08 August, 2009

A Trip to the Desert

It took me a while to actually get internet access where I’m at. Now that I finally had it, I found that I’ve had a severe case of writer’s block. While much has happened in the last 30 days I figure I can tell you about our trip over here…

Our 4-day pass completed, we waited with anticipation to leave the place we’ve all grown tired of and get on with the mission. As much as many of us didn’t want to leave our families, we all knew that the sooner we got to Kuwait, the sooner we’d be home with our loved ones once again. Little did we know, getting to Kuwait wasn’t as easy of a process as we had hoped it would be.

We packed up our bags and tied up all the loose ends. After that it all we had to do was wait till the date and time we were told we were leaving. Eventually that date and time arrived and we loaded all of our bags onto the trucks that would bring everything to the airport. The funny thing was though, we didn’t have any idea we would not be leaving that day. So we unloaded our bags and waited another day. The next day they at least told us we weren’t leaving before we loaded the bags. Again, we waited another day. Then another… and another. It seemed like we were never going to get there! Eventually we were able to leave. Our bags were once again loaded and we jumped on the bus for the hour ride to the airport. I wasn’t sure what emotional state I expected myself to be in, but I was surprised I rode the bus full of excitement. Maybe it was because I wanted to get the mission started. Maybe it was because I was happy to finally be doing SOMETHING instead of sitting around and waiting to be told to get on the bus. Maybe it was because I wanted to leave the hell that is North Fort Hood. Whatever the reason, I felt my pulse quicken as we pulled into the airport and saw our home for the next 18 hours… the plane.

Getting off the bus I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew there’d be some sort of process we’d go through, but didn’t know what it was. I should have known it was more waiting in line. What would the Army be like if we didn’t have to wait in line? Wait in line to get your ID card swiped. Wait in line to get a seat for the briefings we’d do. Wait in line to Hug Ladyget some food. Wait in line to go to the bathroom. Finally wait for the briefings. The briefings were pretty standard stuff, but we did get a nice chat from the “hug lady” and she sure loved to hug! When the time finally came for us to actually get on the plane, she made sure to hug each and every one of us as we exited the building and stepped on the tarmac.

The plane wasn’t nearly as nice as I’d hoped. It was a 747 that was built in the 1960s…. and you could tell. The seats were old and worn, the air conditioning hardly worked, and the decorating hadn’t been updated since it was built. I laughed when they said they had movies to play as the projector they used was older than I was. From my seat I could hardly see the projector because it was so washed out. Luckily I had my iPod touch filled with music and movies, batteries enough for the trip, and 2 batteries for my laptop to keep me occupied. I also had a magazine and a book to read! Ready for the 18-hour journey, I was set for take off. I thought to myself that this was going to be unlike any plane ride I’d ever been on. And for the most part I was right. Maybe it was because I had my 9mm hand gun and my M4 in my seat with me?

The first leg of our trip took us from Fort Hood to Maine. Landing there we had a short layover. Enough to stretch your legs and grab a bite to eat. As we exited the terminal I began to hear clapping. Clapping became cheers. Cheers became hooting and hollering. As I turned the final corner I saw the Maine Troop Greeters, a group of patriotic citizens who come to the airport to greet Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen as they travel to and from Iraq. To be honest, it was a little overwhelming. At first I felt like a celebrity. How else would you feel if you had a crowd of people clapping and cheering, all wanting to shake your hand? At the same time, this was a group of strangers. Strangers who are taking time out of their day to come see you off and wish you safe travel. While I sincerely appreciate what they did, it was a lot to take in at the moment.

During the layover everybody did something a little different. Some called home for the last time on their cell phones. Others went and enjoyed a last smoke forMe at Maine several hours while others chatted about what to expect in the hours, days, and months to come. I treated a few of my soldiers to one last meal in the United States. After the meal I did make a final phone call home. As I was finishing up the phone call, a man named Chuck snapped a picture and I had to re-board the plane.

The plane ride was long, uncomfortable and boring. I don’t know how else to describe it.  I was able to watch a few movies. I was also able to read half my book. What I was unable to do, however, was sleep. Everybody around me slept most of the trip. I didn’t…. I couldn’t. Its not that I Airborn Sunrisewas nervous or any thing. I think its just because I don’t sleep on planes. Never have and probably never will. One thing that I was able to do though was watch the sunrise in the air. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life. My camera had died and I had somehow managed to lose the charger for it, so all I had was my cell phone. I doubt this picture does any justice to what I actually saw, but it may give you an idea. When I took this picture I didn’t realize that it would be the first of many sunrises I’d watch in a foreign land.

Emerald IsleWe were expecting to go to Germany to refuel and switch out the flight crew. I was pleasantly surprised that we stopped in the green lands of Ireland instead. Ireland is a place that I’ve wanted to visit most of my life, ever since I met a friend named Mark over 10 years ago when he came to live at the cabin with my extended family. Since then it has only been a dream to visit such a beautiful place. The landscape was just as I’d imagined it; just as Mark and his fiancé Denise described it. The people I met there were some of the most friendly people I’ve met in my life, even though most of us had trouble understanding them. My only regret was that I didn’t get to see my friends while I was there and I never got to leave the grounds of the airport. Maybe someday, hopefully soon, I’ll get to visit Ireland once again and spend some time with my friends from the Emerald Isle.

Me on PlaneAfter our stop in Ireland we re-re-boarded the plane for the final leg of our journey. Final stop: Kuwait City. This leg of the plane ride was about exciting as the first. The difference this time was that I was able to watch the sun set and then I did eventually fall into a restless sleep. I suppose an 18-hour plane ride will do that to you. I was startled awake by a very rude flight attendant practically yelling at me to put my laptop away as we were getting ready to land. She acted as if somehow I should have known in my sleep that we were about to land and I should put my laptop away. We landed in Kuwait and I had to wait in line again. This time it was to get off the plane. Man, were we all ready to get off that plane! I remember standing near the exit of the plane waiting for the blast of desert heat to hit me, but thinking “man this isn’t so hot”. I still remember how horribly wrong that thought was. When I actually stepped off the plane the heat was so intense I thought the exhaust from one of the jet engines must be hitting me. I then realized that the engines were BEHIND me! Even at the late hour we arrived, it was stifling hot outside. As uncomfortable as the heat made me, I knew I needed to get used to it as it would be with me for the next several months.

We got off the plane and instantly got onto a bus to travel to the base we would call home for a while. I don’t remember much of the bus ride. I do know a few things. First, it seemed shorter than it actually was. Second, I know that the speed of that bus would be highly illegal in the United States! Apparently, the posted speed limits in this country are a suggestion for most everybody.

After we arrived to our base we had to,  you guessed it, wait in line. Several more briefings later we were able to get into our barracks and bed down for the night. The accommodations we have are actually much nicer than I anticipated them to be. I’m fortunate enough to have only 2 roommates in our 6 man rooms. Obviously we have air conditioning as it is a MUST over here. Its taken us a while but now that we have a refrigerator, TV, Xbox 360, and internet, its starting to feel a little like home.

It is different adjusting to the changes though. Its weird calling home when everybody is 8 hours behind you. Sometimes I call home and forget about the time difference, feeling bad waking some people up. The heat is tough to get used to as well. Back home you don’t think that 95 is all that much hotter than 90. I’ll tell you now that 120 is a hell of a lot hotter than 115! The wind here is different as well. The wind never stops blowing during the day. Its as if somebody is constantly pointing a blow dryer at your face, if you can imagine a blow dryer that not only blows hot air but also fine grains of sand as well. Most of us were excited to get here and start the mission. Unfortunately mission had to wait because there was even more training to do before we could get to work. As I write this all the training is over and we have gone to work…. but I’ll write more on that later.

Now that I’ve been here a month, I’m starting to figure out what is normal for me. Obviously it would have been harder without support from home. I try and call as often as I can but its hard not to miss my parents and siblings, Nate, and the rest of my family and friends. The new normal is waiting until midnight to call home and hope people didn’t have to work late. Another new normal is going to Ops every day to pick up the mail for my soldiers and getting giddy when I get letters and packages (a special shout-out goes to the Moe’s for their AWESOME support). Back home when I go get the mail its usually full of bills and other crap I don’t really want. I’ve never been so excited for mail in my life! The last new normal in my life is the fact that I have to walk a block every time I go pee… I sure miss indoor plumbing!

I have a lot more to write about but I figure I’ve written enough for now, Me with Ronaldhopefully soon I’ll be able to tell you about some of the exciting things that have happened. Before I go, will tell you that I’m constantly amazed how much you take for granted until you’ve seen things in a different light. I will also tell you that I am amazed at how far America’s reach is…. I’ve found out that Subway, Burger King, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Baskin Robin’s, Starbucks, and Green Bean all taste exactly the same here…. 

Until Next Time,