Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Ride Over

Greetings from sunny Qatar. The experience so far has been…interesting. A little narrative of the journey to the other side of the globe:

The night before I left Emily and the kids bought me a birthday cake. When they bought it the kids were excited as they always get when we do the birthday thing. It was a “secret” to me, so I wasn’t supposed to know. To keep the kids calm, well, Sarah anyway, we had been telling them that I wasn’t going anywhere until my birthday. Well, when Emily told her that it was time to have the cake she lost it. Cried for about a half an hour. I knew the morning wasn’t going to be fun.

I needed to get my smallpox shot taken care of so the plan was to drop the kiddos off at school as we left for the base. Sammy was not a problem(for him, anyway). As I was trying to avoid breaking down completely he just waved and went into school. I guess he just doesn’t really grasp what was going on. Sarah was a little different. When I was hugging her goodbye she started to cry a little, but was ok. As soon as she walked away, though, she fell apart (so did I). I honestly don’t know how the Army does this for more than a year. That was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

At the base I got a little lost as to where we were supposed to be but we eventually found the right place. It was pretty chaotic but there was a pretty charged atmosphere. As a result Emily and I’s goodbye didn’t get to last too long. It’s probably better this way for me, but I felt really bad for Emily. They were calling us together as Emily rode off, my last sight of family for the next 4 months.

Like I said the atmosphere was charged. As the bus rolled up they were playing rock music over the loudspeakers and it seemed that everyone was pretty pumped. This was hour #1, at 1015 Tucson time.

1030-2200: 11.5 hours into trip

Relatively painless inprocessing. Got a couple of briefings on terrorism from the mid-90’s (still not sure why after all the training we’ve gotten so far). Some Congressman came by, mainly talking about how great the government was for getting the $51B for Katrina relief. A general came by but didn’t say anything. Finally my boss came by to wish us well for 5 minutes. Strange how this works out.

Finally we loaded up. Officers got to sit in the front of the plane (another not sure why point) which gave us a little more room. My buddy Ben and I shared a three-seat row, which we managed to keep for the whole flight. We landed in Baltimore at 2330 ET, marking our first night. Funny how there aren’t many stores open at that hour. We managed to find one pizza joint open (all 150 of us) and completely cleaned them out. Reminder if I’m ever a squadron commander: call the restaurants at the stateside stops and let them know we’re coming. By 0100 ET we were on the plane again and headed East.

2200-0530: 19 hours into trip

About 3 hours into the flight the Captain announced that there was a great view of the northern lights out our side. I’ve never seen them, but it was amazing. From as far as I could see left and right was a blue haze breaking through the night on the horizon. Every once in a while a shaft of light (like a spotlight) would shoot skyward and vanish. The first thought in my mind was how cool the kids would have thought this was. That was the first time it really hit me how far away I was going to be from them and for how long. Talk about depression. I popped my two sleeping pills and crashed for the remainder of the flight, dreaming about them the whole way. When I woke up we were on descent into Frankfurt in the daylight, my second day.

0530-1230: 24 hours into trip

When we landed in Frankfurt you would swear it was the heart of the war. There were troops from the Air Force, Army, and Marines everywhere—hundreds of them. About 50 of them were put on board to go to Kuwait with us. We were given two hours to be back. Fortunately Ben knew where the BX was so we checked out of the airport and speed-walked over to the BX to grab a Subway and a six-pack of beer. We downed it in about 20 minutes and speed-walked back. While waiting I tried to call Emily but there was no answer. We re-boarded with our Army guys in their flak vests and took off for the middle-east. On the way there we passed into the darkness again, marking my second night, also marking the fourth anniversary of 9/11. Kind of surreal. You could see the fires (intentional, I assume) of the oil fields in Saudi Arabia as we passed over head. At around 1230 Tucson time (0230 Qatar) we touched down in my 28th country, Kuwait. It was strange being in the place that Saddam Hussein had stormed 15 years earlier. After filling up on water and dropping off our Army dudes we jumped back on the plane for the last leg.

1230-1630: 28 hours into trip

We touched down in Qatar at about 0330 local time in the dark. A First Sergeant that you would swear was a marine met us at the bottom step of the plane and shook all of our hands. Really cool. There is definitely a war going on here. Dudes with rifles everywhere, concrete bunkers all over the place. And lots and lots and lots of sand. We were quickly shuffled into a big hangar to check in with the personnel folks who gave us little idiot-bags (lanyard around your neck) to hold our ID’s. Then it was back outside for the “bag drag.”

Two HUGE trucks pulled up with all of our bags. Roughly 200 people, four bags each, with a max weight of 70 pounds per bag. That’s a lot of bags. We formed 2 lines and handed them over and over until they were put into rows, which took about an hour. Then came the mad rush to find them. I marked all of mine with colorful scarves, so I saw them go by when we were in line, but I had a hard time finding them when in the crowd. After about another half hour I found them and dragged them through the checkpoint into the base. My sponsor, fortunately, was waiting and after we rounded up Ben (his sponsor didn’t show) and his bags they hauled us off to the CAOC.

I can’t really say a whole lot about the place due to security reasons, except that it is the most heavily guarded and protected place I’ve ever been to. Also the most high tech. To say I was in awe when I walked in is an understatement. Wish I could say more—it’s very Tom Clancy-esk.

From there it was off to my room, where I will be staying until the guy I’m replacing departs in a week. I had envisioned a bedroom-type setup. I was wrong. The “cubicle” as I call it, is about half the size of my master bathroom back home. It has 2 bunkbeds and a small fridge, and that’s it. Smaller even, than my rooms in college at The Citadel. I got the room to myself, which was a blessing with my bags as it was tight to say the least. I wandered to the chow hall to get something to eat (more on that later) and finally crashed, roughly 33 hours after I left Emily.


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