Monday, May 4, 2009

Slowly Rolling

The last time I posted I was still waiting around at Bagram Air Field to catch my flight to Kuwait. So here's the way the timeline ended up working out:

27 April (late): I found out I was actually leaving.

28 April: While doing my last-minute checking out stuff, I found out I couldn't get back some 30lbs of laundry because it was a local holiday (Mujahideen Day) and none of the staff in the laundry were coming to work. This is also why nobody was able to tell me anything about ground transportation to Bagram Airfield or even flights from Kabul to Bagram. The mail room was open though, so I was able to lighten my load by quite a bit. I don't remember how much weight that bit was, but it was about $140 worth of postage. Late in the day I lucked out and got word of a convoy headed to Bagram that might have room for me if I was ready to go by...

29 April, 0540 (in the morning): I got to load everything I own in Afghanistan (and a bunch of Army crap I haven't even pulled out of my luggage since I arrived*) into the back of an up-armored Suburban. I ended up in a five-vehicle convoy and my vehicle had a German driver, Swedish vehicle commander, and the other guy in the backseat with me was a Danish Army lieutenant colonel. Fun.

We arrived at Bagram a couple of hours later and I convinced them to drop me off at the passenger terminal so I wouldn't have to walk while carrying three full seabags (each around 75lbs), one full rucksack (around 45lbs), my laptop case (about 25lbs), my rifle, my body armor, and my sleeping bag. Once I'd stacked it all neatly in the baggage area, I had nothing to do until the following day.

30 April, 0900: I got to muster with the good folks at the Navy's admin shop for all of Afghanistan. It was tucked away in the farthest, darkest corner of the airbase (a good 30-minute walk from anything else), so it took a bit of finding. Once there, I got the last few pieces of paper that would allow me to leave Afghanistan. Then I had nothing to do until...

01 May, 0900: Checked in with the same admin shop to find out what time my flight out would be. It turns out we were expected to muster at 2345, so I got to look forward to a third whole day of waiting around the airbase, wandering through the exchange and waiting in line to use the internet.

01 May, 1100: I happened across a Navy lieutenant who happens to be flying out with me and he tells me that the flight has been postponed by an hour and we'll be mustering at 0100 instead. Fun.

01 May, 2200: Thunder, lightning, and pouring rain start simultaneously. Ten minutes later it occurs to me that my three seabags, my body armor, and my helmet are neatly stacked in the baggage area outside the passenger terminal and probably completely soaked through. Realizing that once something is completely soaked through it can't get any wetter, I resign myself to carrying all of the original weight plus another 90lbs of water.

02 May, 0100: I show up for muster and find out the flight has been delayed even further. Then I go out and find out that some kind soul has dragged all of the stuff that was outside into a nearby tent and it takes me half an hour to find all of my gear again.

02 May, 0215: Roll call. We find out we'll be flying to Kuwait on a C-17 and that every single seat is full. An hour later it is time to load up our luggage:

Bag Pallet in Bagram
There were two pallets like this one and another smaller one with all of our crap.

02 May 04??: Boarding time. We grab our carry-on items and stroll out to the plane:

Boarding Call
Despite being thoroughly exhausted I'm still unable to sleep:

Tired Shawn Thorsson

02 May, 08??: We land in some airbase in Kuwait. They told me the name, but I was kinda strung-out and I don't remember it. A 45-minute bus ride later we were deposited at a tent on the far side of the airbase. Then things got slightly stupider.

We were assigned to a tent for the day. Our bags were dropped off at one end of the tent complex at around 0930. We were told that we would have to board a bus convoy at 2200 that evening after loading our bags onto a stake truck on the opposite side of the tent compound, roughly half a mile away. Why they couldn't drop our bags off and pick us up in the same place still has me boggled, but I suppose that's just par for the course.

I ignored the baggage drop off, ambled over to my tent, sat down on one of the beds in there, and passed out. A few hours later I woke up and got in line to use the internet. A few minutes later the cafe's internet connection failed and I had nothing left to do but wait to leave.

At 2000 I found one of the Navy chief petty officers who was travelling with me and found out he'd managed to borrow a truck to move the pile of bags from one end of the tent city to the other. We mustered up five more guys and it took only two trips with the little truck and a utility trailer to get everyone's luggage over to the pickup point.

At 2200 we began waiting around for the busses to show up. At 2245 the busses arrived and we found out we would have to wait for a boatload of dudes coming in from Iraq that would be moving with us. At 2345 they were onboard and we set out for a completely different base.

03 May, 0230: We arrived at Camp Arifjan, the Army base in Kuwait where the Navy would put us through it's "Warrior Transition Program," and prep us for going back to the states. Within minutes of arrival we were assigned to the tents we would be sleeping in. Moments after that I was passed out on a bare mattress with my balled-up shirt for a pillow.

03 May, 1150: Gear turn-in. I got to unload my M16A2 assault rifle, M9 pistol, gas mask, MOPP suit, entrenching tool, cold-weather gear, body armor, helmet, and oodles and gobs of other random camping gear that the Army wanted back. It was easily the best moment of the year so far.

Once our stuff was unloaded, the rest of the day was ours to spend as we saw fit. I saw fit to spend it lying in my rack and reading.

04 May, 1300: Warrior Transition Workshop. This is where a Navy chaplain sat us down and told us what to expect from our homecoming. The short version: nothing. He pointed out that our return won't involve manning the rails in dress whites and having a big crowd waiting on the pier to welcome us home. There won't be any parades or flag-waving. He also went on to point out that we need to steel ourselves to deal with a bunch of folks who have been doing all of their normal work PLUS all of the things that were our job before we left.


Now all I have to do is wait until tomorrow when I'll board the bus to the airport. I'm flying commercial flights all the way back, so I've got to find civilian clothes to wear on the plane. I wish I'd've known that before I mailed home most of my stuff. Oops.

*The Army actually issued me an entrenching tool. For those of you who don't speak Army, an "entrenching tool" is a shovel. By my reasoning, if we ended up in a situation where they need a naval officer to use a shovel, we've already lost the war.


  1. the E-tool always makes me giggle. Army people carry it everywhere and don't ever use it. My husband's remained permanently at the bottom of his ruck during Ranger School. I'm convinced carrying it around is a modern form of torture/hazing.

  2. it is the best close weapon you can have if you dont have 12 knifes... :)

  3. That chaplain needs to be re-educated in some kind of a camp. The world is still here and it's much the way you left it.

    No idea what planet he's on.