I ended the last post with myself and a couple of my fellow travelers opting to have breakfast at 0530 so we could sleep through lunch and then make our first in-theater briefing at 1300. This briefing, like all subsequent briefings the first few days were conducted in what was known as Sadaam’s Headquarters Palace – a place where he conducted a lot of his business of ruthless tyranny, but not where he lived. He had other palaces, several built with the UN-sanctioned “Oil-for-Food” program. General Tommy Franks had it right when he referred to that farce of a program as “Oil-for-Palaces” (even if he wasn’t the first to coin that phrase).
As I mentioned in an e-mail back home, “The place is so extravagantly gaudy - expensive material but poorly constructed and in bad taste (that may be redundant with ‘gaudy’).“ But it’s impressive nonetheless, if for just the sheer scale of its decadence. FYI: this is not the palace where you may have seen people having their photos taken on a throne – that’s the Al Faw Palace. But also FYI, this is the one that has a swimming pool that you may have heard about.
Our first briefs ended with a group photo taken on a winding marble staircase. I never did see a copy of that snap. I guess that it was meant more for the portfolios of our DoS “managers” than for the actual PRT members. After the photo op, we were taken to the Palace DFAC, where most of us (males) realized for the first time that it was Mother’s Day. Gotta hand it to KBR (or whoever runs the DFAC), they did their best to make it special. All the females were given roses as they entered, there were banners, big ol’ decorated cakes, and live music by a bluegrass-type band made up of a mix of military and civilians. I can’t remember their name, but I’ll do some research. I bet they have their tunes on the ‘net. They had this one catchy song called, of course, Baghdad Blues. Best line in the song (as close as I can remember), “Let the contractors do it, cuz if they get killed it don’t count.” Funny! Okay, another case of “you had to be there”…
They did it up on the food, too. The main dishes were lobster & prime rib. I had 2 lobster tails, a slice of prime rib, a slice of ham, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and
soft-serve vanilla ice cream with hot caramel & nuts. What a pig I am!!
After this gorge-fest, we waddled back to our quarters. I believe I mentioned that we were staying in the “transient housing” section on the palace compound grounds. This was the best accommodations I had since I had left home. We each had own little room which had satellite internet access. Just a bed, a/c & closet, but after a couple of weeks sharing space in barracks, this was privacy and luxury! The showers & restroom were in separate trailers, but it was still pretty nice to have some privacy again.I forgot to mention that one of our briefings this day was one to categorize each of us into “Governance”, “Econ”, “Infrastructure”, and “Rule of Law” roles within the PRT structure. I think you may recall my offer letter which had me on a Civil Engineering team specializing in Solid Waste (Trash). My letter was written just that way, with “Trash” in parens so that you or I wouldn’t assume it meant Solid Waste (Floaters). So Trash is an infrastructure role, so I was categorized as such.
At the same time we were learning where we fit into the bigger picture, they handed out cell phones. I was worried when there wasn’t one for me. The only one left was for some major whose first name was Robert...
*sigh* After an awkward moment, I pointed out that perhaps since there was only one phone left, and I was the only one who wasn’t given a phone, it might be mine - deep breath – “…and my name is Robert Major.” You could see the change from dumbfounded to embarrassed comprehension cross WW’s & Omar’s faces (Omar was not his real name; I changed it to protect Haji’s safety). I expected the confusion with my last name when dealing with the Army folks (and they didn’t let me down, oh no!), but these were DoS civilians. Oh, well. It wouldn’t be the last time that my moniker would be mistaken for my “rank”.
Anyway, these phones were from an Iraq-based company called Iraqna. I’ve learned that adding “-na” to the end of a proper noun means “my” – so Iraqna = “My Iraq”. Clever. Most every other American in the IZ were issued MCI phones, which are US-calling capable, and much more common in Iraq. But the DoS folks insisted that the MCI contract wasn’t being renewed by Congress (and why Congress would play a role in this is beyond me), and so they were being phased out. MCI phones would be useless in a couple of weeks, or maybe a month, or maybe… as I write this, one month & one week after Mother’s Day, MCI phones still work, and are still being given out by other organizations. Go figure…
So I finally got to call Mary Ann, and it was only 30 cents a minute. And my incoming calls are free!! So call anytime (that I’m awake!) – but be warned, it’s free for me, but quite expensive for you!! The best deal Mary Ann could swing was an international calling plan that gave the reduced rate of 78 cents per minute. Iraq is not very high on places people sign up to call. But it was really nice to call her, and tell her I made it okay, all was well, and that I love her. So it was with a satisfied mind and belly, I holed up in my hooch, did some e-mailing and net surfing, and called it a night.
And so ended a very uneventful first day in Baghdad, Iraq.
Waiting to Ride the Rhino
[Ed. note: Today, 21 June 07, I've added the conclusion to this post - scroll down to previous Ed. note to find the new material. Thanks!]
I guess we arrived in Iraq at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) about 1500/3pm local time. It was less than a one hour flight, and we left Kuwait about 1300/1pm. But it works out since Baghdad, despite being further west, is one hour ahead Kuwait, due to Iraq being on the Daylight Savings Time scheme. Wonder if it was their idea or ours? So fyi – Baghdad is eight hours ahead of you all back on the East Coast (the rest of you can do the math!), and remains that way since they are on DST just like us in the States
After passing through some kind of vetting & ID inspection at the holding area, we were directed to get our duffel bags out of the loading zone and over to a shelter, where we were to await our US Embassy LNO. Yes, it was time for another Duffel Shuffle (DS). I’d guess it was about 50 yards from the one point to the other, which wouldn’t have been so bad if it didn’t happen to be at just about the hottest time of the day. It was actually very windy at the time (which we learned was unusual for Baghdad at that time of the year), which dropped the temps to the low- to mid-nineties.
I believe this is the best daytime snap I have of our impressive haul of duffel bags. And this was just for the 18 of us!! One of the first pictures I took in Iraq was of this sign, which didn’t seem to make much sense. Why would the bus be scheduled to leave at 2200? Only 2200?
Answers: For safety reasons. Yes.
Actually, the worst part of the sign turned out to be the fact that we had to catch a bus to Camp Stryker. Guess who would have to load all those duffel bags onto that bus? In the meantime, we hung around the shelter until our LNO showed up. This time it was an O-5, which meant we were important! Of course, the moment LTC Mac showed up, the Boog was straight up his ass. He seemed unimpressed, but let her carry on. He mostly talked to the people he picked out as the group leaders - pretty astute on his part, having never met us before that moment.
Now, writing this post about a month after the events, I was having trouble remembering the particulars of this part of my saga. So I e-mailed G-Funk with the pictures linked to above, and axed:
My man G!
…I was going thru a memory exercise last night WRT our journey to Iraq. I couldn't, for the life of me, remember how we got from the staging area as seen in the attached photo, to the Camp Stryker billeting office, where we sat inside at a couple of tables waiting for the midnight rhino ride.
I know our duffel bags ended up in a different location (up against some 12'
t-walls), because I remember bringing back an iced-coffee from the Green Bean to
SGT H who was taking the 1st watch on bag-guard duty.
Did we just hump the bags a short distance, or did we take a short bus ride?
Not a big deal, but it's buggn' me...
Sent: Tuesday, June 19, 2007 9:24 AM
To: Major, Robert S. CIV PRT
Subject: Re: Memory Exercise
Ah yes--this looks like the BAI"P" staging area. And I remember it all
too well. We humped that shit from that staging area on to some old
clapped out Huyndai buses with shitty A/C that blew out hot air--and
rode said things sitting amongst our bags to Camp Stryker. There we
piled our bags against a Tee wall, and after some dithering, decided not
to bother with going to the billeting office, and hung around in the USO
tent to wait for the Rhino ride instead. And yes, we did, at least
twice, meander out to our bags to reposition them because Booger thought
they might, just might, be in the way of something. In the way of
F~cking what who the Hell knows because the passage way they may have
blocked was too narrow for a vehicle.
Once the Rhino convoy arrived, we piled out and put our bags in a container truck, then boarded the Rhinos. I recall this being the only part of the trip that worked out
fairly well--probably because a PSD (Personal Security Detachment) contractor ran it. Yep--if my description makes it sound like the whole affair really sucked: It's because the whole affair really sucked.
Maybe now you know why I bonded so well with G. He makes me laugh about stuff that should be pissing me off…
As long as I’ve set the precedent for using e-mails to tell parts of this story, here’s the one I sent once we got out of Camp Stryker and over to the International Zone:
Sent: Saturday, May 12, 2007 10:37 PM
Subject: Bob made it safe to Baghdad - please call Mary Ann!
I have been unable to use phone/internet today (communications blackout in
Baghdad due to soldiers taken hostage - military doesn't want well-meaning
people to contact missing soldiers relatives outside of official
channels). When you read this, please call Mary Ann to let her know that I'm okay,
and have sent an e-mail (separately) to her, and that I'll call when I can
Thanks in advance - love you all!
You may now call me,
Many of my family & friends got in touch with Mary Ann, but the first – to the best of my knowledge - was Bro-John:
Quoting Major Amusements
I talked to Mary Ann this morning. She was happy to hear that you made it safely to Baghdad.
So there we were, at Camp Stryker, and it’s around 1700/5pm. And we’re sitting around at some tables in a USO tent. And you may finally be wondering, “what the Hell are the Rhinos that Bob is talking about, and why are they waiting for them?” Good questions…
[Ed Note: Even when I think these posts will be short, they never are. But I’d guess you have caught on to that by now, or you wouldn’t be reading this! Not much more to add for this part of my “adventure”, but still too much for me to finish tonight. Sorry!]
And now - the rest of the story!!
I ended the last part of this posting with the questions of “what the Hell are the Rhinos that Bob is talking about, and why are they waiting for them?” I couldn’t finish the story then, but I will now. But before that, I will drone on and on about everything else under the (very hot) sun, simply because I can’t help myself.
Like G-Funk said, as we cooled our heels in the USO tent, the Boog harangued (fancy word for “bothered the crap out of”) the group about our duffel bags being “in the way” of something, and wanting them moved. Turns out that we civilians had to dig through our luggage to find our all of our IBA accoutrements, and by doing so we were able to move the duffels around as well. So that worked out, I guess. Now regarding said IBA, we were issued the stuff at Ft. Bliss, and had gone out of our way to pick up the side Sapper plates in Kuwait. But at no point did the Army provide any type of training or instruction on how to use or assemble all this gear. We civilians were once again blessed by the presence of the military contingent within our group, since they knew how this equipment could be assembled and worn (sometimes not following the very poorly written instructions provided), and they shared their expertise with us. I could tell that towards the end that they were a little tired of explaining this stuff to us, but explain they did – thank goodness.
We (civs & mil) had to wear our IBA for the Rhino ride, which was why we were bothering with it. In the end, we all had our IBA and Kevlar ready to don for our journey. Kevlar? Ha! – just thought I’d throw that in there. You see, since a helmet is 100% Kevlar, that’s what the Army calls it – not “helmet”. Go figure…
The military guys took turns watching the duffels, while the rest of us sat in the air-conditioned tents. Major Tom, Major G and myself heard that there were some grab-joints selling food, and decided to head out and grab a joint, er… a bite to eat. The others decided to wait for the DFAC to open so they could chow for free. I had me a Double Whopper with cheese and some greasy-ass fries – not as good as McD’s, but once again I was starving. In addition to his grub, Major G picked up an iced coffee from the local Green Bean coffee shop (this is the Starbucks of the military bases) for SGT H, who was one of the guys pulling the first round of guard duty. By the time we returned, most of the rest of the gang had bolted for the DFAC, so I pigged out on my double slopper in relative peace.
The USO tent we were waiting in was the staging area for folks heading in to the US Embassy/International Zone, as well as those heading out thru BIAP for their return home or for their R&R breaks. So it had the feel of an airport’s boarding zone. Except we were in a big tent. But other than that… There was a big screen TV, magazines & books to read, tables to sit at and eat or play cards, couches to lounge in. But even though we had to wait until beyond midnight to ride out into the Red Zone, there were signs posted saying that sleeping was not allowed in the tent. Just to show everyone what a true rebel I am at heart, after I finished my burger I kicked back in my chair and caught some z’s. I like to live life on the edge…
Earlier, I had started to look for the nearest Calling Center or Internet Café, so I could contact Mary Ann and let her know that I had made it to Iraq in one piece. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my e-mail home referenced above, that was the same day three US soldiers were kidnapped in an ambush in Baghdad - one soldier was found dead in the Euphrates a couple of days later; the other two are still missing, although their CAC (Common Access Card) IDs were found in an AQI safehouse just a couple of days ago. The DoD therefore issued a communication blackout in the entire AOR (Area of Operation). Not a good sign.
After my nap, the other folks had returned from the DFAC and were saying how impressed they were with the facility. JD mentioned that they had decent near-beer in there, too – so off I went! Hey, when you haven’t had a beer (or any alcohol) for a week, near-beer can taste darn good. My fellow trainees were rightfully impressed by Camp Stryker’s DFAC. The rest of the camp may have been a pig’s sty (and it was), but the DFAC was immaculate, in a well-lit, giant non-tent building, with a massive selection for chow. I was almost upset I hadn’t waited to eat there. Oh well, c’est la vie. So I got some ice cream and a Beck’s NA, sat down and watched some tube.
Afterwards, I stumbled back in the darkness to the USO billeting/staging tent. It was dark, but not late enough to allow us to leave the safety of Camp Stryker. We sat around and (illegally) dozed, or BS’d or read stuff or watched TV. If you recollect the verbiage on the sign I linked to earlier in this post, “Early Manifesting” occurred at 2030/8:30pm. Our LTC LNO took care of that, although somehow Booger thought she was responsible. We were too tired to really give a sh*t, and just let it slide. I thought it rankled LTC Mac a bit, though. Finally, it was 2200/10pm – Show Time! Except it wasn’t…
“Show Time” is Army vernacular for when you’re supposed to show up for departure. It’s not like “show time” at the movie theater or on Broadway, meaning that’s when the show starts. Show Time just means you had best be there at that time, because sometime in the next few minutes or hours, your transport will arrive. If you’re not ready, it will leave without you. Show time.
Now it turns out that the DoS will not allow it’s employees to travel from BIAP to the Embassy/IZ until after midnight. This is a holdover from the time when the road between the two places was considered “the most dangerous road in the world.” But by this time in May 2007, this was no longer the case. The bad guys still lurked around, thinking that an occasional High Value Target would be in a convoy out of BIAP. Idiots. All the HVTs took helos out of BIAP. But the State Dept wasn’t taking chances with their precious PRTs, and I’m really not upset about the fact that they didn’t want to expose us to any unnecessary risk. It’s just that I was beat, and wanted to get this over with.
The moment finally came, and as G-Funk described, we loaded our duffel bags into a truck, donned our full IBA, and headed out to meet our PSD and board the Rhino. I promised I’d get a snap of me in full-up IBA, since I looked and felt like a big turtle, so here you go. The photo is from a week or so afterwards, but you get the idea. And yes, I know that the groin-protector isn’t lined up perfectly, but that’s the best pic I have. Now my stuff is at the office, and chances are I’ll never get a photo of myself in full IBA paraphernalia again.
So what’s the Rhino? Well, I hope you weren’t expecting something spectacular, because if you were, like we were, it was a bit anti-climatic. The Rhino was just an extremely up-armored delivery truck, used to deliver passengers. I mean, it was pretty impressive, with thick blast glass for windshields, thick as shit armor plating all around, gun-ports along the sides for a-shootin’ back at the bad guys, and all that. I was just expecting some kind of monstrous snorting machine, bristling with guns and stuff. Oh well. Anyway, we get in the thing and I found that moving around in full IBA was quite a challenge, and putting myself in a seat wasn’t easy either. And I was carrying my trusty laptop/camera bag combo, just to add to the degree of difficulty. Others had more bulky carry-on baggage to handle, so I didn’t have it as bad as some. And once I got settled into my seat, my armor kinda kept me sitting in an upright position, like really stiffly starched clothes.
As mentioned, the PSD was a contractor-run affair, and it was done extremely well. The guys running the show were late 20s-early 30s age-wise, and looked as if they could’ve just as easily been wearing business suits at an office. But they were armed to the teeth, and briefed us on the mission in no-nonsense terms. The high octane moment arrived, and our PRT was the first in a line of Rhinos leaving BIAP. Even after the long day, the adrenaline kicked in as we began to weave our way around the security barriers on our way out of Camp Stryker and into the Red Zone. This weaving took about 15 – 20 minutes, and I actually fell asleep – so much for the adrenaline rush. My IBA kept me in place, so no one noticed. But then, the sudden acceleration woke me up. We were now “outside of the wire.”
Hauling ass, the Rhinos roared, and I couldn’t hardly hear a thing. Even so, after a couple of minutes into the ride, I heard the PSD guy’s walkie-talkie squawking. Seems that one of the rear Rhinos was taking small arms fire. As my heart began to race and the fear was just starting to build up, we arrived at the check point to the International Zone. Total time in the Red Zone, less than 10 minutes. Oh but man, it was a 10 minute ride not soon forgotten!
It was about 0330 by now, and our night wasn’t over. The Rhinos dropped us off at Red Dragon compound, and were herded onto one of those “clapped out Huyndai buses” again, and driven into the US Embassy Annex compound. The bus dropped us off by some housing trailers – what we later learned were called the “transient trailers”. Our LNO had been with us for all of this part of our journey, and he called the DoS PRT Surge Manager, who met us by these trailers. She passed out packets, and in each packet was an envelope which contained a key to a trailer. The truck that carried our luggage showed up next, and we had the privilege of unloading those mother-f*cking duffel bags again. And then we had to hump them over to our various trailers. Did I mention it was after 0330 at this time?
The Surge Manager, WW (for Worthless Waste) told us to meet back by our drop off point after moving our bags into our trailers for the next step of our in-processing. We all begin to gather at the spot, and soon we were all there except Booger. What’s the story, asks WW? Turns out the Boog was sitting in her trailer, pouting, and she wasn’t going to come out to play. What’s the deal, asks WW? I didn’t know, so I didn’t say anything – neither did anyone else, so WW goes to see what’s what. Then the other ladies told us that Booger was near tears because she didn’t think the accommodations were worthy of her GS-15/O-6 equivalent status. And how could they have put her so far away from the Ladies latrine? Was this any way to treat someone of her stature? Un-f*cking-believable.
After awhile, WW comes back with Booger in tow. We learned later what deal was cut to placate the bya-itch, but no one cared at this point. WW took us over to the KBR billeting trailer, where we filled out paper work for our bed linens, which we took back to our trailers. But they weren’t done with us yet! Hell, it was only 0430 by now – we were just getting our second wind! Another LNO arrived, and took us into Sadaam Hussein’s former palace headquarters for a quick rundown of what’s what, and most importantly, where to go, what to do, and where to meet afterwards if any type of “incident” occurred overnight. No one bothered to point out that the night was about over…
This LNO, Major K, then finished his piece, and let us go with a cheery “your first meeting isn’t until 1300 hours today”. And then we were on our own, at the former palace of Sadaam himself. It was nearly 0500, and most of us decided to hit the hay. G-Funk and I thought that the DFAC opened up at 0500, and decided to head over there first, so we could sleep thru lunch. The K-Man joined us, and we walked up the deserted roadway behind the palace. It was quiet, with just the sounds of our footsteps and our punch-drunk conversation, which we kept low for no reason other than the hour of the day I suppose. The back of the palace was lit with those amber-colored spotlights, giving the place an odd movie-set kind of appearance. We walked towards the DFAC, and marveled at where we had suddenly found ourselves – Baghdad, Iraq.
The DFAC didn’t open till 0530, but we waited around outside and drank some water while we took in our new surroundings. Not for the last time, one of us said, “ya know, just a couple of months ago, I would’ve never thought I’d find myself here in Iraq.” K-Man, G-Funk, and myself enjoyed a very hearty breakfast, and then headed to our respective trailers. I managed to put the linens on my bed, undressed, and passed out as soundly as if I had killed off a bottle of Wild Turkey.
[Next up – Welcome to Baghdad]
This is one of the saddest days of my life
Mary Ann just endured one of the hardest tasks in the civilized world. She had to take our beloved pet, our first pet, Sly, to the vet today, and have him “put to sleep”. I was hoping, but really didn’t expect, that he would last until I returned home. Who knows – perhaps my leaving accelerated his demise. Doesn’t matter. Sly is gone now – may God rest his little cat soul. I cannot express how deeply this hurts, and how guilty I feel that I left it up to Mary Ann to deal with this , since I truly knew that it would come to this in my absence. And still I chose to go.
I am hoping that Mary Ann’s friend, Sandy, came through and went with her to the vet. If so, then I am forever in Sandy's debt. And I pray that God gave Mary Ann comfort in His grace, and gave her the strength of faith to see this through.
As fate would have it, one the guys that I bonded with during PRT training happened to return to Baghdad today, and he joined me in drinking to the memory of my first & forever favorite pet – my cat, Sly.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to smoke a cigar and cry myself dry. We gave my buddy 15 years of good life, and we knew that his time was coming. How come knowing this doesn’t make it any easier on our hearts?
If you care, please say a little prayer for Sly, who was ,to us, the same as our child. And the good Lord knows, it hurts just as if it was so…
PRT Post – Flight to Iraq (cont’d)
[Ed. note: I’ve inserted the 2nd part of this posting here, as opposed to where I left off, below. See post of 3 June for the beginning…]
Things started out normal enough. we were all just chillin’ on the bus, shootin’ the breeze. The trip to the airport and our flight out would take less than an hour, giving us a couple of hours to spare. I had my camera on hand, hoping for a repeat of the camels crossing the road. So of course the stupid camels kept their distance. Even the white ones. The sheep weren’t any more photogenic. Odd to see sheep in the desert, but they gotta grow ‘em somewhere. Iraqis eat a lot of sheep/lamb. Didn’t see ‘em this trip, but last time we saw a couple herds of donkeys.
Somewhere between the camels and the sheep, we heard a loud “Bang!” from the back of the bus, where the engine was located. Right after that, the a/c cut off. Hmmmmmmmm…. That’s not good, I wisely thought to myself. We all looked around at each other, then looked towards the front at our driver, Haji (not his real name – I changed it to protect Akhmed’s identity), but he was unperturbed. His body language broke the language barrier “It’s all good, Americans!”, as he continued to drive. Oh well, it was still fairly cool on the bus, and we had about half an hour left to go. Next we noticed that Haji was slowing down, and our lead vehicle containing our LNO and his Sergeant (and about 15% of our firepower) was leaving us behind.
Slower and slower went the bus, and we started to hear unwelcome noises from the engine compartment. Soon it was obvious that our bus was in serious mechanical duress – and off into the south rode our escort. Wonderful. Haji eventually pulled the bus to the side of the road. He kept up his “It’s all good, Americans!” posture even as the engine cut off, and he coasted to the side of the road. The bus comes to a stop in the middle of the desert, in the dead-heat of a Kuwaiti late morning sun, and still “It’s all good, Americans!” from Haji. Hey, from his perspective, he was still getting paid. And I’m sure he was used to the heat, so for him, perhaps it was still all good.
But for us, not so good. We had 10 military guys on the bus, and their training kicked in. Out in the desert, there ain’t no 911 to call – you’re on your own. So the 2 colonels had the other soldiers set up a perimeter around the bus, and across the road. I’m telling you, it does you proud to see these guys who were in their civilian roles just a month earlier, and now, in full battle-rattle, in the heat of the desert, they’re out there assuming perimeter positions, just as if they’ve been doing it all their lives. It also made me feel kinda worthless as an unarmed civilian, but that’s the roles we were in. One of our officers flagged down a passing Brit convoy, and they used their cell phone to call for assistance. And fate wasn’t being all that unkind to us after all – we had broken down within sight of another Army base, Camp Virginia (pretty amazing coincidence, that name!).
Within 5 minutes, a SUV comes barreling up the road towards us, and out jumps a fellow American, and he’s immediately getting the story from the colonels. I don’t remember him being in uniform; I assumed he was a contractor, but it didn’t matter to me at the time. I was glad someone from the base was already out with us, and in contact with the base. So the guy is on his phone, talking to security elements or what not, and then – out comes Booger. She had been staying in the relative coolness of the bus (it being just 10 minutes or so since the a/c had cut off), and suddenly she decides to take charge. With her usual battle cry, “I’m an O-6!”, she wades up to the security guy, trying to get his attention while he’s talking on the phone. Booger actually stepped over the line this time, if anyone had cared to call her on it. She was in uniform, and she didn’t claim to be a GS-15, or an O-6 equivalent – she flat out stated that she was an O-6. Now that’s impersonating an Army officer, and that, my friends, is illegal.
However, it was even more satisfying to see the security guy put his hand up in her face, and tell her “Just a moment, ma’am. I’m on the phone”, in an I-ain’t-got-time-for-it type tone. Booger shut on up, and slunk on off. Within 5 minutes of this fella’s arrival, 2 up-armored Humvees showed up, and they took position to the north and south of our bus. Our bus was declared dead, and another bus was found nearby that could fill in. The replacement bus had to be taken into Camp Virginia to be cleared for us (scanned & sniffed for explosives, etc.). Meanwhile, we had to unload our duffel bags from the bus. And of course, we had to load the new bus as well. This was officially tallied as another Duffel Shuffle, and once again, it was in 100o+F temps. Lovely…
The mil guys did their best to do the lion’s share of the latest DS, but to our credit, we civs did our fair share. Not so bad for us, if you recollect the photo of the 8 of us – and if you remember that only 1, CC, was younger than my mid-40s butt (I’m not 47 till August, so before you bother to comment - piss off!). Booger mainly directed the massive amounts of nearly non-existent traffic around the gang as we loaded the bus’s baggage compartment on the driver’s side. I had to restrain G-Funk from shoving the Boog in front of the occasional passing vehicle. oon enough, we were back in an air-conditioned Mercedes bus (they obviously have lots of those lying around in Kuwait!), having lost only an hour of our 2 hours that we had in reserve.
Everyone was recuperating from the workout in the heat, and so that’s my excuse for almost completely missing my 2nd opportunity to get photos of the Highway of Death that I linked to before. And so it was, by the time we realized we were passing through it, and by the time my camera finished “Reading memory card”, we had passed by the majority of the remnants. All I managed was one shot at the end, and an even crappier one because I moved before the camera took the snap. Even so, the resolution of my originals (not sure of the linked versions at MySpace) allow you to zoom in to see some details. The remnants that I didn’t photo are much larger and more recognizable as burnt out vehicles and such. Oh well, them’s the breaks…
We made it the rest of the way back to Base Ali Al Salem without incident. We had to transfer our duffels off the bus and onto a transport of some kind (I’m a little fuzzy on the details now), and then put them on a big, air-cargo pallet (another DS). Then some folks strapped our bags down in the official military air-cargo style. It was 1130 by now, and we had been told that our flight to Iraq was to leave at 1230. Since it was feedin' time, we were given box lunches, and told to hang out in a big tent that was set up just for such an occasion. We hung out in the tent, which was mostly filled with chairs set up in 4 rows. Towards the back end, of the tent, there were 6-8 cots for anyone who wanted to try to sleep. There were a bunch of other folks waiting for the same flight in the tent – we were flying out in an Air Force C-17, the largest jet in the military’s inventory. And of course the military wanted it as full as possible.
We ate our food (single serving sizes of canned lasagna, tuna salad, Pringles chips, a big cookie – yum…), and either BS’d or dozed in our chairs. It got to be 1215, and we realized that we were gonna be experiencing another “hurry-up-and-wait” event. But no sooner had someone made the comment that we were obviously not gonna make a 1230 departure, than the flightmaster came busting into the tent, hustling us all out and harping on us like it was our fault we were running late. Typical Army crap, as I had come to learn. Anyway, we had to put on our IBA and helmets, and then as the flightmaster called out our last 4 (of our SSNs), we were directed to board one of several buses. Again, the details are not clear to my wore-out brain after the 3+ weeks that have since past, but we were driven to an airport, and I don’t remember how long the bus ride lasted. Did they take us back to Kuwait International Airport? Or was it someplace else? Don’t know, don’t care. Because before we knew it, we were on the plane. And then we were airborne. I took some snaps inside the C-17, but it was so huge, I couldn’t capture the true size of the interior with my camera.
We had been warned about the final approach to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). In order to fend off potential shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles, the C-17 stayed at cruising altitude until it was directly over the airport. Then it plunged down in a series of corkscrew maneuvers (it was 4 – I counted). Each time it felt like the first drop of a VERY larger rollercoaster. I thought it was rather fun, personally – but then I’ve always liked rollercoasters.
[Ed. note: Speaking of rollercoasters, my li’l bro Rick was at Busch Gardens today, playing hooky from work to ride ‘coasters on his birthday. So here’s a cheer to the birthday-boy – Happy Birthday, Ricky-Daddy!! Give my love to Judy and my goddaughter, Samantha…]
So we landed. The crew opened the rear of the plane to unload all the baggage and stuff. Then we got off the plane. I was near the front of the plane, so I was like the 3rd or 4rh person off the plane and on the tarmac. RBG was in front of me, and the 2 of us in civilian attire were followed by 60 or so people in various uniforms. JD came up to me when we were inside the holding area, laughing. Bob, says he – congratulations! You’re the first person to arrive in Iraq dressed as a fishing guide!! Guess you had to be there…
[Still trying to catch up – but that wraps up this installment of my saga. Next up is a posting recalling the events between landing at BIAP and our transport to the US Embassy Annex at the palace …]
PRT Post – Flight to Iraq
So where was I? Ah, yes – wrapping up my stay in Kuwait. We were slated to leave Camp B Friday late, and were gearing up for departure all day. When we came back from dinner, we were surprised to see that our travel had been delayed till Saturday a.m. Okay, that was a stupid thing to say – of course we weren’t surprised. I guess we’d have been more surprised if there hadn’t been some kind of snafu. Our new departure time had the bus arriving at our domicile at 0430. Not to worry. A couple of hours later, this was changed to 0730 – much more reasonable. As usual, no word on what caused the delays. And by now, even us civilians had become accustomed to being left in the dark about things which affected our lives.
The next day dawns, and it’s a quick combat shower before breakfast. Most went over to the DFAC, but RBG and I had decided the night before to meet over at the Green Bean Café (a little Starbucks wanna be setup) for some frou-frou coffee and danishes (you actually have to pay money for this luxury!). RBG had to give Booger the slip so that she wouldn’t ruin the beginning of the day. KH also made it to Green Bean, and she, too had to do some Booger-dodging. I was happy to see RBG in her civilian attire, since G-Funk had decided to go military on me, and was wearing his DCUs. But not I. No, I was wearing my cargo pants, “Vredenburg” denim shirt & a ball cap. Later, back at our barracks, Booger lamented, “Still no uniform, Surfer Boy?”. That alone made my day.
But back at the Green Bean, I had a mocha latte double, and it was a fine cup of joe with a huge caffeine buzz. We sat on comfy chairs in the relative quiet of the coffee shop, and it was a nice change from the cafeteria hustle, bustle, noise and uncomfortable seating – a better way to start the day, and a good way to end our stay at Camp B.
We went back to our barrack, and got our duffel bags ready for yet another DS. The usual Mercedes-make bus was a-waiting, and we bucket-brigaded our bags into the baggage compartments in the bottom of the bus. We were all aboard and ready to roll by 0830, which was plenty of time to make our scheduled 12 or 1230ish flight out. Off we went, driving back through several armed checkpoints, and back into the Kuwaiti desert. I had my camera handy this time, hoping for snaps of camels and other things along the way.
So we were ahead of schedule and things looked like they would go off as planned. Should’ve known something would happen….
(to be continued...)
[I’m trying hard to catch up – this part of my saga isn’t long, but it still needs writing! I seem to have been successful using MySpace to link to individual pictures, instead of relying on the album style of Shutterfy – any text that’s hot-linked should have a snap associated with it…]
10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003 11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006 02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007 03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007 06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007 07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007 01/01/2008 - 02/01/2008 05/01/2012 - 06/01/2012