Night and day = the difference between Baghdad and Taji.
I arrived in Taji lastnight, after a three-hour wait at the helo terminal. There were about 10 of us, mostly military, trying to get up here. We boarded the Chinook, carrying all our gear, and joined about 12 others already onboard. it was a full flight.
It was warm, wearing body armor, helmet, and feeling the heat of the twin, turbine engines blow into the open rear ramp. All gear, including my two, heavy duffles, were piled into the middle of the aircraft. No one fastened their seatbelts, and none of the crew cared. No one sat on their bullet-proof vest, either, contrary to all the stories I'd been told.
The rear ramp remained down and open the entire flight, with an Army soldier manning the fixed machine gun. Yes, they were on a safety leash. I had fears of our bags tumbling out, but they stayed fast.
The entire duration of the flight was a little over 10 minutes. It's not far from Baghdad to Taji - only about 17 miles, but the pilot flew a zig-zag/S-turn pattern. Flying the same, straight route would be an open invitation for target practice.
I didn't mind.
Landing at Taji was uneventful. On the ground at the same time was our sister Chinook (all helos travel in pairs), two Blackhawks, and a C-130. it was busy, noisy, and smelly. The worst part, however, was having to then tote our gear about a quarter-mile to the terminal. Two 50 lb. duffles, a 20 lb. carry-on, and 30 lbs. of of body armor and helmet really weigh a person down. I had to stop a few times to regroup...
A representative from ITT picked up the two of us, and secured temporary/transient housing for us. It's basically a 12'x13' 1/3 part of an ATCO trailer. Very basic. No plumbing. Pretty darned comfortable compared to the tents we'd been sleeping in recently. We slept like rocks.
I still awoke around 6a, and found my way to the D-FAC (dining facility) for breakfast. The food was tasty and ample. In fact the people serving the food ALWAYS give you too much. I need to work with them on this. My co-worker joined me about 20 minutes later, and we discussed exploration of the base.
Taji is a former Iraqi military base, whose primary mission was the repair of tanks and armament. It sits just west of the Tigris River. Saddam himself had a bunker here - long since destroyed by one of our Bunker-Buster bombs. The original buildings (sitll showing damage) are still around. Some we use, most are shuttered.
The current Iraqi Army actually share the base with us, but there is no inner-mingling. One day, when we pull out, we'll hand the keys to the place over to them. Rumor has it, that might be next year. I wonder how much of the equipment we have here will be turned over to them, returned to the States, sold, or destroyed.
If you're REALLY curious as to how the place is laid-out, look up Taji, Iraq on Google Maps. The base lays to the west of the long runway.
We scouted out the PX (moderate size, but had all basic needs covered), MWR (morale, welfare, and recreation) facilities - all very good, including two, very well-equipped gyms, and one, smaller one. Regular classes in spinning, aerobics, martial arts, and P90X.
There goes my excuses for not working out. Did I mention they're all FREE, too?
We walked from the centrally-located D-FAC up to the NE corner of the base, down through the middle, and over to the SW corner. Believe it or not, they even have a POOL here! They hope to have it open sometime this month. Just in time for the (oh so very) HOT season.
There's also a movie theater (which shows first-run movies), another, smaller D-FAC, a miniature golf course, and numerous other small stores and facilities.
It's so much quieter and cleaner here than in Baghdad. Practically pleasant. I'm going to like it here. The base is relatively small - maybe 2x2 miles, but large enough that it's hard to see it all. Very good since I won't be allowed to leave the base during my tenure here. This...is home.