Steamboat Springs During lunch at Village Inn Restaurant on Friday, Tim Taylor got to indulge in one of the foods he missed most while serving for 15 months in Iraq.
"One of the things I crave the most is homemade scrambled eggs. Because military food isn't exactly the best - it's those powdered or pre-liquidated eggs. So, I craved homemade scrambled eggs and French toast," Taylor said, sitting at a table with family and friends on his third day of leave back in Routt County.
Taylor has about 30 days to relax before heading back for a second deployment. It'll be a whirlwind month at home for the 19-year-old Hayden High School alum, with a wedding to high school sweetheart Amy Boyer on June 21, and a lot of unwinding to do and American fast food to eat before returning to Iraq.
"I'll probably do some four-wheeling and maybe some camping. Just a lot of relaxing before we have to go back, just taking it easy for a little while," Taylor said. "I've been able to eat a bunch of stuff like Taco Bell. Even doing little things like that, I'm happy about."
High stress, culture shock
Taylor, who started basic training in July 2006, specialized in quick reaction forces with a unit southeast of Baghdad.
"We did a lot of getting woken up in the middle of the night because something happened somewhere, and we had to go take care of that," he said. The schedule varied, with some days of sleeping until noon and others interrupted by early morning missions. There were physically demanding nights of patrolling the same road for as long as 12 hours, something Taylor sometimes found hard to stay awake through but knew had to be done.
"Mentally, you see some things and have to deal with some things that may shock you, but eventually you, you kind of just - I don't want to say block it out - but you kind of adjust to what you're seeing," Taylor said. "You realize that it's more or less common, that these things happen."
Home for the second time since his Army service started, Taylor said he's noticed there are things - such as Taco Bell and eggs - he had taken for granted before. He's also reminded of cultural differences.
"You realize how much better we have it over here sometimes and don't realize it. : You learn a lot," Taylor said, adding that low standards of living and extreme, 140-degree heat can be facts of life for Iraqi citizens.
"You realize that just a warm shower or sometimes even a hot meal is sometimes a luxury for some of them. And you start realizing that they live a lot different than us.
"But they're a lot more innovative than us," he continued. "I've seen cars that : the guys would have tubes running into their engine, and it was sucking oil from a can that they had hanging from their mirror. So, they'll make things work," he said.
Proud of the job
That kind of innovation hints at a more complex picture than Taylor remembers seeing on TV news reports before his deployment.
"What you see on the news is all, 'Three soldiers were killed today in a roadside bomb,' or, 'There's a suicide bomber or a car bomb in Baghdad in the marketplace.' They'll show you that stuff," Taylor said.
"For me, I'd never been over there, so I was nervous about it because that's all I'd seen. I mean we went over there ... and we'd be driving down a street and there'd be swarms of kids coming from every which direction, out of every corner and crevice, running and waving. ... There's a whole different mindset over there, through 80 to 90 percent of Iraq, than what everybody thinks," he said.
Offering grants to small businesses, providing patrol work for Iraqis with low-paying or otherwise unfavorable jobs and working from Iraqi tips were part of the work Taylor's unit did, he said. The situation is far from perfect, but Taylor thinks it is getting better.
"All in all, we did a lot of good. There's still the negative mindset in some places and some of the fear in some places, but when people ask, 'Do you think we're making a difference?' I know just in our area that we made a huge difference," he said.
A happy homecoming
For Taylor's family, it's been a long 15 months. Wanda Peppler, Taylor's mother, is glad to have him home - even if it means a hike in her grocery bills for a month.
"A lot of people have said, 'Are you afraid he's going to be different?' And I'm just like, 'No,'" Peppler said. "Even on the phone just talking to him - you could tell a difference when he was over there, he was a little more guarded over there. But not since he's gotten home."
Other than being a little bit taller, Peppler describes her son as "the goofy brat he was." And other than being older, Taylor said the Army hasn't changed him.
"I know I have different life experiences, but I don't think I've changed. I've matured, you know, I'm not a goofy high-schooler anymore. But I'm still the same old guy I always have been," Taylor said.
Walking out of the restaurant, Taylor swung his 6-year-old brother, Thane Peppler, up on his shoulders and played pranks on his fiancee. He was happy, relaxed and full of eggs.