Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Journey Home Begins

It's getting close to 9pm so the temperature here in Kuwait is just dipping below 100 degrees. It was only 113 today when we arrived at 1pm, but the body armor and helmet we are required to wear for the flight from Iraq to Kuwait make it feel even warmer. An hour after we arrived we were allowed to turn the body armor in at a storage warehouse so we don't have to wear it here. In fact, I turned in my weapon yesterday so I am feeling like a very successful dieter!!! Those pounds just melted away (fr a couple of weeks anyway).

The entire trip from Iraq to Lancaster should take three days, four at the worst. It will take more than a day and maybe two days just to get from the front door of the passenger terminal at Tallil Ali Air Base to taking off in Kuwait--I will spend more than a day and maybe two traveling the first 200 miles from Iraq to Kuwait, then hopefully cover the remaining 6000-odd miles from Kuwait to Lancaster PA.

The trip really began at 9pm last night. I went to the Air Force passenger terminal to find out when my flight to Kuwait would leave. They said I had a report time of 815pm Thursday evening and I would fly out at 1115pm, arriving just after midnight. That plane was full with more than 50 soldiers on R&R leave. There was also a flight at 1130 this morning. I changed my mind five times about taking that one, then the ground crew reassured me I would not lose my seat on the night flight if the day flight had problems, so I took it.

For those of you who think commercial travel is a pain, here's my trip to date:
0800--My platoon sergeant drives me to the terminal in a maintenance truck. I wait in an air conditioned room for 40 minutes, then
0840--The Air Force clerk at the desk collects ID cards and makes up a flight manifest.
0855--We are called to the scale to get weighed with our gear and bags for the flight then we go outside to a tent to wait for our plane. The tent has a vent, but it is already 100 degrees and climbing and we are wearing our uniforms, so we all remain as still as possible and wait.
1045--The plane is 30 minutes away. We go outside and line up to be counted. Then we sit in a pallet storage area because it has shade. It is now 110 degrees.
1115--The plane lands, the cargo is unloaded--just one pallet and we line up again. This time we put on our 35-pound body armor, helmet and bags. We stand in the sun, then ten minutes later the loadmaster says there is manifested freight on the way. We have to wait. So we go back to the pallet shed. The tent is 20 feet from the pallet shed. The air-conditioned building is 30 feet away. We are not allowed in either one. So we sweat. The temp is creeping toward a high of 118.
1150--Pallet arrives. It gets loaded. We put on armor and line up again. Then we walk to the plane--a C-130 Hercules which is lucky for us. The plane is half full and we can slouch in the webbing seats. We must wear the body armor and helmet all the way to Kuwait. We sweat.
1240--We land in Kuwait. The frieght is unloaded and we wait on the plane for a bus. Since we are on the ground out of Iraq, we can take off the body armor. Not everyone does because if you take it off, you have to carry it and it is easier to carry on your back than in your hand. I leave it on. I am reading a new book of Orwell's essays called "All Art is Propaganda." The other folks on the plane are listening to IPods or waiting. No one is talking. We are all strangers and no one is happy.
1300--The bus arrives and we drive to the transient holding area. The bus is air conditioned--Ahhhhh. After a 20-minute bus ride, we arrive for in-processing in Kuwait. Because there are only seven soldiers on R&R leave, the initial inprocessing is quick. They tell us not to write on the bathroom walls or have sex in the tents then sign us into the base.
1330--We walk a quarter mile over rocks to storage warehouse for body armor. A very good natured young captain waits for me as the other soldiers walk to the warehouse. They are walking fast because they want to be rid of the armor. The bone spur in my heel is getting worse and I am walking slow. The captain asks if I am having trouble. I tell him about the bone spur and he seems releived it is not anything worse. I really need to get this thing fixed.
1345--We fill out all the papers and get rid of the body armor. Next we go back to the tent where started and fill out another form. Then we walk several hundred yards the other way and turn in those forms to the people who will arrange our travel.
1405--Now we get tents. Billeting office has three clerks. It takes 10 minutes to get tents for seven of us. Up to this point I was thinking I had screwed up by taking the early flight. Then I remembers that I would have been doing all this paperwork at 2am with more than 50 people instead of just 7. It would have been cooler, but it would have been the middle of the night. And since our report time if 6am, I would have gotten to the tent at 230 am, woken up everyone else in it, then slept very badly worrying about missing the 0600 briefing.

230pm--dropped my bag in the tent and went to the chow hall. Ate a sandwich, went to the Green Beans coffee place, drank a latte and read the newspaper. Then I went bakc to the tent and went to sleep.

620pm--Got up and went to dinner. Met a nice group of guys at the Post Chapel near the chow hall. Went to their Thursday night meeting for while, then got on line and started writing this post.

930pm--going to bed soon. More tomorrow when I find out my flight details.

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