Wednesday, May 13, 2009

First Days

Apr 16
Kuwait city popped out of nowhere as we flew in from Germany.  It reminded me of flying into Tucson.  Nothing but desert and then suddenly there's a big city just sitting there.  The difference is that it sits on the water front.  We had great views as we flew in low over the water.  I saw many mosques out the window and at least one mcdonalds as we came in to land.

I arrived in Kuwait International Airport at around 11.  We didn't leave the airport until several hours later because of baggage issues.  From there we took a bus to the base we're at now (still in Kuwait).  They told us all to stay awake and keep the curtains drawn on the windows. It is probably pretty obvious to everyone who lives here who’s riding in the buses, but I guess it’s best to keep up appearances of secrecy.

We had inbriefs until about 4 am once we arrived at our base in Kuwait (nicknamed: the rock, in case you didn't gather that from the picture). After meeting our new boss it looks like our mission here has changed slightly.  Here's the short of it:

We are going to a different base in Iraq: It's called Balad and in central Iraq, some ways north of Baghdad. The mission should be similar for our team though, support for provincial reconstruction teams, and general engineering support to anyone who needs/wants it.

The time difference is 7 hours from the east coast so I'm assuming its 10 hours from the west coast.

We will only be staying here a few more days which is good because we're in temporary facilities for now.

Speaking of which, there are four of us Lts in a tent, not as bad as you'd think though because the tent is huge and it has air conditioning and I have my own private corner with a bed and a dresser like in New Jersey at Ft Dix.

We have a "shower and shave" trailer about 3 minutes walk away from the tent.

The cafeteria is probably better than at Dix, as is the gym. We just visited both over the past few hours.

This base feels an awful lot like a small Davis-Monthan even down to the building style. The biggest difference is that there is a constant cloud of dust hanging over the entire camp.  Not thinking it ever goes away. Hope my eyes and lungs can handle that.

Let's see, after briefings and in processing, etc we went to breakfast at 6 and then to sleep from 7 to 1130 am. Then, like I said we hit the gym and chow hall and now I'm in the rec trailer.  The good news here is they have wireless in this trailer which means I should be able to skype no problem.

So far, everything has been very painless (other than the lack of sleep)!  Food’s good.  Bed’s good.  Gym’s good. Internet, works.   If they have it here, I'm hoping they'll have it at Balad too.

Apr 19
I wish I could give you all the details of the past 24 hours, but for now, I can't.  Suffice to say:

A) I'm not yet where I'm supposed to be (aka final destination) because someone screwed up our travel itinerary.
B) I spent the night on a cot at Baghdad International Airport listening to security guards from some unknown African country talk for several hours straight.
C) We dragged our bags in the vicinity of a mile (6 bags each) back and forth all over this place including to and from the C-17 we flew on (many spirals down made it feel like we were landing for about 20 minutes but the touchdown was surprisingly soft).
D) I may now be famous for being the "Guy who refused to get on a flight" (word has gotten around about us because another member of our team ended up here too telling us he had heard about us at the terminal before he boarded) but eventually they forced me on to the wrong place (BIAP instead of Balad) anyway because a major said we had to come here, we got on the bus and then the plane, and came here.

All that being said, I'm on a public computer at the airport and we may or may not end up being here for a while.  Anyhow, we are shooting to continue on our journey later today.  We'll see where we end up next!

On the plus side, I can now say that I've been around the Victory Complex and done a tour of our predecessor team’s office.  For five months they worked out of one of Saddam’s old pool houses. Part of the office was at the bottom of the pool. You have to see it to believe it.

Apr 19 – part 2
No change in status.  We didn't make it on the first flight.  I’m thinking that a threesome of senior officers who showed up while we were in line snagged the remaining spots from us.  We palletted our bags for another flight only to have the flight cancelled while we sat in the terminal ready to go.  So we had to de-palletize them and drag them all back out again. We have now been here for 27 hours.  That's four meals at the dfac and coming on 1.5 miles of bag dragging (roughly 220 lbs of gear each).  Sleeping on cots in the welcome room (Persco folks have been real nice letting us watch movies with them in their office, one of the few plusses) only to have to wake up in a few to do it all over again.  As much as I’m enjoying this, I’d really like to get to Balad and go to work. I know I'm seeing such a small piece of the big picture here, but I still can't shake the thought that after 6 years of doing this in Iraq they'd have it down to a science by now.  I’d really like to speak to the major who sent us here even as we said it was the wrong final destination.  He deserves many noogies.

Movie list so far:
Walking Tall
Frenzy (old hitchcock flick about the necktie strangler)
Part of Monsters vs Aliens (Dreamworks)
Part of Blade 2
Drillbit Taylor
Fast and Furious movie

No flights out til later tomorrow although they said its full. I think I'm developing abandonment issues.

Apr 20
Quick update.  We have new leads for possible transport out tonight. Why these are new after being here for now over 48 hours and no one told us earlier I have no idea.  All I know is that this could be the night we get where we're supposed to go.  I got the chance to talk to one of the members of the outgoing team we're replacing today.  I told him if anything, there is no better way to prepare someone for 6 months of hard work than to let him do absolutely nothing for 2 straight days.  At this point we've begun petitioning locals for camels we're so bored and want to get there.  On the plus side, we got to do even more touring of our current locale taking some more pictures of palaces and fishing ponds.

Add "My Best Friend's Girl" to the movie list.
We have yet to resort to watching Chuck Norris films.

Apr 21
Just wanted to let you know I've made it to my final destination finally after 4 days at my previous locale.  It was nice to put my bags down in what will be my room for the next several months.  I also got eyes on my office and the nearest chow hall as well as the gym, library, green bean coffee, laundry facility, barber shop, chapel, shoppette.  What else could I want?  This place is clearly not as big as the Victory complex, but it's also not lacking in the essentials.  Anyhow, wanted to let you know I've safely completed this leg of my journey, one that involved 6 different bases in 3 countries, 6 different chow halls, 5 different sleeping arrangements, 1 finger jammed in a door (it got better!) and of course, many porta potties.


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