year’s Eve was upon us. A lot of our Soldiers were up north on missions and some were, that night, engaging the insurgents in gun battles along the main north-south route, Main Supply Route Tampa. A lot of us were at CSC Navistar (I worked in the Company Admin, so I only went north three times on short missions).
At midnight I went outside of my tent; there was a small TV on the front porch of our Company HQ, probably tuned to the celebrations stateside. But I stood in front of my tent and smoked a cigarette while watching a “fireworks” show to the north. In Safwan the Iraqi villagers were celebrating by firing their weapons into the night sky. I heard the faint chatter of weapons fire and watched as multi-colored tracer rounds arced upward before vanishing into the night. From nearby tents I heard Soldiers shouting “Happy New Year” to each other.
After a few moments the firing from Safwan and the shouting from the nearby tents died down. Below the stars it was just me standing in a desert land with a recorded history thousands of years old. And I, and my fellow Soldiers, were now a part of that history.
I went back to my tent and watched a DVD movie before turning in.
That was over seven years ago. It does and does not feel like seven years. It is incredible how fast the years go by. It really is. Make the most of this coming year—enjoy it, and enjoy being with your loved ones. Before we know it, we will be another year older, and 31 December 2014 will be upon us.
Stan shares more of his military experiences in his novel, BETTER THAN A RABBIT'S FOOT
Sergeant Jerry Stanton is a young soldier serving in the War in Iraq. He is a gunner on a gun truck nicknamed “Lucky Bear,” one of those tireless workhorses that escort supply convoys from camps in Kuwait to destinations scattered throughout the war-torn country. In the early morning hours before a scheduled mission, a dust storm howls across his camp and threatens to bring convoy operations to a halt. Worse, the camp receives word that a gunner from his company was killed by an IED while on a convoy mission. Unlike most soldiers, Jerry doesn’t carry a lucky charm, but upon receiving news of the death of the gunner, he begins to mull over/ponder the merit/virtue of a good luck charm—only, what would work for him? Perhaps mail call will provide the answer.
“People like a happy ending.”
Sergeant Jerry Stanton, an M4 Carbine slung across his chest, glanced at the dark form that trudged alongside him in the hot, early morning darkness. It was all the darker for the dust storm howling across the small camp, a dusty and sandy convoy support center, CSC, a mile south of the Iraqi border. He placed his hand over the tall styrofoam coffee cup from the messhall that was open at all hours to serve those about to head out on a mission. He felt the itchy dust filtering down his back, along his arms, and coating his fingers.
In spite of his short time deployed to Kuwait, he had learned that dust storms were worse than sand storms; they were hot and itchy while the sand storms stung exposed skin and chilled the air. Breakfast was good but tasted flat, more due to the question of whether their mission would be a go or no-go because of the storm that roared out of the midnight darkness hours before.
“People like a happy ending,” the soldier repeated. He was a gunner from another gun truck as the squat, venerable M1114 HMMWVs, which were never meant to be combat vehicles, were called. He held up a rabbit foot that spun frantically in the wind and added, “I like a happy ending. Especially now.” They rounded the corner of a small building, actually a renovated mobile home trailer with a covered wooden porch lit by a bare electric bulb. The gunner pointed to a small black flag, suspended from a log overhang, flapping furiously in the wind.
“Oh shit.” Jerry sighed as a cold chill raced through him.
“It’s been there for an hour or so,” the soldier said as he enclosed the rabbit’s foot within both hands and brought it up to his lips as if to kiss it. He glanced at Jerry. “I’m not superstitious, but still, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with having a lucky charm. You know?”
“Yeah.” Jerry nodded as he watched the twisting flag. “I know.”
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SS Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, a published photographer and photojournalist, and a member of the Military Writers Society of America. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007). His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. Second-career goals include becoming a painter and studying for a degree in photography and anthropology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology. After 12 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters. As of December 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Hampton officially became a homeless Iraq War veteran.
You can find Stan, and his work, in these places:
Amazon.com Author Page
Amazon.com. UK Author Page
Goodreads Author Page