This past Saturday I walked out of the house with my dog on a very beautiful morning.
Walking down the middle of the road with Kory I saw one of my neighbors outside, Kory pulled me in his direction, and reluctantly intent (as always) on being sociable I followed the lead of my dog.
The normal pattern is to "smile, nod and keep on moving" ie. be unfailingly friendly, make small talk for a couple of minutes and then move on with my built-in-excuse-to-leave aka Kory-Jean-McGillicuddy.
Before I even had a chance to say hello, Tony excitedly asked me "Do you know the army is in town?"
Looking around me the place looked like business as usual.
I had no idea what he was talking about.
There were military personnel and military vehicles next to the tiny airstrip on the outskirts of town, but from this vantage point I could not see them.
A couple of doors further down, one more neighbor told me about the army invading our tiny desert town.
A few MORE doors down Kory and I were already on the edge of town, and looking over towards the airstrip I could indeed see a military (albeit small military) presence.
At this last home in town I ran into the elderly couple, and we talked about this unexpected development in Nothing Ever Happens Here Atomic City.
There had been many more Humvees and personnel a couple of hours prior, but they had left the airstrip, turned right off the dirt trail, and headed out on the gravel road that was the back road leading to the two lane paved highway.
Turning away from the beige and green vehicles and people, I looked back at the elderly couple and asked them the same question that I had already asked twice before that morning.
"What are they doing here?"
Smiling, I told them that Kory and I would see if we could find out..................
As my oblivious pup and I headed in the direction of the airstrip I began furiously snapping pictures with my crappy little camera (that now joins the ranks of the two OTHER crappy little cameras that I have worn the hell out of over these past few years).
It was September 13.
Only two days after September ll, and while nobody in the group of fatigue-clad personnel appeared to be in combat mode (either defensively or offensively), it was not every day that the army came to town.
Kory and I turned off the gravel road, turned onto the double track dirt trail that led directly to the airstrip and headed towards the source of the big happenings in town.
Surprisingly, I found myself a little apprehensive.
Or perhaps not surprisingly.
Regardless, I was an American citizen and this was my American army..
"Let's go see what they're up to and see what kind of response I get" was my curiosity peaked attitude.
The men by this time were circled up, and by the time I was a couple of hundred feet away from them all (with the exception of the obvious team leader, who was intent on giving directions) they were each taking turns glancing in my direction, wondering who I was and what I wanted.
Most were unarmed. A couple were carrying..........what? Semi automatics? I noted the stocks so that I could describe them to LC. Noted the one guy wearing goggles and what would be the equivalent of a riot gear helmet in civilian law enforcement....................
I stopped 100 feet away from the men and waited patiently for someone to address me.
Finally the team leader realized that I was standing watching them, and he turned and headed in my direction.
As he turned to me I smiled and gave him a friendly wave that (hopefully) told him that I was a local woman walking her dog, and not a terrorist.
I stayed where I was and waited for the young man to reach me, and when he did I said hello.
Smiling, he said hello back.
"I'm just out walking with my dog, and ran into some residents in town. You guys are the talk of the town right now"
"Yeah........I guess it's hard not to notice us."
Smiling at him I told him "Yes it is".
Folks knew they were out by the strip and were just curious what they were doing out there.
He told me it was an exercise.
Was he regular army or National Guard?
They were reserves.
I asked him if he minded me taking a couple of pictures. Not at all - go ahead.
I smiled, I thanked him, I told him that I would let people in town know who they were and why they were here, and then I said goodbye.
Smiling he said goodbye and then turned back to his group.................
On the way home I stopped at the three homes that had stopped ME during the early part of my walk, and filled them in on who and what these guys were.
Pictures of three more Humvees heading out...............
A few hours after my brief conversation all vehicles had left the airstrip, and the unexpected excitement that engulfed our town was over.
The semis were actually paint ball guns.
It was a small military exercise in mid September, and that knowledge made the locals feel better.
But it still doesn't answer the question of why unmarked black helicopters are seen occasionally flying low and fast over the desert.................