Staff SGT Donald Wayne West, Jr., enlisted in the United States Army National Guard on September 11, 2001. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Company A of the 150th Combat Engineers served active duty Aug 29, 2004, until Dec 30, 2005. SSGT West returned to college in January, 2006. He married Lauren Ritchie June 9, 2006, at Seaside, Fla., and they have three children. SSGT West completed military service at Camp Minden, LA on Aug 23, 2009.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Day Three - The First 48 Hours

The 312 Chicago area code on my caller ID at 8:04 Friday morning faked me out until I heard Wayne’s familiar bell-curve “HEYYYYYY!” from halfway around the world.

Squealing like the tires on a teenager’s car, I lurched to the list of questions parked on my desk.

“How was the trip over?” I panted.

Wayne’s instant laugh clued me.

“You’re gonna love this,” he started, smiles wiggling through the phone line. “We flew Continental on a 777 aircraft. As soon as I got on the plane, I talked to the pilots who confirmed we would be flying over Paris. Immediately, I asked the flight attendants to wake me to make sure I didn’t miss seeing the Eiffel tower lit up at night.”

“Now, these were not ordinary flight attendants,” he continued, prepping me for the lineup. “First, there was the other-than-American-Latino-type bowed-up dude. Dark, slicked-back hair. Dark eyes. Great smile. Next, there was the GQ African American guy. Polished. Articulate. Then, there was the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy dude. Short. Terrible Hair. After that, came the red-headed Sex in the City chick. Loud. Obnoxious. And finally, what we called ‘The Gossip Girls.’ We could hear them ‘pss, pss, pss’ in the galley, then watch them come back out, acting all smooth, like nothing was going on.”

Wayne fell asleep in the first-class section with his tray table still waiting to be cleared after in-flight snacks. Unfortunately, the flight attendants threw away his retainer along with the other trash! He woke up when the pilots announced they were flying over Paris, not even thinking about the missing retainer.

“Paris is beautiful at night,” he recalled. “Right after that is when the flight attendants asked if I wanted to be on parade. Knowing I wasn’t sure exactly what they were asking, they showed me a video of an on-board performance they had staged on another flight. Since I’m a bit of a showboat, I agreed.”

“First, they wrapped me in a white sheet, like a toga, and put a cape around my shoulders,” he snickered. “Then, they put a crown of stars on my head. Across my chest, they pinned a banner that read, ‘God Bless America.’ After they handed me a bag of star-shaped confetti and a box of individually wrapped Milano cookies, I climbed on top of the serving cart.”

“Two first sergeants were recruited to push the cart up the aisle and sing ‘God Bless America’ while I showered the soldiers with stars and cookies,” he continued. “It was a riot!!”

We laughed until our sides hurt, which was good for both of us, especially since he had called Lauren twice before he made his first call home. (Smile!)

In other news, Wayne said the area is secure enough, they can walk around without Kevlar. They are sleeping in tents, which are well heated. The food is good, all three meals, plus an optional meal at midnight for those who either can’t sleep or who might have missed an earlier meal.

He described other tents, too. One is outfitted as a workout area. Another contains 24 telephones. A third is dedicated for internet use at $5 per hour.

We couldn’t discuss where he will be going at the end of January.

We did determine the ATT international phone calling cards purchased online from the military exchange* are the most cost efficient, averaging only 28 cents/minute compared with up to 40 cents/minute for similar cards purchased at retail. For a more thorough explanation, or to purchase the card, go to Special pricing through Valentine’s Day.

What a great way to start the weekend.