OK, so it has taken me longer than one day to get this done, but some days I only see Unclassified email for about 15 minutes or less during the entire day, unless I want to stay up past 2200 or 2230 ... and usually, since I have been up since about 0530, I choose to NOT do email. *grin*
I wrote half of this last night, but since I have to stay up for a teleconference that starts at 2300, I may as well finish it.
Anyway, so all my training in Kuwait was completed and it was time to move into Iraq. We came out of the field, and immediately were handed our flight details for the next day. The interesting about working with the US Air Force is their seeming lack of flexibility. Commercial airlines are MUCH more flexible and forgiving than the USAF. You don't dare miss a USAF flight but they don't seem bothered at al when they cancel or delay a flight. Sometimes it appears that they do it just because they feel like it.
So, we are required to show up 3 hours before the flight, and being normal Army guys we like to show up early just in case anything happens along the way. We have an evening flight so the day is pretty relaxed except that we need to have everything packed early so it can get loaded. We load the gear on a truck and load the bus right after dinner. We drive an hour down to the airbase, and then have an hour or so to wait to check in because nothing happened on the way down (so we are very early).
The passenger terminal is a concrete hanger with hard plastic seats in rows and bottles of warm water sitting on a pallet in the corner. Behind the counter, the USAF folks have comfortable chairs, computers, nice desks, a refrigerator and microwave, and it sounds like we can hear a TV. Our side of the counter: hard plastic seats and warm water. Go figure.
We check in and then wait (seemingly forever) for the Air Force to give us a briefing on loading our gear and then we have to scurry to unload the truck and get the gear "palletized" so it can be taken out to the plane. There seems to be a big rush to put all the gear on a pallet and get it all strapped and secured, and then we go back inside and wait for another hour or so in the passenger terminal. They finally call us to load on a bus and drive out to the plane. At this point, everyone is in body armour and ballistic helmet (because it is required). We pull up at the plane and then sit on the bus for about 30 minutes before they let us board. We are flying on a C-130, which means you sit sideways on jumpseats with cargo netting behind your back. It is now after midnight. They load the pallet of gear, close up, and we sit (sweltering) for another 30 minutes or so before they start the engines and we taxi. Now C-130s have A/C, but they don't bother turning it on until the plane is in the air, so everyone is dripping. Although it is night, it is about 120 deg F outside, and we have been stuffed inside an aluminum can.
The take-off, flight, and landing were pretty uneventful, except the landing is more ... um, dynamic ... yeah, that's the word ... than I have ever experienced. We don't descend gently. We do some pretty dramatic drops where you stomach jumps into your throat and stays there for 15-20 seconds while we drop out of the sky. Kind of like the most extreme roller coaster you have ever felt, except the periods of dropping are MUCH longer, and we get about half a dozen of them. We land and one of the Air Force folks said to me "Oh, that was pretty mild for a combat landing..." Right. Remind me to pack a parachute next time.
Kuwait doesn't do Daylight Savings Time and Iraq does, so it is now about 0330 in the morning. We step off the plane and I immediatley notice that the temperature is *much* cooler than Kuwait. Folks here say that Balad is about 15-20 degrees cooler that Kuwait. Hey! Good news!
We unload and get bussed over to the terminal. The fancy passenger terminal at the military basecamp in Balad is a dusty army GP-medium tent with a plywood floor, and an air-conditioner blowing some of the dust around.
We spend a few minutes waiting for the pallet of baggage to arrive, then it is unload the pallet and carry your stuff out to a 5-ton truck and load it on the back. Now get on another bus and we get the 'scenic tour' of Balad as we drive to "transient billeting". I notice that although Balad has some trees, they are pretty skinny and not very pretty to look at. I also notice that everywhere on camp, all I can see are big concrete walls. I am told that these are "T-barriers" to protect everything from small arms fire and mortars. Every building, every tent, every anything is virtually encircled by 10-foot tall concrete barriers, with a few barriers offset to provide entrance past the barriers. If the thing needing protection is taller, then the concrete barriers are 20 feet tall. Wow, it is going to be a pretty grey year...
Transient billeting is a long open-bay air-conditioned building with bunk beds. Porta-johns outside the t-walls, and showers about 150 yards away. (also outside the barriers so they can be serviced) Wow! Absolute luxury. At least the beds have mattresses although they are all wrapped in crinkly, noisy plastic to protect them. *sigh*
In the morning, we meet the unit we will be replacing, but for the moment, unroll sleeping bags on top of the crinkly plastic, and tumble into bed to sleep...
Peter / Terafan