Sunday, February 1, 2009

On My Way to Qatar

This particular little adventure started with me waking up in my cage at HQ ISAF in Kabul. The time was 0600ish. I grabbed my crap and headed over to the office where I met up with Greg (our driver), DJ (another Navy LT), and a new USArmy major who is going to be working in my office for a while. It was a nice day by Kabul standards, with only the slightest hint of murk in the air:

The plan was to take off at 0700 for the Kabul airport so I could hitch a ride on a flight to Bagram Airfield where I'd find my way off and away and out of Afghanistan for a bit. The new major would be joining me so I could run him around Bagram and introduce him to all of the personalities that he'd have to work with in the course of his time at the HQ. DJ was along for the ride so that Greg wouldn't have to drive back from the airport alone. In Afghanistan, driving alone is a dangerous proposition.

We got to the Kabul International Airport at about 0740, just in time to learn that a flight had left for Bagram at 0736. Then we got put on the standby list for a flight that was leaving at 1400. The flight only had seven manifested passengers, but it also only had eight seats. We were in place seven and eight on the standby list.

As luck would have it, almost none of the manifested passengers showed up for the flight. We handed off our baggage, armor, and helmets to an Air Force NCO so he could load them onto the plane and then followed a civilian out to our aircraft. The plane looked like it was probably state-of-the-art in 1969 and the pilot looked like he might have been a veteran of the CIAs "Air America" network in Southeast Asia in about the same timeframe. In his words, "you'll want to wear your earplugs, because the aircraft's pretty loud. But fortunately, it makes up for it by being slow."

The flight time from Kabul to Bagram was about ten minutes. Along the way I snapped a few pictures of the Afghan countryside from the air, complete with smog:

Although I didn't have any reason to doubt the pilot's abilities, the view through the cockpit windows was a tiny bit unsettling:

Once we landed in Bagram I checked in with the reception desk and found out that folks like me going to Qatar had to attend a brief the following morning at 0830 and then it'd be an unknown number of hours or days until I'd catch a flight out from there.

Having checked in, it was time to grab our luggage. This is when we found out that the new major's body armor didn't get loaded onto the plane. Hopefully it will turn up somewhere. I was told that if I lost mine I'm liable to pay for it (somewhere around $4,000), so it could really suck for him.

Once we found a place to stay (a cot in a tent with 120 other random dudes) we spent the rest of the afternoon with me showing him around the regional command headquarters. After dinner, I ended up poking around online for a few minutes and then it was time to turn in early.

The 0830 brief the next day turned out to be quick and painless. We were warned about all the things that wouldn't make it through customs in Qatar. This included guns, knives, human body parts, drugs, alcohol, and porn. Porn apparently includes things like swimsuit magazines. Who knew?

Anyway, we were able to catch a flight to Qatar the same day. Muster time at 1600 for a departure around sunset on a C-130. So after dicking around for the bulk of the day, I returned to the passenger terminal with all of my crap, set my luggage on top of a pallet of luggage to be loaded onto the plane, and squished myself into the plane along with about fifty other folks bound for leave or R&R, complete with our body armor:

The flight was six hours long, the seat made my butt numb in the first ten minutes, and there was no bathroom (hence the water bottle stuck to my laptop case, just in case). I couldn't find a way to fall asleep, so I had to feel every minute of that six hours. I felt like this guy:

Needless to say, I was pretty damned glad to get back off of that aircraft once we landed in Qatar.

After landing we had to go through customs and about a dozen more warnings about the consequences of bringing weapons, ammo, alcohol, porn, or whatever else into the country. Then it was time to wait for the busses that would cart us over to the R&R compound. While we were waiting, we got to go over to the "grab-n-go" flightline kitchen and get something to eat. I snagged the first salad I've seen in three months that actually included green lettuce. It was awesome.

Then it was a quick two-hour bus trip before we got to sit through a couple more briefs on what was available in Qatar as well as what to do and what not to do. I'm not allowed to take pictures inside the base, but hopefully I'll see a few worthwhile sights when I get out on the organized tours of the nearby areas. We'll see.

Stay tuned...

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