Iraq! So good to be back in the dusty barreness. By the luck of the Irish we arrived in Tikrit on Tuesday (yesterday) after a rather tumultous trip from Ft. Benning, GA.
Our flight departed Ft Benning on Friday afternoon a few hours earlier than the last time I left for the Middle East. My spirits were high as the first 6.5 hour flight, the 6 hour layover in Ireland and the second 6 hour flight passed by painlessly. I should have known that nothing involving Iraq and the military can be so seemless.
When we arrived in Kuwait City on Saturday night, we took the familiar blackout convoy to Ali Al Salem base where it was confirmed than our team was NOT manifested for a flight to Tikrit. Lovely. As we watched the teams around us depart for their respected stations (Baghdad, Balad, Bagram & Kuwait) we became passengers traveling on the dreaded Space A list. Essentially this is like flying standby in the commercial world, but unlike United, American & Delta, in the military world people who are mission essential or who out-rank you bump you off the list for standby spots. To top it off, it rained off and on the entire night and our ridiculously heavy duffel bags were piled up outside and we were to exhausted to schlep them inside!
So there was a flight out that Sunday morning at 0500 which we waited up for all night to find out we didn't qualify for a standby seat. We then had to wait another hour and a half to make the accountability roll call before we could head to billeting and receive bunks in a tent for our impending wait at Ali Al Salem. If you recall from the last deployment, there are 16 people in a tent with no pillows or bedding, you have to perpetually guard your belongings from theft and the lights are on 24/7. I slept on the airplane pillow I snagged from the flight and my poncho liner which spreads out like a blanket. I then took every piece of cloth I owned, T-shirt, towels, sweatshirt and strung them up around the bunk (thank heavens bottom) to cave out the light.
I slept amazingly from 7:30am to 3pm, got up, showered and the team went to dinner at 5:00pm. We then headed back to the terminal tent for another roll call and discovered we had a shot at getting on a flight at 3:00am. So I slept from 9:00pm to 1:30am and was back at the terminal at 2:30am. They announce there are 15 standby seats available. Hallelujah! We check out of our tents, drag our duffels back to the terminal to wait for the flight briefing at 4:00am. At that time we palatized our bags (assembled them to be loaded on the plane) and went back for our last briefing at 5:30am. 5:30 rolls around...."Ladies and gentleman there's been a change of plans. The flight to Al Sahara has been scratched." :-(
Alas. Back to billeting. Back to the tent. Back to sleep. Later that evening we went to chow again and showed up at 8:30pm for the accountability roll call. At that point we learned that the team currently in Tikrit was able to space block us (reserve us) a flight for the next morning! Wahoo! The flight wasn't until 9:30am and the prospect of a good chunk of sleep was exciting for all, but sure enough, I was wide awake at 4:30am, my body's sleep schedule too messed up to understand I could get more than a few hours.
We got off easily enough on our flight and to top it all off, we ended up sharing the fly with the USO's celebrity tour guests, a contingent of WWF and WWE wrestlers! Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart, Brian Knobbs and then two female wrestlers SoCal Val and Traci Brooks flitted around taking pictures and cracking jokes. It was hilarious to watch them travel with us on a C-130, a totally legit military flight. The Hammer looked too stoned to know he was in a war zone, the girls periodically reapplied their lip gloss and Brian Knobbs kept raising his eyebrows and winking at me. All and all a great way to cap off the crazy last 4 days.
We've been in Tikrit about a day and a half now and it's extremely different than Baghdad...night and day, but I'll save that for my next entry. Thanks for reading!