Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Is it just me, or do you get a bitter-sweet feeling at those times that you are leaving one life behind and moving to another…like the last week at high school, or when you packed up and moved for your first real job? This past week has been like that – looking around at a dusty, ugly armed camp that has pretty much been the extent of my world since I first came here, and reflecting back on the experiences. Knowing that I won’t pass this away again, nor even sure that I would want to, but tremendously grateful that I had the chance to walk among heroes. I’m not sure what comes next, but I’ll meet it a little bit different man than I was before. And I guess that’s called living.

Certainly the world has more than enough folks that you’d just love to take hiking through quicksand pits, but I’ve had the great fortune to meet good folks in all circumstances and all lands. One of those folks is Guruprasad Mondal, who for the past five months has put food on my plate every evening. I never saw him but what he was pleasant, smiling, and gracious. Mondal has been working at the mess hall for about the past eight months, and is here on a two-year contract. Two years away from his home and family, and I’d bet that there’s no such thing as an R&R leave for him. Somehow over the past few months we managed to become friends across the serving line, even though we seldom had the opportunity to say more than a few words, and I wanted to leave him with some kind of souvenir. Probably something like a book with photographs of Texas would have been appropriate, but those are remarkably scarce in this part of the world, and Brown doesn’t deliver to this Zip code. Finally settled on a presentation coin that I received from the 22nd MP Battalion when they left, and gave it to him as I went through the line. Actually, my original plan had been to give it to him just before we left so that he wouldn’t have time to reciprocate, as I didn’t’ want him spending any part of what he made on a gift on me, but with our departure date yo-yoing back and forth I decided to just give it to him at the first opportunity. The next evening (my last at beautiful downtown Camp Liberty) when I went through the line, he got someone to cover his position and brought over a plastic AAFES (Army & Air Force Exchange Service) bag with a t-shirt and card in it, shook my hand and told me that I was his friend and his brother.

That t-shirt is a keeper.

At last the day that our replacements thought would never come: we were moving out, and they could inherit our trailers. Pathetic when people can look forward so eagerly to having their very own half of big closet to live in, but our spaces were highly coveted by guys who had been living like refugees for the past two weeks. Ben Franklin once observed that fish and guests both stink after 3 days…and as far as our replacements were concerned, we were definitely developing an odor.

I was a little concerned that the Loyal Opposition might not have the chance to give us a proper goodbye, but I worried for nothing. Ol’ Mohammed got up about 0130 the morning we left to lob in a few mortar rounds for old times sake and let us know he cared. One of them rattled the trailer, but since there were no new holes I didn’t see much point in leaving a warm bed and giving Mohammed the satisfaction of ruining a goods night’s sleep.

Did I say the “day” that we moved out? Actually, it was more like night. We met under the Iraqi moonlight for one last time to dance the duffle shuffle and pitch them in the back of what the Army eloquently calls an LMTV (Light Medium Tactical Vehicle). Its single most salient feature is that the bed is about, oh, thirty feet off the ground or so, and it’s *@!% difficult to throw a 90 lb duffle bag in it without hurting something useful. As usual, my highly skilled detachment of soldiers executed the maneuver with typical finesse…which is to say that the Taji crew were still asleep at 0400, the truck driver was recovering from a night of computer games, and the Special Agent-in-Charge couldn’t find his rifle. All in all, something less than an auspicious start to our departure, but then, any movement toward leaving Iraq is a good omen. Just before we left we heard a chopper going out and looked up just in time to see a Chinook firing off some flares as he crossed outside the fence line.

Even though we got off to a late start, there’s nothing like leaving a war zone to get you motivated, and we moved out pretty much on schedule, arriving at the APOD (Aerial Point of Departure…sheesh, couldn’t they just say airfield?!!) about 0530, just in time to sign up for space available on the next available flight, which turned out to be leaving at 0730. In the meantime, we got to cool our heels in a tent that George Washington probably slept under, and hadn’t been cleaned since then, either. Still, when you’re headed home, any accommodation looks like a 4 star, and everyone was happy except Taz.

Taz, you see, doesn’t like mice. I mean, he REALLY doesn’t like mice, even though the hospitable little rodents were kind enough to share their tent with us. Taz got his nickname from always moving in a whirl like the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character, and boy, was he ever in form that day jumping from mouse to mouse. I was profoundly grateful that we had turned in all our ammo before we left the base.

Much to my surprise, the C130 showed up right on schedule, and our friendly neighborhood Air Force representative told us that he was going to swing by and keep the engines running, so just pile in the back. If you’ve ever flown in a C130, you know that the seating accommodations are about like being snared in a fishing net, and this was no exception. On the bright side, it wasn’t all that crowded, and this one wasn’t dripping hydraulic fluid on me like the one I arrived in.

We will now observe a moment of silence in appreciation of the Rhode Island Air National Guard for providing transportation out of Iraq. A scrawny little state, maybe, but their Air Guard certainly does great things – like haul Texas boys out of Iraq and into Kuwait. Come to think of it, the C130 I arrived on was an Air Guard plane – Kansas, I think. Just exactly what is it we’re paying the Active Duty Air Force for, anyway?

Prior to this ride I was pretty convinced that C130 pilots made the softest landings of anyone I had ever flown with, but I now realize my error. They just throw the plane around the sky so hard that when you finally do crash onto the runway you hardly notice it. On the bright side, if anyone was shooting at us, they missed, and I gotta admit we would have been a darned hard target to get a bead on. If anyone ever asks, you can tell them it’s about a 45 minute flight from Baghdad to Kuwait City, as the C130 flies.

Camp Doha looks much better as you’re leaving than when you’re entering. For one thing, I arrived about 0200 in the morning, got marched straight through a briefing, and shuttled off to a flight about 4 hrs later. This time we came in at 11 in the morning, got assigned to some billets that actually had bed frames and a mattress, even if it was all set up in an old warehouse. Truth be told, we were living large for the circumstances.

I think the thing that struck me the most was the disorientation I felt. The day before I was in a combat zone, and now I’m walking around a base with signs telling you that you can’t park military vehicles in front of the PX, and no weapons are allowed in the mess hall. Not, of course, that they provide any place like a locker for you to secure your weapon, but I guess they figure a good soldier would figure out how to make sure his weapon didn’t get stolen. I accomplished that by carrying my weapon in the PX, and I felt like Lizzie Borden walking into choir practice with a hatchet. I noticed that I was developing a distinct impatience with garrison niceties, and much preferred the atmosphere at the forward bases. I figure that’s probably a normal reaction, but I’d enjoy hearing from any Veterans reading if they had the same experience.

Saturday morning we had to show up at the customs tent at 0930 in the morning to have our duffle bags searched and then sealed up for transportation to the airport. Perfectly reasonable concept, except that each one of us has three duffle bags, and the customs tent is about a half mile way. But, as I’ve pointed out before, I know the Army loves me and will take care of its little boy Jerry, so I called on the Chairman of the Movement Assistance Office (MAO) and requested a little movement assistance.

I was assisted in moving right out of his office. It seems that a contingent of only 5 people doesn’t rate a movement mission. Now, if there had been ten of us, well, of course he could have helped. It was becoming painfully clear to me that Chairman MAO was not going to be the source of my aching back’s salvation.

Clearly I was going to have to put my college degree to work and come up with a solution.

One thing I noticed about Camp Doha was that it was over-run with NTV’s (non-tactical vehicles, or regular ol’ cars and SUV’s). So I staked out a Chevrolet Suburban by the mess hall and pounced on the driver when he showed up. Putting on my best “Help a Buddy” expression, I convinced the driver, an Air Force sergeant, that his life would be forever enriched for hauling our bags in his nice, beautiful truck. The Silver Tongued Devil strikes again! Wojo scrounged through his bags and found a presentation coin we got from the 22nd MP Bn, and gave it to him in recognition of his service to his country, and us. I felt like I’d just bought Manhattan for trinkets!

Much to my relief our purloined truck showed up the next morning on time, and we got our bags into the inspection tent right on time. Customs did a fairly respectable job of searching our stuff, then we loaded the bags into the back of a truck which was sealed, and driven off to the airport. A few hours later we went through customs with our carry-on baggage, and that inspection was much more thorough. As I’ve come to expect on military flights, I could take my rifle and pistol aboard, but they wouldn’t let me bring my pocket knife.

At about 1800, we were locked down in a holding area, and at 2130 we were herded into a convoy of 5 busses and one armored HUMVEE, and made our way out to Doha airport, which is about a 30 minute ride. Each bus had one “shooter” on it, a soldier picked more or less at random and given one, count’em, ONE lousy 30 rd magazine with which to defend the bus if we were attacked. Other than that, our only response to an attack was to get close enough to club’em to death with our empty rifles. I guess that was the shooter’s job – provide suppressive fire while we snuck up on the main body and beat’em into submission. I must have slept through that class on military strategy.

Around 2230 we boarded one of the most beautiful MD-11’s I believe I have ever seen, or am likely to ever see again. Do I need to tell you that everyone cheered when the plane left the runway?


Blogger Billy the Kid said...

Hey Chief!
Once again you create a great posting! Wish I were there with you guys! Take it easy and best of luck to you and the rest of the DET!

Saturday, February 26, 2005  
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Wednesday, March 21, 2007  

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