Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chilling at Ali Al Salem

I'm sitting in an internet cafe at Ali Al Salem airbase in Kuwait. This is the portal for all US troops going into and out of Iraq. I arrived here yesterday afternoon and will leave this evening. Not much to do here, which right now is fine with me. I'm decompressing.

Yesterday was the first leg of the trip home. They picked us up at 8:30 so we could check in at Sather (the USAF base at Baghdad Airport) at 9 a.m. Our flight didn't load up until 1:30 in the afternoon. Think about that the next time you gripe about having to arrive at the airport a half-hour early! I ran into two friends, one from the Embassy and one from my Corps training, who were also on their way out for R&R. You know you're getting to be an old-timer when you're running into friends at the airport, I don't care where you are.

The last time I flew on a C-130, I learned that you want to sit in the very front or the very back. The reason is that the passenger "seats" are really four rows of red canvas netting running fore-and-aft, with two rows facing each other on the right (starboard) side and two on the left (port) side. If you sit in the middle of these rows, you're jammed in with people on all sides of you and your knees and feet are sandwiched in between the knees and feet of whoever is sitting across from you. If you're in the very front or the back, you have a good chance at some leg room. So this time, I tried really hard to drag behind the others on the cattle-march out to the plane. It worked. I wound up sitting in the very back of a row, with nobody in front of me and nobody to one side. For a C-130 flight, this was heaven!

Previously, when flying in and out of Baghdad, it seemed like we taxiied to the Green Zone and back before our takeoff roll. This time I was ready for another long trek, but we made about two turns and off we went. The flight was smooth and uneventful (yay!) and we landed in Kuwait about an hour and a half later. Then there was the admin of checking in, turning in my helmet and body armor, and finding someplace to crash for the night.

Now, remember: this is a temporary military base. Accommodations are, to coin a phrase, "spartan". You're assigned to a tent and get to pick your own rack. Once you get to the tent, you'll find that it has 8 sets of bunkbeds. That's it. A concrete floor, a heavy canvas tent, an a/c system (more on that in a minute), and 8 sets of bunks. The bunkbeds, by the way, have a mattress with a heavy waterproof canvas cover. No sheets, pillows, blankets, or other sissy folderal. You're expected to sleep in your clothes, like God intended.

I was fortunate in that there were only 8 of us in there last night. And none of my seven new best friends snored. So it was quiet. It was also cold. Our a/c system cycled on and off between two settings: icy and frickin' frigid. It got so bad that sometime in the middle of the night I got up and went over to the terminal. They were showing the Yankees/Twins baseball game on the big screen all night long (it played three times that I know of), but the terminal has big black floppy armchairs and is a bit warmer than the tent, so I was able to doze. Got up sometime around sunrise, about the time they started calling all the flights and the noise factor went way up. After sleeping in the arm chair, my legs just didn't want to work right, and I must've been quite a sight as I staggered out the door like a drunk. Back to the tent, which was warming up a bit under the sun, and I slept another three hours.

Sometime around 9, I finally got moving. Wandered over to the Green Bean for a cappuccino and a really good Danish and read the Stars and Stripes newspaper cover to cover. Later, I found the gym and pushed some weights around. Felt like a new man after a shower and change of clothes. Had a long lunch at the DFAC and then came over here. Sounds pretty exciting, huh? The rest of my afternoon is going to be more of the same, at least until they take us over to the airport.

But for now, I'm a happy man. I'm unwinding, decompressing, and getting ready to go home. Nothin's better than that!

1 comment:

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/14/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.