Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bag Drag - Final

To try and catch everyone up on how the 3rd & final phase of the “bag drag” took place seems an ominous task at this stage of the game. I’ve been here on-station for 3 days now and it has been so extremely hectic that the trip here is almost a distant memory.

Here is a pic of me awaiting my flight in Baltimore.

After we left Germany, we flew to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, a little country off the Western edge of Saudi Arabia that almost resembles a thumb sticking up. For those of you that know your geography, you’ll realize that we flew from way North of Afghanistan, to a country way South of it. Wha…???? Yeah… me too. I don’t know why either, but someone smarter than me knows out there. ;-)

Anyway, at Al Udeid, we in-processed through several different stations, and buildings, got issued even “more” items, such as heavy body armor, chemical gear, medical kits and such that we now had to include in our already-monstrous bag drag. Ugh. After a few hours of rushing around, then – of course – “waiting” (don’t forget the “Hurry up and wait!” mantra), we boarded a C-130 cargo plane for Afghanistan. If you don’t know what a C-130 is, let alone know what it’s like to fly in the belly of one, then ooohhhhhh you are missin’ out! Besides the uncomfortable red cargo-strap seats you sit on for hours, you are literally sardined in there, side-by-side with all your new best friends that are just as uncomfortable as you. You are sitting knee-to-groin with the person(s) across from you as well, so if you become uncomfortable – and you will! – then shift around carefully so you don’t have the guy sitting across from you cursing you in his new-found Mickey Mouse voice! Ouch!!

Past experience in C-130’s has also taught me to dress warmly from head to toe because it’s cold at 30,000 feet in a cargo jet not known for its amenities nor designed for passengers’ comfort. As many times as I’ve graced the inside of one while being transported to and fro, it has – without fail – been one of the coldest, ice-pack-like, experiences I’ve been exposed (ha!) to. So I boarded this lovely example of a C-130 H-model from the Nashville Air National Guard, I sat down, confident, even somewhat cocky, from my keen sense of preparedness – and then it hit me…. "It’s WARM in here!! In fact, it's down right HOT! Huh???"

The military will teach you to be prepared for anything and to have a plan in place, but every General officer will also tell you that on the first day of any war, the battle plan gets thrown out the window. Well, so much for "my" battle plan. The next five hours in the air was miserable, with pools of sweat soaking through my many layers. Since we were strapped and crammed in, it wasn't like we could just get up and, ohhh…… take our coat off! *shaking head* That was a long flight. ‘Nuff said!

We landed at my old stomping grounds at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Again, for you geography buffs out there, let me illustrate: We flew from South of Kabul to a location now North of Kabul. Why didn’t we land in Kabul? Again, a fine, fine question that I don’t have an answer to.

Once landing in Bagram, we were treated quite auspiciously to the fine offerings the military transient is usually afforded on such a journey – a massive tent filled with cots and about 300 other soldiers! ;-) After bag-dragging yet again, we stuffed everything in and around the cots we secured and then were told to hang out for the night until the next flight out to Kabul the next morning. (that is my cot in the center of the picture - not much room to move around)
The trip to Kabul began about 0500 the next morning. We stumbled around outside, still half asleep and quite under-dressed, trying to find the port-o-johns in the freezing darkness. Soon after we were packing, quietly as possible to avoid awakening the 293 other sleeping bears, and by 0600 we were loading two trucks in the frigid air, “rushing” down to the passenger terminal (hereto referred to as the "PAX Terminal") to catch our flight. It seems that we had been given some bad info the night before on when our show-time should have been. We were told 0600, but what it really ended up being was 0445! Somehow we got all those bags loaded, transported, and palletized (stacked and strapped on a aircraft cargo pallet) in only 30 minutes! It was truly a major accomplishment! Success! Now all we have to do is catch our flight that literally leaves in a few minutes, right? Wrong! We rushed over to the PAX Terminal, passed everyone else in line because we were already manifested on the flight... and then waited… and uhhhh.....waited some more. We were all just sitting there and nothing was happening. Finally, I inquired with our commander and he said that we were on flight "####" (which I already knew) and that they don't post the actual "take off" times.... Well, I've been down this road before at Bagram several times so I went back into the other PAX building and started asking the people behind the PAX counter for answers.... and THAT is where we learned that the flight had maintenance issues. Maintenance issues??!! I politely informed her that there are several of us still waiting for that flight and that we didn't know what was going on. So she grabbed the mic and made an announcement over the intercom. By the time I walked back to where the other guys were, the commander saw me walk up and said, reassuredly... (wanna take a guess???).... *grin* "The plane has maintenance issues and is grounded until they fix them".... Ummmm.... ok sir! (*lol*) I paused, smiled, and then just kept walking, never saying a word. *grin*

Ok... several hours later the "maintenance issues" were fixed and we loaded onto a bus with all our gear and they taxied us out onto the runway to load onto the C-130. We had to put on full battle-rattle (armor, Kevlar, etc.) for this trip which surprised me somewhat.... in all that time I sat at the PAX terminal, lots of other flights left for other locations around Afghanistan.... many of which I know are fairly hostile environments. But they didn't have to armor up. And we had to??? Hmmm..... not a revelation that gives you a warm fuzzy. Anyway, the flight to Kabul was quick.... maybe 20 minutes at most... we landed, opened up the rear of the aircraft, and they just threw our stuff out and we were on our own. We buddied up and started carrying each others' gear but there were a few Army guys on board too, and they just left their stuff there on the plane.... the C-130 Loadmaster called out and said... "Um, you guys need to come back and get all this stuff!".... She did't know it wasn't ours, but being the kind, understanding Flyboys we were, we first dropped off our stuff we were already carrying, and then walked all the way back out to the plane and got their stuff too. Then the plane took off, just as soon as we walked away.

Luckily, at that point, Captain Preis, from the unit we're replacing at ISAF, was there to get us set up on a ride down to the ISAF facility. Finally some help! He met us and helped us get situated. Because our flight was delayed, we missed our scheduled ride with the Brits (British Army) down to ISAF so we had some time to kill there at KAIA as they refer to it. (Kabul International Airport) They had a few Afghani shops and restaurants there so we did a little shopping and perusing, then ate at the chow hall. I bought some knock-off Oakley sunglasses for $7 and some good Swiss Toblerone chocolate at the German PX. YUM!!!

When it came time for the ride down to Kabul, the British convoy commander gave us our ROE (Rules of Engagement) brief in case anything should "happen" along the way.... we loaded up, packed like sardines (5 each) into the back of two different up-armored British LandRover SUV’s and started the nervous trek through the wild, wild west through downtown Kabul to the ISAF compound. The roads at first were very rough.. barely even pavement, with lots of bumps and holes bouncing us around inside, then it turned into a paved road and it was better, but the traffic is CRAZY here! There are no stoplights, no stop signs (“observed” anyway), and people u-turn or merge with no warning. Kids and adults, alike, nonchalantly walk across the street in traffic... mules and old wagons slowing down traffic.... and then there were the warning signs we were briefed to look out for, such as sudden moves by vehicles headed in your direction... people standing for no reason on the side of the road... unusual objects abandoned alongside the road. Probably the scariest thing that happened was a truck that was speeding in our direction who then turned RIGHT at us and we had to hit the brakes. The Brits used some “flowery expletives” to each other and over the radio..... but we just sat there in the back, weapons loaded, ready to engage if we had to.... but luckily, he was just a guy in a hurry.

What is funny to me now is that none of this even bothered me. It was all the same stuff I've seen before here in Afghanistan, and especially in Baghdad. But for one of the passengers from our unit, who shall remain nameless to protect his identity, it was a nerve-wracking experience. He's never been deployed before and this was his "first" experience in a real combat zone. Once we reached base here, he said, quite seriously, "I'm glad that's over!.... One more time down that road (when he leaves for home) at that's IT for me!..."

When we reached base here, one of the guys from the outgoing unit was already standing by waiting on us.... he helped us through the in-processing and getting rooms and the whole bit. One thing that was actually great about that was of the seven people here so far from the 182nd, only three of us got "permanent" billeting... everyone else got temporary housing - including the commander! The three people????? Well it's me, Scotti, and Bixby - my battle buddies from our two past deployments to Iraq & Afghanistan. The “veterans” if you will. *grin* This base is packed "tight", so the three of us share a single room that is about 15' X 8'. That's it!... That holds us, three beds, three wall lockers, a desk, a small set of shelves, a space heater and ALL of our gear!.... Needless to say, it is crowded in here! But I'd rather be with these two guys than anyone else.... so I'm not complaining one bit. Plus.... the internet works in this room and life is good!

We’re here!

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Ky Woman said...

Welcome back to the Suck.
Surely does sound like you have had quite a ride so far.
We'll be praying here stateside, just keep your head on swivel...

Gloria said...

Ken glad you finally made it sorry I missed you the other day. Maybe we will talk another time.

spellchecker35 said...

Glad to see that Ellie was resting comfortably in Germany with you!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken, Cant believe your still in the service......Hope you are well..... T

mahoy78spyder said...

Well... I retired Sep 30, 2009, but yeah... 23 years and I finally hung up my hat. Believe it or not, I still own my red Monza Spyder too... although it is a little worn and rough around the edges now... not too different from me. ;-) I am well... How are you "T"?