Before Baghdad was Kuwait.
We arrived late in the morning of 10 April 2006 to the base Al As Kasar.
My initial impressions were all positive.
Everything looked the same and it was a vast camp in the middle of a desert, but I was pretty impressed.
The night before we were to leave and fly into Baghdad, I found myself alone walking back from the MWR.
I stopped at one of the designated smoke shacks and lit a marlboro light and a man approached.
"Hey soldier, you think I could have one of them cigarettes?"
"Sure, you need a lighter?" I asked.
"Yeah, pathetic ain't it?"
He took a seat next to me on the step.
"Man, I just got here last night. I gotta go home and bury my father."
He said looking off into the distance. His voice held the sorrow of a man who has accepted his fate, but has not had enough time to feel it.
"How long have you been in country?" I asked
"I've been in Tikrit, since November working on trucks. I did the 11 bang bang thing last year in Afghanistan. When did you get here?
"This is my first night in country"
He gave a knowing smile and exhaled deeply.
"You got any words of wisdom?" I asked
He took his time answering. I didn't mind. A fresh pack of butts allowed for plenty of time.
"Be selective with who you associate with. Communicate with your family. Pray a lot. Don't get caught up with women or people that complain all the time.........Pray a lot."
I regeistered that he said that twice
"Keep your focus on the mission. Learn from the guys that have been there, but not the ones who complain or think they know it all. Use this time to work on yourself mentally and spiritually. And remember, if you can't change your fate, change your attitude."
I offered him another cigarette.
"Yeah, you keep a good attitude, you gonna learn a lot. Save some of the Army's money, become independent and quit that nicotine" he said as he light his smoke.
"I'm being weak right now because of my father" he looked away with a sad smile, "I'll quit again."
After a brief description of his itinerary he stood to leave.
"It was great meeting you Corporal King"
"You too, Sergeant."
That chance encounter helped me in many ways, but what's really cool is that isn't the only time it happened.
As best as I can explain, guidance is always right around the corner. Whether it be a book, a teacher, a battle buddy, or in nature, you just never know where it will come from.
It's like sniper fire, only instead of getting hit by something that could kill you, the right guidance can move you forward in a big way.
Stay alert, live your life.
The 14th stanza of the Art of Peace, by founder and creator of the Martial Art Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba is: