Before we get to my trip to Qatar, I wanted to let everyone know that my
diligent efforts to improve my score on the physical test have paid off. If you
remember, I scored a 268 and said I would improve by 50 points or more. We took
the test in mid-April, and I scored 346! Now, in all fairness I moved up an age
category which gave me an additional 16 points, so using the same scale I used
in November I scored 330. 76 pushups, 95 situps, and my 2 mile run in 12:43. Not
When I first wrote about my trip to Qatar, I included all the frustrating bits. However, when I went back to read it, it seemed like the only thing I was doing was whining, so I have cut out some of the whining.
The trip to Qatar started out in a very frustrating manner. There are only so many seats available and only on certain days, so it seems like there is an organized plan. I was supposed to fly down on Monday, so I showed up Sunday evening at 2330 as instructed. About 0100, they came out and read the manifest of who was on the next day's flight. I wasn't on the list, so I was given my ID card back and told to return at 0045 the next morning (Tuesday). *sigh* So I went back to my room, slept in a little and then worked most of the day. Tuesday morning, after showing up at 0045 and waiting up all night, we were told at 0700 that our flight was cancelled but there was a later one, so we should return in 2 hours. *double sigh* But, at least I had two hours to go eat breakfast. At 12:00, we were told our flight was pushed back, and at 15:00 we loaded the buses, and then sat around at the flight line for an hour waiting to board the plane. As we boarded the plane, there were not enough available seats, so the aircrew was working to reconfigure the load and provide more seats. At first they wanted two soldiers who didn't have baggage loaded on the pallet to get off, but I wasn't going to let that happen. It is silly to penalize a soldier just because he packs lightly and has everything in a carry-on. Those are the guys who really need an R&R pass, not a works-behind-a-computer officer like me. Anyway, I told them to find my bag and I would get off, but the pilot came back and said there was an empty seat up front in the crew area, so the Vorpal Bunny and I flew down to Qatar in the cockpit of the C-17.
We finally departed around 1700 on Tuesday. We landed at Al Udeid Airbase around 1930 and then had wait about three more hours for the bus to show up. We took a 30 minute ride to Camp As Saliyah. After a briefing of about 1 1/2 hours, we were finally taken to billets, issued linen and allowed to get some sleep. It was 0100 or 0200 on Wednesday morning. Overall it was a very painful process. Although most of it I attribute to the Air Force, the Army has to share some of the responsibility.
Back in Iraq, we get told that the biggest reasons to go to Qatar for a 4-day pass is that we can go jet-skiing, shopping, barbecue on the beach, go 4-wheeling, or go on a cultural tour. Jet-skiing sounded like fun, so I thought a 4-day pass would be good.
Once we arrived, we were told that the pass was really on Camp As Sayliyah, but if they could possibly do some external trips they would try, but there were no guarantees. *sigh*
So, the long and short of it was that I never did get to go jet-skiing.
They never even offered it. I had one chance to go on a cultural tour, which I
did. Here are the highlights of the cultural tour.
As we started the tour, we drove around a little. One of the interesting things is that in Doha, Qatar, the King of Qatar greets you from the side of several buildings. We then drove down by the bay, where there were lots of traditional "Dhow" fishing boats. It was neat to look across the bay, from one part of Doha to the other.
From there we drove downtown viewing the arch of swords with the seal of
the "State of Qatar" over the crossing point. We then drove down and started at
the camel market. They had all sorts of camels in pens. Some of the pens had
herders in them, who were cleaning the camels while others were brining in
camels. We saw one guy pull up in a pickup with two camels tied down in the back
of the truck. They pulled up, untied the camels. made them stand up and get out
of the pickup and into the pen.
From the camel market, we moved on to the fish market. The fish market had every sort of fish imaginable, all laying out for you to inspect, purchase and take home. From tuna to barracuda, it was all there. We then went to the fruit & vegetable market, and then an outdoor market with pots, plants, incense, spices, and fish jerky. It was interesting because although we typically saw women in their burkhas, sometimes we saw them pull into the parking lot wearing regular clothes, and then get out and put their burkha on over the top so they could go shop.
Next was the old "souqs", or the old market. Except the "man dresses" and the black burkhas, it looked a lot like old town Santa Fe. Lots of covered stalls, and interior open walkways. It was a nice time, and there was lots to see. We ran across some stray kitty cats, and I was able to take a picture of the Vorpal Bunny near one.
After the old souqs, we went to the gold souqs. Wow! The
amount of gold, silver, and pearls was amazing. Apparently the prices were
pretty good because lots of folks were buying stuff. One store even showed
us the "burn test" you can perform on saltwater pearls to confirm that they are
truly saltwater pearls. (Saltwater pearls won't burn, and the black soot just
rubs right off...)
We stopped at a local restaurant for lunch, with a nice buffet of Qatari cuisine, then off to do some sightseeing. Several of the folks on the tour wanted to stop and try a "hooka-pipe" (a water pipe) with some spiced tobacco. From there we went down to the bay, and took pictures with the "Corniche" which is a big clam and pearl monument.
Our last stop was a big 4-storey shopping mall. It wasn't very
exciting (for me), but I am not much of a shopper. The mall was
interesting because they had a waterfall with a walk-over bridge in front of it.
They also had an ice rink on the bottom floor, although we couldn't skate
because they were playing a "hockey" game. Well, it was sort-of-hockey.
They used a ball instead of a puck, and there was only a goalie and four guys on
each team, but the rink was only about half the size of a normal hockey rink.
The "Dubai Camels" were playing the "Qatari Qanucks".
So the cultural tour was pretty interesting, but the 4-day pass was mostly a big letdown. *sigh* I would have been better off spending four days in my room doing homework. The trip home was almost as bad as the trip down. Show up the first night to be told to report back the second night at 1800. At least I could spend part of the day at the pool and get a workout in the gym. Then load the buses and drive to the airbase for a 2330 departure. Coming down we came on a C-17, so the flight was only 2 1/2 hours. Going back, it was a C-130 which was supposed to take 4 hours. However, the pilots thought we had ice building up on the wing, so after 2 hours we diverted to Kuwait where we spent 1 1/2 hours standing out on the runway while they figured out that it was only a strip of paint missing from the front edge of the wing. Then we spent another hour waiting to be re-fueled, followed by 2 1/2 hours of flight. We didn't arrive back at LSA Anaconda until 0730...
The trip was "interesting". I am glad I went, but it made me realize that I don't really want to go back. There were certainly things that would have made it better, but a lot of that is careful thinking about the best options for running the pass program. Lots of little details that could be improved. I offered suggestions, but I am not sure they really wanted to hear them.
Anyway, back at LSA Anaconda, it was easy to settle back into the routine and get right back to work, solving automation problems and saving the world from the bad guys! Pictures of my trip can be seen at http://www.greydragon.org/trips/Iraq/index5.html
In the next two weeks, my unexpected trip back to Qatar for a conference...
Peter / Terafan