I'm here, finally.
After an hour long helicopter flight, I finally made it to Tikrit on Tuesday.
After skimming over the outskirts of Baghdad, the landscape slowly changed until it became...nothing. For as far as the eye could see--nothing. Just an endless sea of sand. I've seen this before, while flying over Saudi Arabia in the 90's, where we would fly for hours and not see anything but sand. It was a little different than that, though, as we went further north. The horizon, which was hazy enough, slowly began to disappear until it blended into the desert itself. There was so much dust in the air that the desert seemed to just blend and then overtake the blue sky itself. By the time we landed in Tikrit, in an enormous cloud of dust, the only place I could find blue in the cloudless sky was straight over my head--and that was kind of hard to see too.
The job should prove interesting. On a base of hundreds of American and international personnel, I am one of three Air Force people. This has plusses and minuses.
When I was in Qatar I was one of thousands. As a result I fell into a group of about a dozen people that hung out together, and we became close. I blended in to the massive crowd of blue and green (or tan, I guess). Here--the big news on the compound is that there's a new Lt Col in town. In 36 hours I met no less than 50 civilians. Eventually I caught a clue and started writing everyone's name down. In the military, everyone wears a nametag. I might seem like I immediately remember your name, but the reality is I just look at your nametag.
"Hi...uhhh..." Look at nametag. "Joe!"
Can't do that here. Everyone's wearing civvies.
My job is also way out of my area of expertise. I'm essentially responsible for massaging all the dozens of contracts that the Iraqi Air Force has hired to get their training program off the ground. In typical fashion, there isn't a single company name that isn't spelled with an acronym. "He's from Triple Whisky." "ABC has that job." Not only do I not know what the acronym is, or what it stands for, I don't even know what the company does. I'm picking it up, but once I hit my limit of 100 acronyms for the day, it starts becoming gibberish to me. During a brief the other day the Army put a new acronym on a slide. It was sixteen letters. Sixteen. And it didn't even spell anything. Something like "The Office That Runs the Water to Supply the People Who are Responsible to Fuel the Trucks to Carry the Water to the Office that Fixes the Pipes to Carry the Water to the Office that Runs the Water (OTRWSPWRFTCWOFPCWORW)." No shit. I cracked up and everyone in my office looked at me weird.
Yesterday was the first day I felt like I had a clue. Like a 15% clue. Shooting for 20% today.