Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I forgot - why am I in a war zone??? Oh yeah, now I remember...

Arrived in Baghdad lastnight after a one-hour flight up from Ali Al Salem Airbase, Kuwait. Flew in an Air Force C-17 cargo plane - one I've flown in many times to/from the ice. It was so very...familiar (and I knew the best seats are the ones along the fuselage wall - NOT the cushy, pax seats in the middle).

There were about 140 of us, over half were soldiers, and for some, it was their first time in a war zone. Some were excited, some quiet, some were in prayer, all were armed.

The cool part about the flight was the death-spiral landing. In times like this, the pilot will stay at-altitude for as long as possible, usually till they're right over the airport, then spiral the plane down to the ground...but in a controlled, good way. This limits the exposure shall we say...people who like to shoot things in the sky.

Landed safely, waited an hour and a half for a ride, then spent the night in yet another tent - transient housing. Today we may or may not get a lift up to Taji. We'll see. It's only 17 miles. I say we rent a car, and drive on up. For some reason, people frowned at that idea.

Only got about four hours of sleep lastnight. But then again, since this whole trip started 13 days ago, I haven't gotten a full eight hours night's sleep. My body's tired, and starting to feel it.

So, the adventure continues. As soon as I hit Taji I can do something I've been wanting to do for awhile: UNPACK! I forgot how tiring it is to live out of a suitcase/duffle. Exhausting.

That's it for now. Let's see what the day has to offer, shall we?

Why am I hearing automatic weapons fire in the distance?...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Water? Oh yeah, we got water...

Even though the water here is safe and treated, we're 'encouraged' to avoid drinking it. So, we have dozens (hundreds?) of pallets of case water all over the camp. And drink it we do! We're a hydrated bunch.

And yes, there's recycling bins for the empties. :)

Was that a dead goat?...

The last two days our group of 22 has been transported from our temporary home in Tent City to the metropolis of Kuwait City. It's about a 45 minute drive through some of the most beautiful...wait, that's not the word...barren environs I've ever seen.

Desert as far as the eye can see...topped with trash. Literally - trash. You'd think SOMEONE would adopt-a-dune, and pick-up the rubbish.

They have roadkill here, too, but not opossums and armadillos. Yesterday we saw two goats by the roadside that had bit it. Can't blame them - there are no fences to contain them. They wander. Could be that they belonged to some of the semi-nomadic Bedouins that still live in tents around the country. I don't know.

Kuwait City was hit hard way back in 1990 by that nasty, old Iraq. It's been rebuilt nicely, but there is still evidence of the damage, and the patch jobs. We weren't able to venture into the heart of the city, even though I would have really liked to. We're kept on a pretty tight rein when we're off-base. Even though we're there to help them, I get the feeling some believe we've overstayed out welcome.

No biggie - I'm sure we'll be outta here sometime in the next decade.

So, we've finished all of our orientations and trainings, and now it's time to wait for a plane. The schedules change on a daily basis, and we're all going to be going to different places. Mine's a relatively easy one to get to, but I have to wait for an open seat.

I've got to admit, I'm looking forward to starting my new job, and getting into a routine. The last week and a half have been...trying. Not surprised some people bail. Lots of BS to go through. However, we all realize that the reward is worth the temporary discomfort (...and frustration...and lack of organization...and...).

Tomorrow we pick-up our passports, and will be signed-out of the country. Yes, we're still officially here, but we won't be allowed to leave the base again. No worries, there's plenty to do here. :)

BTW, the Armed Services have done a wonderful job providing recreational opportunities for our uniformed soldiers. While this place isn't anything to write home about, it does offer a great MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) department and facilities. There's a great weight gym, cardio gym, basketball court, internet access, phones, gaming consoles, movie rental, and a plethora of other things to keep people active during their down time.

My hat is tipped to the ones that take care of the uniformed service folk. :D

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ah, Kuwait - you smell like...Oklahoma...

Well, I'm in Kuwait. Arrived a mere 24 hours ago. Had a great flight from Ft. Benning to Leipzig, Germany, then onto Kuwait City. Our carrier was World Air - a charter-only company. Flew in a very nice MD-11. Hadn't been on one since they were known as DC-10s. Great flight crew.

Leipzig was a dreary place. It was cold, rainy, and the environment was decidedly industrial. I'd love to see more of Germany, but when the sun is shining. If you're looking for it on a map, it's about 200 miles SW of Berlin.

Kuwait was totally opposite - It was in the 80s when we landed, and of course, the climate is total desert - nice and dry. The place (what little I've seen of it) is alot like the Mojave desert in California...but smells more like Oklahoma. It's the oil. Not bad, but the scent is there.

My current accomodations are at a place called...Tent City. Why, you ask? Because it's comprised of about 200, 12-person tents. Yes, I'm sharing a tent with 11 other
people right now. It's crowed, but we're making the best of it. Tent City is away from everything, well protected, and acts as temporary quarters for transiting military and civilians, whether coming in, or going out.

Over the next couple of days we'll be bussed into Kuwait City proper, and receive more processing and training. Come Wednesday or Thusday our little group will disperse to the four winds, and head to our duty stations.

I'm starting to look forward to that. If nothing else, it'll be a chance to unpack, relax, and start counting down to when I leave. ;)

I bought a bitchin' new knife today at the PX. We're not allowed to carry guns, so almost all contractors satisfy their need for self-preservation by carrying knives. Hey, something's better than nothing. :) I haven't decided whether to be a Shark or a Jet yet...

Well, that's about it for now. Everyone is treating us well, and feeding us as much as we want. The organization is somewhat lacking, but it seems to work for the military.

I also get to wear dog tags. Cool, huh?

BTW, lest you think I'm actually roughing it - Tent City boasts a 24-hour McDonald's, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Subway. They're small versions of the real thing, but everyone appreciates them.

Be well All.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's not's Fly-Day!...

I swear, this has been the longest week. Feels like a month since I left Jan, but it's only been seven days.

All is done, and it's time to fly. Next stop: Kuwait City. Getting kind of excited to see the place. My friend, Kimera, used to live there, and used to tell me all about it. I also remember Robin Leach, on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, doing a segment on Kuwait, and saying how it was (or used to be) the richest country in the world.

Sure hope Iraq didn't destroy all the good in the place.

I'll be there for about a week, until my flight arrangements up to Baghdad, then Taji, are complete. It should be a good time. I needed a vacation, anyway. :)

So, my CRC adventure here at Ft. Benning is at an end. It's been a...different kind of week. I've learned more about the Army than I ever wanted to know.

All good people. They'll go out of their way to be courteous and kind, and help you out. But funny thing about young soldiers that hasn't ever changed - they always drive brand-new cars and motorcycles, and continuously strive to make them hotter, faster, and cooler. They also love guns, knives, and tobacco. Waaaaay too much second-hand smoke around here. When will people wise-up?

Okay, time to get to bed. Tomorrow's the first day we don't have to be up at 4:30a. Nice...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What a very long week it's been...

I arrived at Ft. Benning four days ago...and it feels like it's been over a week. The days are protracted, starting early in the morning, traveling to different locations, and sometimes, even forcing us to skip meals. The mountains of redundant paperwork are amazing, but what can you do? If you want the good jobs, you've got to do what they tell you to do. Doesn't matter that our companies pretty much take care of getting us ready to deploy - we still have to do things the Army way before we're allowed to.

For some reason, I can't get the movie Stripes out of my head. "What kind of training, Soldier? Arrrrrrrrrrrrmy training, Sir!"

Thankfully, all the heavy-duty processing is now complete. Tomorrow is Death by Powerpoint, Thursday is the catch-all day, and Friday we fly. :)

Oh, we picked-up our body armor today. That stuff's H E A V Y! Easy 70 lbs., and fills-up a duffel. Still, if it prevents a bullet from penetrating my now-intact skin, then it's worth it.

More later - time for a walk.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I know where I'm going...

It's been a full, yet relatively easy day of processing. Started off by meeting all the other ITT people - 21 of 'em. Paperwork ensued, then some random Army processing which is still a mystery. After lunch we had to do some Computer Based Training (watching Powerpoints on our own) Unfortunately, there were over a hundred contractors in a big room, but only five operating computers. We huddled around the monitors like it was an old Victorla radio, and one person advanced the slides. We managed to finish about 3 1/2 hours of material in about 20 minutes. :) It's all about efficiency.

We all also learned what our duty stations will be. Everyone is going somewhere in either Iraq or Afghanistan. I'm one of the lucky ones that will get to see both countries.

I feel so blessed.

Anyway, my current, final destination is Camp Taji, Iraq. It's about 17 miles northwest of Baghdad. If you're interested in learning about the place, try this link:

After completing our day a little early, I headed over the main PX (Post Exchange) at Ft. Benning. What a place. More like a little mall. Great food court, shops, services, and a store that rivals the size of a Walmart Supercenter.

I only bought one thing - sand goggles. Figured I might need 'em...

Friday, March 19, 2010

NOW, it begins...

After going down to Antarctica for years I've got things pretty streamlined as far as packing, organizing, and planning for being away months on end. Still, when the departure date arrives, the leaving is never easy. This is what I call the 'transistion time.' It's when I have to move from one mode to another. From one 'real' world to an alternate 'real' world.

People who do contract work like this have different ways of coping with this phase - some take a shuttle to the airport, leaving any tears and awkward good-byes at home. Others bring out the entire family for their send-off. Others have that one, special person that they want to be with until the last possible minute.

This is the second time I've had to leave Jan. No, it doesn't get easier, and I don't want it to. This time, though, we didn't feel so dehydrated. We shared a leisurly morning, put my car in storage, picked-up my bags, and headed to the airport. We were smiling more this time, knowing that we'd see one another again in six, short months, and VERY thankful that we had an extra week together.

I've safely arrived at Ft. Benning, GA. Uneventful flight and shuttle drive. Thank goodness.

I'm at the CRC, which is an acronym within an acronym - CRC is the CONUS Replacement Center. No, they don't replace CONSUS' here. It's more of a personnel replacement staging point for people headed to the Middle East. (Oh, BTW, CONUS is short for Continental United States.)

The CRC is a separate compound within Ft. Benning. It's relatively small, and surrounded by a chain link fence, and barbed wire. It's part Army, part ice, part summer camp, and part prison. Lots of civilians here, mostly men, mostly married.

The next week is full of endless meetings, briefings, orientations, chow, chow, chow, hurry-up-and-waits, and the dreaded 'Death By Powerpoint' next Wednesday.

I'll try to get some pix of the place tomorrow, but believe me, it's pretty bland...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Minor delay...

I'm not even out of town yet, and already my first delay. Been clamoring the last few days to get everything completed for my year abroad, and was well on-track to do so, when I get a call today saying that my new departure date is now the 19th. I've got another week's grace period. Some document from my long ago past needed to be approved, and (of course) the person to do that is on vacation.

I'm not complaining, though. I had originally asked for two-weeks notice to get things wrapped-up, and only got one. The universe trumped the human plan though, and granted me seven more days.

Funny how that works.

"Universe - if you're listening - I'd really like to win Powerball this week. Thanks!"