Monday, March 24, 2008

The Royal Throne...

Gosh... how long has it been now? The last post was on the 11th???? Sorry for keeping you all in suspense but I've been unable to keep up on the blog here due to various reasons.... travel for one.... internet down for another... and just B-U-S-Y lastly.

The last time I took off on another trip, I ended up heading back to my old stomping grounds - Iraq. Baghdad, specifically. In fact, I was to meet up with another ASOC like us who resides at the old palace that I used to call home in Southwest Baghdad, so returning to the very place that we occupied 5 years ago was quite an experience. For those that don't know, I was with the first units in Baghdad 5 years ago during what they now call the "major combat phase" of the war. We first took over the airport in Baghdad, lived there for a few weeks, then moved into a nearby palace. The building that the Army gave the Air Force as a way of saying "Thanks for the close air support!" was the one that I lived in - we were it's first occupants. There are a thousand stories about that experience that I just can't go into here, but suffice it to say, it was quite a time. When we landed on the tarmack in Baghdad and I stepped off the back ramp of the C-130, I looked across the runway to see Baghdad International Airport. There it was.... glowing, with power... lights.... looking back at me as if it were a living, breathing creature - NOT the once-bombed-out shelter I remember. I am here to tell you, it was emotional. I didn't expect it. It just happened.

Once we arrived at the palace, we pulled out our sleeping bags on the 4th floor and snoozed for a few hours. I awoke the next morning restless, anxious to walk around and see what they had done with the place in 5 years' time, so I got dressed and walked outside. The first thing I had to check was to see if the old outhouse that Scotti and I had built was still there. This outhouse was like none other. It was built using one of Saddam's gold chairs from his palace as the "stool", but retrofitted with a toilet seat and lid. It had stained woodwork fitted in and around the marble steps that led to the gold chair, and it also had more gold trim taken from the frame of a now-destroyed oil painting of Saddam. I could go on about this outhouse but I don't have room. For Scotti and me, it ended up being our legacy. People came from all over to use our outhouse for several months until power and plumbing was finally restored to the bombed out palace compound. Even years later, I've run into folks who talked of that outhouse, not knowing we were the ones who built it. Heck, even my own bathroom in my house was inspired by it and was decorated in an outhouse theme while a picture of Scotti and me standing in front of our outhouse resides on a shelf on the wall! *smile* So as I walked out the back door that was backdropped on the edge of the lake...... there it was. "The Royal Throne", as we referred to it, was still there. It was well worn, however, and showed how hard the last 5 years had been on it - not too different than "me" really. I felt like I had found an old friend as funny - or as sickening - as that may sound to some of you. The door we made was now off and laying on the ground, half burried in the dirt next to it. The inside was covered in a thick layer of dust and cob webs, while the outside that once shimmered a bright white coat of paint was now chipped and peeling away. The once shiny, stained and laqured wood trim inside was now drying, faded, and exposed to the elements. The round mirror, the gold and glass shelf and the toilet paper dispensors were now missing as well. But in all honesty, it still was in really good shape. A really good cleaning and paint job would've restored it to it's former luster.

(Me & Scotti, May 2003, standing in front of our newly completed "Royal Throne")

(Me, March 2008, standing in front of a now well-worn "Royal Throne")

(The inside is still mostly complete, however very dusty and weathered)

Then I remembered, Scott and I had signed the inside framework just above the door after completing the build. "Designed & built by MSgt Ken Mahoy & TSgt Scott Stadler {signatures} May 2003, OIF" Was it still there?.... A quick look inside and up over my head revealed that our signatures penned with my Sharpie marker 5 years ago were still there unbelievably. *smile* Wow... that just brought it all home. The only problem was, Scotti was not here with me to experience it. I fought hard to get him to go on the trip with me - because I really DID need his satellite expertise on my project - but after 3 attempts, the commander would not budge. I brought SSgt Chris Lambert with me instead - and he did a great job, mind you - but for obvious sentimental reasons I really wanted Scotti to come along. I was more upset than I can say that he wasn't allowed to go. Scotti was too. 'Nuff said.

The next few days there in Baghdad were busy but just before I flew out, I borrowed a vehicle from the ASOC and Chris and I went for a drive around the palace compound there, and with each direction I looked, at least a dozen memories popped back into my head. It was fun for me
to be able to take Chris and point to a particular area and tell the story of what happened "right there" 5 years ago, or to walk past another area and remember the fun things that Scotti and I did when it was all so fresh and so new back then. No 10-foot tall concrete barriers blocking the beautiful view of the lake or the other palace buildings... No fences... No sandbags stacked up in front of all the windows.... No trees cut down for security reasons.... It was beautiful! And it was ours for a short spell. Looking back now - exactly 5 years later - and all that has transpired there at the palace....in Iraq.... and even in my "own" life, I can only get nostalgic for a spell, but then have to quickly divert my attention back to the now, and all the things that are going on today, and all that I have to accomplish before I get out of the sandbox here yet again. But for those few short days, it was hard not to remember back to that time 5 years ago that was so breathtaking... so exhilarating... and terrifying, yet somehow fun all at once. Before I left, I decided that I'd bring a momento back for Scotti, so Chris and I removed the brass door handle and I packed it in my backpack and brought it back to Afghanistan here. I sat with Scotti alone a few nights ago and showed him the pictures and video I took of the palace, and then, at the very end, I pulled out the door handle. We shared a good laugh over it and recalled all the great memories. We even kidded about how we could scheme to get the entire outhouse shipped back to our unit in Peoria! *lol* That outhouse has had a life of it's own, and we often joke that our outhouse is "the story the refuses to die" because of how many times it's come back to us with yet another story during it's 5-year tenure there. *grin* But this time around, sadly, I know I'm leaving it behind for good.


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6 comments:

shipahoy59 said...

I know you have wanted to see the "Royal Throne" again for the last 5 years. Glad you were able to see it again in a little safer suroundings. Hope you were able to get yourself a souvenir.

scsoldiersangel said...

Being a girl, if I was there, I would think that was the prettiest potty that I have ever seen! LOL

Lori Peoria
Soldiers' Angels

Spellchecker35 said...

Glad to have you back in communication. Can't wait to get you home, rested, and ready to share pics or stories that haven't been posted here. Keep 'em coming, but get some sleep, too!!

StrangeLand Bass said...

I had no idea that besides being an excellent NCOIC - and SysAd - you were a writer!

Great stuff here! Keep up the good work!

StrangeLand Bass said...

btw - I have you linked up on my blog.

Yes - you've inspired me.

gotta go - got some catching up to so.

Capt. Watson out!

Spellchecker35 said...

Hope all is going well... we miss your hilarious insight and heartfelt thought you post...keep 'em coming! Oh, and don't sweat the small stuff... you know what I mean!