I was killing some time with Google Earth last week and decided to look around my old stomping ground in Iraq. The imagery of the area was surprisingly good, and I had many a chuckle and a sigh as I perused the landscape of AO Raleigh, the area of operations that includes Falluja and its outlying areas.

I started with Camp Falluja where I was stationed and found the trailer and 10 by 10 foot room where I slept the majority of nights (or days, if I had been awake all night) inside the wire. I think I could even see the air conditioning unit that was both a source of comfort and frustration depending on whether the camp’s power had failed. It’s slightly difficult to sleep in an enclosed room during the middle of an Iraqi summer day, so the next place I scrolled to was my workplace where I would seek refuge to sleep when the power failed. It’s amazing what types of nooks and crannies one can crawl into and sleep inside when the next best option is the equivalent of a huge crock pot.

Next I scrolled over to the junkyard where we would search for “upgrades” to our Humvee. Many days did I defiantly stare tetanus in the face and dodge heaps of unexploded ordnance (discarded mortars, artillery shells, R.P.G.s, etc) to procure turret cover plates, fasteners, and storage bins for my team vehicle. Additionally, I found the ponds, the chow halls, the airfield, and many other places that I frequented during my deployment.

Next, I decided to venture outside the confines of Camp Falluja. I was pleasantly surprised at my ability to recall landmarks, roads, and even individual buildings and houses. In preparation for missions I always studied imagery of the area we would be operating in, and I explicitly studied imagery of target houses for raids we conducted, but I had no idea I would remember the places in such detail.

First I found the hospital in Falluja where an R.P.G. sailed over top of my Humvee, almost singing the hair of my turret gunner. I was even able to pinpoint within one or two houses the gated driveway where we later caught and detained the three fleeing insurgents that conducted the attack. I scrolled further west and found the area where I witnessed Iraqi soldiers in a skirmish with insurgents as my convoy traveled to Ameriya. There I saw an Iraqi civilian weeping as he sat by the side of the road with a bandage over his bleeding forehead. That was a bizarre sight. What’s even more bizarre is that I saw another Iraqi civilian with a bandaged forehead sitting in a similar place as I traveled the opposite direction almost a month later.

I then scrolled south of Ameriya to Ferris Town, a very large upscale apartment community. There I found the apartment building that housed the most villainous insurgent I’ve had the privilege of yanking out of bed at 2 a.m. — and that’s not a short list. I remembered that his wife was pregnant, and the corpsman with our patrol gave her medical assistance and checked her vital signs while we detained her husband. Our patrol leader promised to have a corpsman return in a couple weeks during a routine patrol to check up on her. After I mistakenly relayed the information in Arabic as “we would return in one or two years” instead of “one or two weeks” the insurgent’s sister mentioned that she understood English, which would have been helpful to know before I started stumbling through the message in Arabic. I wonder what became of the child.

I laughed out loud as I scrolled northeast and managed to find the individual house of a local national that we tried to take in for questioning at least three times but could never catch at home. I chuckled, thinking of all the resources, time, effort, and money spent on trying to question that one Iraqi. I sure hope he would have had something informative to say.

From the comfort of my desk I then traversed the 30 miles east to Baghdad, a trip that would take merely a half-hour via road — if that were a safe way to travel. Unfortunately, it actually requires a few days notice, a ten-minute ride in a helicopter, and a lot of waiting for your helicopter to arrive. There I found many landmarks that I remembered from my trips to Baghdad. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (an Iraqi monument in remembrance of a martyr from the Iran-Iraq War) is huge, even on satellite imagery! I found the Hands of Victory nearby. A family had set up a gift shop at the base of the monument where they took advantage of the fact that many Americans — like me — want their pictures taken inside the monument. I left my camera with the shop owner and after his son led me through the monument to the portal, he took our picture. I was very happy to have their help and I tipped them well.

I also found the pool that I swam in at the Embassy and the guard tower that I climbed to take my picture next to the Tigris as I had done next to the Euphrates outside of Falluja. Lastly, I went back west and tried to find the road I had been on when an I.E.D. struck my Humvee. I found a few roads that looked like the one in question, but I couldn’t be sure. Zaidon, a farm community southeast of Falluja, is a repetitive lattice of farmland and criss-crossing canals and canal-roads that all look so similar it’s difficult to pinpoint locations on a map.

One of the most surprising parts of my trip down memory lane via Google Earth was the revelation that I actually miss that place in some strange capacity.. Much like memories of initial training at Officer Candidates School and The Basic School, I think the “suck” factor tends to fade over time leaving you with a preponderance of good memories. As unnerving as it was to travel Iraqi roads with the constant threat of I.E.D.s, even having been on the receiving end of one, there was something strangely fulfilling about doing it successfully.

Very similarly, being shot at is actually a little bit of fun when nobody gets hurt. It reminds you you’re alive, and immediately unites everyone in a worthwhile task: finding the guy that shot at you. Whether you think it’s sick, na├»ve, or just plain stupid…that’s the way I feel.

Now that I am home, I mostly thank God that part of my life is over. But for a few minutes each day I remember lying in the mud behind a tree in Zaidon as machine gun fire beat the earth 10 feet in front of me. I remember sighting through my EOTech red-dot scope and desperately trying to find the guy behind that machine gun so I could line the dot up center-mass. For a few minutes I think about that, and some perverse part of me wishes I was there again.