In the line into America, a long long line through Atlanta's Homeland Security and Customs, you wouldn't even know the soldiers were soldiers except for the crewcuts and the backpacks, which are Army backpacks in that pixelated camo color scheme separating this century's wars from the ones before.
They're kids in sneakers and T-shirts, except for the backpacks.
Nine years on, and it's the last day. "Again," but maybe for real this time. And they're in line. It's a week before Christmas, though there are no signs of any holiday in the in-take at Homeland Security, no signs of any season or time of day or year, no signs of celebration or goodwill towards men or the end of a war that's gone on, now, basically half the lives of these kids coming home.
The big sign in front: No cameras or videos! The TV is introducing America, with a bit on baseball, a bit on the Civil Rights Movement memorials you could go see, a bit on diversity and clips of different people saying hello and "Welcome to America."
"Where you coming from?" the agent says.
"Iraq," says the kid with the backpack. "Flew from Frankfurt."
"Welcome home son," the agent says, and he speaks as if all the sudden of behalf of America, though really he actually does. "Glad you're back. Bet you're glad you're back, safe and home and family, holidays. Not in Iraq anymore."
"Sure," says the soldier, who's 18 maybe, 19 at the most. "Yeah," he says.
"But it was exciting over there though."