Friday, July 31, 2009

Day 95 (Thursday July 2, 2009)

Dust everywhere...

Having completely lost track of time, we arrived in Kuwait sometime after midnight. Prior to departing the plane, once again, our temperatures were taken to rule out the potential of Swine Flu…they take that pretty seriously over here. We moved directly onto a bus and were taken to a staging area, waiting for a couple of hours and finally moved into Base Ali A-Salam. Even in the middle of the night it was quite warm out…likely 90 degrees…and the lights in the horizon glowed with a halo as dust swirled through the air.

At approximately 0500, we were greeted by our Navy Liaison Team and moved through some brief in-processing before grabbing breakfast. The DFAC (dining facility) was pretty good. All the food overseas is catered by a company called KBR. Just following breakfast, our Navy team along with the Air Force and Army personnel on the airplane, unloaded the baggage from the trucks and began sorting the bags into teams. Once accomplished, we reloaded the bags onto the trucks and were bused to Camp Virginia, where we would be staying for the next few days.

Our barracks during these days were 12 man (no gender discrimination implied) tents with cots for beds. Luckily, as part of our gear, we were given a sleeping bag and Thermarest ¾ inch inflatable mattress pad. It’s all good.

(Everyone getting settled in the 12-man tents)

Because we had arrived so early, we had one more task for the day. This evolution was similar to the Hum-V rollover training we had at Fort Riley. However, this training was for the MRAP…a bigger Hum-V, if you will.

(Working on 40 hours without real sleep...Jerry doesn't look happy)

(Andrew sleeping...but hard to tell with the shades on...)

(Inside of the bus we took to the training site)

(40 plus hours up and I'm a little numb at this point)

Completely baked from a long trip, having been awake for 48 hours, nothing left to do but go to sleep. By the way, for my own memory, my feet were so swollen from being up on them most of the trip I thought congestive heart failure had set in…yikes!

Day 94 (Wednesday July 1, 2009)

I'm hot and sweaty...not in a good way

As we were getting ready to take off from Baltimore, I received a text message from Andrew congratulating me on my promotion from Lieutenant to Lieutenant Commander. Thanks Andrew. July 1st was my effective date of promotion.

Flying overseas, 4 movies later and countless attempts to fall asleep, we landed in Germany at approximately 1500. It was a 6-7 hour flight, but Germany is 8 hours ahead of Baltimore. Once in Germany, I made my way to the bathroom and freshened up, as so many of the troops were doing. Again, the USO had some hygiene supplies for brushing your teeth, washing your face and putting on deodorant…love that USO. Two hours later, we boarded the 767 again and set out on another 5 hour journey to Kuwait. On the plane, the first movie showed was Ironman. It was somewhat ironic considering the opening scene in Afghanistan.

Day 93 (Tuesday June 30, 2009)

Here we go...

Big Day! The trip overseas truly began. We loaded our bags onto the bus at about 0830 and left Fort Riley by 0945. Each one of us (25 in all) had 4 sea bags (green duffel bags), 1 ruck sack (like a large mountaineering backpack) and a carry-on bag (personal backpack) for the trip. In addition, as a team, we also had 12 gun cases with our personal weapons inside (locked of course). Mind you, that’s 125 large bags weighing around 40-70 pounds each and 12 more gun cases. This will be vital information as the trip progresses. As a means of loading them, we formed a line and handed the bags one by one down the row to the last person, who would place them in the bus. It may not sound like much, but it took us about 15 minutes and we were all a bit sweaty by the end...glad I put deodorant on.

(Bus trip from Fort Riley, Kansas to Kansas City International Airport)

Traveling by bus to Kansas City International Airport, we watched “Wedding Crashers” on the overhead monitors for the entire trip. It certainly helped pass the time. By 1200, we reached our destination and unloaded our baggage onto the curb.

(Curbside at the airport)

The following process I am about to describe is quite complex and likely took years of education to procure. (no sarcasm at all)

(It may not look like much...but that's my luggage for the deployment)

On a large, wheeled cart, we loaded the equivalent of 2 team members’ gear and pushed it into the Southwest Airlines terminal where we unloaded them. 13 trips later, all the baggage was in the terminal. Subsequently, all the baggage was tagged in the same manner one would see on any airline. This next part is fabulous. After tagging all the bags, we (again) loaded them onto the wheeled carts and moved them 30 feet to be scanned by the X-ray machine and finally loaded on the plane (I feel bad for the poor souls that had to load all our bags onto the plane…they probably needed a massage afterwards). Obviously, I’m writing this in retrospect, and the continual movement of these bags from point to point throughout our journey was 1) laborious 2) never ending and 3) riddled with poor planning. Sometimes it’s best to work smart…not hard. We chose the latter.

Following a quick bite of lunch, we all moved past the security lines and into the gated area where many of us, including me, Skyped our loved ones. By 1450 we were flying to Baltimore and landed around 1830. The trip was uneventful, yet as the passengers were set to depart the plane, the Southwest Airlines flight attendant made an announcement. In honor of our country’s armed forces, they would allow us to depart first. Everyone on the plane clapped in approval. I’ve heard stories of this happening, but to actually be there; I was honored.

We claimed our bags, put them on carts and wheeled them from one end of the airport to the other, to a terminal I had never heard of…Air Mobility Command. This is apparently the main airline tasked with sending our troops overseas. After checking all my bags, I made my way down to the USO site and proceeded to Skype once more. I love this Skype; what a great tool. By the way, the USO (Uniformed Services Organization) is an organization that, by way of donation, provided free creature comforts to service men and women in different venues. They offered free sodas, juices, candy, soup, sleeping accommodations, showers, a place to watch movies and free internet wi-fi. What a wonderful thing to provide our troops.

(Rob and Holly pushing luggage in the Baltimore airport)

(That's a lot o' luggage)

(Wolf lookin' tough)

(Both Lach and Travis are pointing...but one can you see which finger Travis is using?)

(Fascinated by pictures with luggage...?)

Always pushing the time limits, I just made it through the security line in time for our flight to board. We stepped inside the plane at roughly 2230. It was a 767, chartered flight for military services. As I sat on the plane, talking with Isabella, time seemed to drag on with no advancement in our position. Approximately one hour later, the attendants informed us that there was a weight and balance issue. Over the course of the next 2 hours of waiting, the 15-20 civilian passengers were asked to exit the plane and the attendants counted the passengers about 20 times. It became humorous after a while, watching the attendants continually walk up and down the aisles, pointing at the passengers, silently mouthing numbers. I wanted to randomly shout out various numbers to throw off their count, but after 3 hours of waiting, my patience was growing thin and I simply wanted to get in the air. Finally, by 0130, we took off and made our way to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.

(Chief D givin' the thumbs up on the plane)

Day 91-92 (Sun-Mon June 28-29, 2009)


Back at it...

Realizing this day would come; I was still dreading it. I had enjoyed a fabulous 3 weeks off in which I was able to visit family and friends and spend some much needed time with Isabella. This morning, she took me to the airport at 0630, and after a difficult goodbye, I hopped the plane returning to Fort Riley, Kansas. The day was filled with travel as Andrew, Mike and I all left San Diego, spent a few hours in Denver and eventually landed in Kansas City where we were met by the Navy Liaison Team and transported another 2 hours back to Fort Riley. Considering the 2 hour time difference from San Diego to KC, we traveled for about 10 hours and arrived in our barracks at 2030. After unpacking we felt the need to burn a little energy and worked out for a couple hours. I made a few calls and then hit the rack.


Packing and taking my temperature...

We awoke this morning with a few items on the agenda. We checked out personal weapons out of the armory, ensured our military IDs were encoded properly for checking into Kuwait, had our temperatures taken to see if we had the Swine Flu (apparently, if you had a temperature, addition testing and quarantining would occur) and received our finally itinerary for the big trip to come, beginning tomorrow morning. In between all of these little tasks, we all spent some time packing and repacking our sea bags for the trip. The packing strategy involved ensuring accessibility to 5 or so days worth of clothes, bathroom supplies and whatever else one wanted…in case we couldn't get to our additional sea bags, or the bags were lost in transit (how’s that for a comforting thought…apparently, it doesn’t only happen on commercial flights).

(40 man barracks at Fort Riley nearly empty as we pack up our bags)