Sunday, July 27, 2008

In Transit To Iraq

After successful completion of CRC, it was time to deploy. I drove from Fort Benning to Atlanta, dropped off my rental car and flew to Washington, Dulles. Thank goodness I was on United. I was able to use a 500-mile upgrade to upgrade myself to first class. Domestic first class is nothing great, but I get so few opportunities to use those upgrades that I was glad for the chance.

From Dulles, I got on another United flight to Kuwait. I haven't been to Kuwait since the end of 2003. The last time I flew there, I had to go through Frankfurt and then connect to a Lufthansa flight to fly to Kuwait City. Since that trip, United has opened a direct flight from Dulles to Kuwait. Thanks to my travel on the State Department contract, I still had a couple of system-wide upgrades. These things are gold for the frequent flier on United. You get six of them per year if you attain the highest status with Mileage Plus. They are like 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards. You can use them to upgrade one class of service without using any miles. So I was able to fly to Kuwait in business class. Unfortunately, I still didn't fly on one of the United aircraft with the upgraded business class cabins. One of these days...

For the flight to Kuwait, I had stayed up all night the night before so that I would be able to sleep most of the 12 hour flight. This was kind of a mistake, since I would be arriving in Kuwait at 5:00 pm, but it sure made the flight go faster. After dinner, I racked out and only awoke with about 30 minutes until landing.

At the Kuwait airport, I checked in with the Air Force and waited for a shuttle bus to take us to the transit base, Ali Al Saleem Air Base (AAS). We were herded on to buses and driven to AAS. I was kind of surprised that they made us keep the curtains closed. Perhaps it was for our safety, since everyone on the bus had at least a Secret clearance.

At AAS, I checked into the billeting office and was assigned to a tent. Then we went to another desk where we surrendered our passports so the Air Force could get us visas. Finally, I went to another desk to get on the list to fly to Baghdad.

The tents at AAS where you stay waiting for your military (MIL) flight are large tents built on foundations with six sets of bunk beds. Upon entering my tent, I was pleased to see a familiar face. Bob Tsui (pronounced like 'tray') had been a traveler on my last contract, but on another team (Alpha). He also worked for Stanley. It was great to have someone to show me around and offer advice on what kind of things I would need in Iraq. Bob is working on a Marine contract in Fallujah now.

I spent two days at AAS. I didn't really sleep while I was there. One reason was because I had slept on the flight to Kuwait. The other was because there are several formations and roll calls every day. The formations are where they call your name for your flight. They have those every four to six hours. If you miss your formation, you may miss a chance to catch a flight. I was scared that if I slept I would oversleep and miss my ride.

After two days, I finally was assigned a seat on 'Convoy-01'. I put on my body armor and helmet, gathered up my duffels and went to the holding area. After a wait of about an hour, we were driven out to the flight line to embark our aircraft. In this case, Convoy-01 was a Lockheed C-130J from the Japanese Air Self Defense Forces. We took off mid-morning and by midday I had landed at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP).

I was finally 'in country'.

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