I recently saw a meme on social media posted by a U.S. Service Member, presumably stationed in the Middle East, with the caption, “I’m going home!”

The majority of comments reacting to the post seemed to congratulate the Service Member on a job well done, acknowledging the fact that he would soon be reunited with loved ones. However, I had a very distinct understanding of the meaning behind the post. My mind immediately returned to a place I hadn’t thought about for nearly 20 years—Umm Qasr, Iraq.

In April 2003, I was in a convoy headed from Camp Udairi, Kuwait, to a British forward operating base (FOB) near the port of Umm Qasr. The FOB, known as Camp Freddy, housed a theater internment facility (prisoner of war camp).

Camp Freddy, which was in the process of being handed over to the U.S. military, became known as Camp Bucca, in honor of Ronald Bucca, the New York City fire marshal killed during the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Camp Udairi, located about 15 miles south of the Iraq border, was surrounded by concertina wire and berms made of sand. An airfield was under construction to the east, with plans to make Udairi the permanent Army aviation hub in the Middle East.

Our pucker factor was elevated exponentially as we figuratively and literally left “the wire” and crossed the Kuwait-Iraq border into the warzone. The threat of imminent danger was very real and palpable. We immediately experienced a greater realization of our own mortality as we drove through the border town and witnessed the devastation left in the wake of artillery fire originating from Udairi just days before.

I was riding shotgun in a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV). The driver, who I had met for the first time just hours before the commencement of the mission, looked over at me as he locked and loaded his long gun and said, “I’m going home!”

No explanation was needed, as his intent was crystal clear—“I will do whatever it takes to survive and to complete the mission.”

Without saying a word, I nodded in agreement and calmly and deliberately locked and loaded my own weapons.