Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Back on my FOB

The return trip from a wonderful 15 days of R&R is a voyage that I believe is designed to inflict the maximum agony possible on soldiers. This may be to get our heads back in the game, to get us thinking about our jobs and not dwelling on how wonderful it is to be away from here for even a fleeting moment. Or maybe it is just bureaucratic laziness on the parts of those soldiers and contractors whose job it is to move soldiers back "up north". Either way, it's a journey to be endured, not enjoyed.
After the pain of saying goodbye again to MDW (My Darling Wife) and our kids, a task that never gets easier or less painful, the journey began. I flew from Minneapolis to Dallas on a commercial flight and connected there with a military charter to Kuwait. As an aside, the veterans groups in the Dallas area that assist soldiers on leave in the DFW airport are SAINTS! Helpful, appreciative, and generous. I cannot thank them enough. Anyway, after a halfhearted attempt to miss the flight and get a night in a Dallas hotel on the Army's dime, I boarded a Military charter flight to Kuwait. I scored here, as an E8 Master Sergeant, I got one of the few First Class seats on the 18 hour flight! It all went downhill from there. We landed in Kuwait 18 hours and 8 time zones later, and boarded busses for the 30 minute ride to Camp Doha. It was about 10:30 at night local, I have no clue what time my body thought it was. Our first stop at Camp Doha was at a warehouse where we were re-issued our Body Armor and Helmets. I hadn't missed those 35 pounds at all. We then formed up according to our final destination in Iraq. I had departed Iraq via BIAP (Baghdad international airport) and was under the impression I would return via BIAP, but at this formation all of us bound for my FOB (Forward Operating Base) were told that we would be returning via another airbase, Balad. No problem. We moved into a large auditorium for a return briefing and to get our flight schedules. I requested a flight to Balad and was told to be back at 9:00 am for my flight. Great. We picked up our baggage and got billeting. They "stored" us in huge warehouses filled with bunks, and because it is a 24 hour operation, they never shut off the lights. So, by now it is about 0230 local time, and I have no idea what my body clock thought. I got about 4 hours of sleep, then headed of to find out about my flight. That is when I discovered that flights to Balad were backed up 5 days. 5 Days! In a warehouse under blazing lights on a postage stamp of a camp with nothing to do. The only way to get out faster is to go to every "roll call" for flights to your destination and hope someone doesn't show up so you can jump in their seat. Not a very effective strategy, but you gotta try! That was not successful. 4 days later, 1LT K, my traveling partner, and I thought we were finally getting on a flight. His name gets called, mine doesn't. Turns out I am not even on the waiting list! I proceed into a major First Sergeant like rage, which doesn't get me on the flight but does get me assured that I will be on the next one. Another LT told me later that day that my name was called at a roll call for BIAP! That certainly explained why I was not on the Balad list. I check that evening and I am again assured I am on the next flight out in the morning. So at 0700, I check again and I am NOT on the list for the 0800 flight. This time the problem gets fixed, probably out of fear of my reaction if it's not, and 6 hours and an uncomfortable C130 ride later, I am back in Iraq. In Balad, a very helpful E4 schedules me for a flight the next night and gets me billeting in a room with a light switch! Finally, a decent meal, a good night's sleep, and a flight that leaves on time. And I had to go to Iraq to get it. 24 hours later, I am back on my FOB, far more appreciative of it's limited charms. Who knew.

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