You've heard me talk about this monstrous piece of roadside-bomb-destroying equipment. This is the legendary Buffalo - it seats seven and is known for its robotic arm with a spork at the end of it (you can see it stored along the top of the vehicle), as well as its underbody design that provides maximum protection against explosions. Basically it allows us to drive right up on top of anything suspicious-looking, move it around with the arm and spork to investigate it, and separate the initiation device from the artillery shell or mine itself. Then we can place an explosive charge on the munition and blow it up (the fun part of the job).
This is an RG-31, another piece of mine-clearing equipment that we used. Again, the body of the vehicle sits higher up than a Humm-vee which allows us a better vantage point for observation and good protection from any explosions. You can also see the gun turret up top for our machine gunner. For our route clearing sweeps, we would roll around Mosul in three RG-31s and a Buffalo - approximately 25 soldiers.
Here's a picture of the inside of an Air Force C-130 as we happily fly out of Mosul to Kuwait on December 5 - plenty of smiles and you can see Sergeant Wilkins making the victory sign.
This should give you a good feel for Camp Victory in Kuwait - rows upon rows of tents with plenty of sand in between, and of course, how can I forget to mention the luxurious port-a-potties!
Here's a look at our soldiers relaxing inside the spacious interior of one of these 70-man tents - if you're looking for a last minute gift idea, I highly recommend buying an extremely comfortable Army cot for that someone special in your life and then make sure you include a gift certificate for your local chiropractor as well.
One of our high-speed radio operators, Sergeant Furman, relaxing and watching a movie on his laptop. Sergeant Furman is a policeman in Gary, Indiana, in his civilian life.
Sergeant Andujar (left) and Staff Sergeant Blackford relax and enjoy a cigarette as they count down the days before they get back to their families in the states. Sergeant Andujar was a workhorse in our logistics and supply section while Staff Sergeant Blackford was our senior radio operator in the headquarters building and did a great job tracking the battle for our operations section all deployment.
Our battalion chaplain, Chaplan Gazaway (seated in the back right with his hand on his mouth), gets ready to lead a group of soldiers through an intense game of Dungeons and Dragons as we wait for our customs inspection.
Here I am with all my gear laid out on a few cots for the customs inspectors in Kuwait to look through anything and make sure I wasn't trying to sneak any contraband back home.
Some of our soldiers passing the time before customs watching a movie - laptops and portable DVD players were must-haves on this deployment.
Our fearless S-4 (logistics officer), Captain Melissa Elliott, lounging around also waiting for customs. Melissa is from Bushkill, Pennsylvania, and was called up off the IRR just like me. She reported to Fort Sill one day after I did and little did we know that we would go through everything together, including being assigned to the same unit. We became great friends and I know that she is loving being back home with her husband Kyle and one year old son Liam.
After a year-long deployment in northern Iraq, Joe Sheridan's Bar at the airport in Shannon, Ireland, was a welcome sight for our soldiers on our one-hour refueling stopover on the way home - needless to say, Joe did some pretty good business that day.
Here I am with Captain Elliott and Major Steve Hines, our operations officer and my boss, enjoying an authentic Guinness (or two) in the Shannon airport. All those PR-conscious people always say not to take pictures with a drink in hand but after 12 months in a combat zone, we were more than happy to make an exception to that rule.
This will not win any photojournalism awards but here is a shot inside the armory's gym of some of the crowd cheering us as we marched in there - I really wish I had some video of this because it was truly an amazing homecoming welcome for us.
Here's a great picture of my mom, dad and myself reunited at the armory - all my mom's prayers finally answered.
And last but not least, here's a picture at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport as I flew home this past Sunday (the civilian attire was a welcome change for sure!). Unfortunately, I don't have any good shots of the throng of family and friends from good old Lackawanna, New York, that were there waiting for me - it was a great welcome home.