On March 26, 2003, I joined 953 other soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade on a night-time combat parachute jump into Bashur Airfield in northern Iraq. The plan was to do exactly as we trained to do dozens of times before: jump out of the bird, hit the ground, and form a perimeter around the airfield. What we didn’t fully understand was that the drop zone we were jumping into was a huge mud pit.
The mud was so bad it took 15 hours to get the brigade assembled. That was about 15 times longer than we expected. Over the next year I would learn a lot about the men and women who serve in our military. We faced a complex combination of combat operations with civil-political engagement. We lost good friends and saw others horribly injured. But through it all the endurance, ingenuity, and professionalism of those I served with was inspiring. None of us returned home the same person that landed in the mud a year earlier.