In my first post for Home Fires, I began by dumping out my old Army duffel bags and going through my gear while cleaning out the garage. Each week I’ve been surprised and amazed to read the posts by the other soldier-writers here — Sandi, Michael, Lee and Jeffrey. I’ve been surprised by my own words and experiences, too. (Believe me, driving to Vegas was a shocker!) And now that a month has passed, I find that in an odd way I’ve come full circle.

Tonight, I’m dumping my North Face ruck in the living room and laying out my equipment for a trip to Africa. I’ve created my own deployment list and am checking (again) to make certain all my gear is in order. I feel like a team leader all over again.

  • Compass, tied-down with an arm’s length of 550 cord
  • Mini-Maglite, tied down the same
  • Malaria pills and Cipro sealed in a ziplock bag
  • Water-tight bags to store Pemethrin-treated clothing
  • Hacky Sack (for the kids)
  • Gold Bond body powder
  • Head lamp with elastic head harness
  • Hygiene kit
  • Digital camera with equipment and case
  • Lithium batteries
  • Shirts, jeans, underwear, and socks
  • Etc., etc.

I’ve been planning this Africa trip for months. But as many of you may know (see “Vegas, Baby”), I recently became temporarily responsible for an infant boy born under incredibly complicated and trying circumstances. It has just been decided (by social workers) that the boy and his mother will participate in a six-month intensive resident rehabilitation program. I want to thank all of you who offered advice, suggestions, and encouragement. With this next turn of events, the trip to Africa has returned to a green-light status. In less than a week from today I’ll be 10,000 meters above the Atlantic and headed south of the equator.

I’ll be flying to Cape Town, South Africa, via London. I’ll be in Cape Town roughly three or four days, both at the beginning and at the end of the trip. The bulk of the time will be spent with Direct Relief International; we’ll be traveling to Kenya and then on to Uganda, checking in on local health clinics and meeting with doctors and relief workers. A five-day safari is also included in the itinerary.

I got another e-mail from my rifleman in Iraq this afternoon (the one I wrote about in my first post). He said the heat there is being measured as high as 118 degrees. He also said these numbers must be inaccurate because the tree trunks are simply too hot to touch. His section sergeant (a great guy we both worked with when I was in Iraq) had a hand grenade explode 30 meters in front of him when they were dismounted. He wasn’t hurt, but I guess it scared the (radio edit) out of him. He said he’s looking forward to coming home in a few months and that he has great plans for his vacation time.

I mention this here because, as I dump out my gear and inspect it and repack it, I realize just how incredibly fortunate I am. It’s been two and a half years since I locked and loaded my M-4 and left the wire of an F.O.B. to conduct a raid or ran under overhead cover during a mortar attack.

During the intervening period, I’ve traveled America from coast to coast, sharing the work I wrote while in Iraq with audiences all over the country. I’ve read with a translator in Augsburg, Germany, at a Bertolt Brecht festival. I’ve been to Amsterdam and Paris and Mont St. Michel on the French coastline. Michelle, my girlfriend, and I rented a car and drove all over Ireland. As I mentioned in another post, I returned to Ireland and read at a prison in Galway, too.

And it doesn’t end there. I’m considering a trip in May to Sweden, Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia. A friend of mine wants to meet up at his family home in Greece next summer, where he has an old clunker of a car, so that we can drive up into the Balkans, hoping to visit Hansi, an old translator I met in Bosnia-Herzegovina while serving as a NATO peacekeeper there.

When I first returned to civilian life I cobbled together four jobs — from electrical work to throwing newspapers before dawn — in order to make ends meet. I’m now teaching part-time at a local college and traveling nearly every month to meet interesting and challenging people who are concerned with the way things are in the world.

I’m also working on a nonfiction book about my year in Iraq and researching Uganda for another. I also plan to work on a collection of poems about Cuba. Inspired by my fellow writers here at Home Fires, I hope to start a Web page when I return from Africa so that I can stay in touch and share my work with all who might be interested. (You will soon be able to go to my publisher’s site,, and click on my author page to find a link to my new Web page.)

I’m hoping all of this helps you to see where I’ve been lately and where I hope to go. But even more than that, with the Independence Day holiday here this week, I want to highlight something else, too.

Many people will be eating barbecued chicken and drinking beer or lemonade while watching fireworks fall in a glissando of color in the night sky above them this week. There will be arrests for disorderly conduct and my buddy Bill will play “The Star-Spangled Banner” at midnight with his Les Paul guitar plugged in to two Marshall stacks turned up loud enough to blow the dust off the moon, just as he does every year.

I have vowed to myself that this year, at midnight when those chords are ringing out into the atmosphere, I will pause for a moment to take stock of myself and of our country. I know I’ll be thinking about the soldiers I served with in Iraq who are now serving there again. I’ll be hoping for their safe return. I’ll be looking back on the incredible life I’ve been given since I’ve returned and of all the friends and family that have made it possible. And although it is a uniquely American holiday, on the Fourth I’ll be thinking about citizenship on a global scale. I’ll be thinking about humanity and the bonds which unite us with one another, regardless of the lines that appear superimposed on the maps we live by.

What can I do to make those bonds stronger and healthier? Each day I am given waits patiently for my response.