Friday, February 16, 2007

Flight to Qatar and Day Zero

I finally flew out of BAF on Thursday, February 15, 2007. I showed up at the passenger terminal at 0800, sat through the required briefing and got my flight details. We didn’t have to report back until 1530 (3:30 p.m.) and the flight was scheduled to leave at 1815 (6:15 p.m.). What that meant was that I had the whole day to sit around with not a lot to do. Fortunately the room I was staying in was a short distance away and I was able to hang out there for the day. It was nice not having to sit in the crowded terminal.

At the appointed time, we boarded the C-17. Since there were only 30 of us or so on the flight, we had plenty of space. The C-17 has the airline style seats in the middle of the jet with jump seats along the sides for those who want to sit there. It was great as I got an "aisle" seat so I could drape my legs out and not be too cramped.

As the plane was taking off, I was in my usual mode of dozing off. All of a sudden, there was a loud "coughing" noise and the plane shook violently. Did it scare me? A little. Was I concerned, not too much. When the plane continued on I just figured that something relatively minor had happened and didn’t think anything more about it. A few minutes later, the flight SGT announced that there had been a problem in one of the compressors and that in effect, the engine had backfired. He then said that we would be pulling back into the terminal in a few minutes and would attempt repairs. "OK" I though, "when did we land?" That’s how oblivious to things around me I was. I didn’t even realize that we had landed and were taxing towards the terminal.

After several minutes of sitting on the ground it was announced that we would be changing planes. We would be leaving the comfort of the C-17 and transferring to a C-130 that was bound for Qatar. You could hear the collective groan of everyone.

As I said, the C-17 had lots of nice, comfortable seats. The C-130 had nothing but jump seats. The C-17 had a latrine. The C-130 had two "piss-tubes." But at least we would be heading towards Qatar.

I had never actually been in a C-130 so I didn’t realize just how uncomfortable the flight was going to be. Those who were sitting directly across from each other had to either offset their legs at an angle or stagger their legs between the set of legs across from them. In essence, you had someone else’s knee extending just past your own knees. Fortunately for me, I sat across from a seat that had a bunch of boxes in them so didn’t have the "pleasure" of having someone’s knee protruding dangerously close to certain parts that don’t like knees near them.

Five hours later, a full bladder later (you had to literally climb over people to get to the "piss-tubes" and I decided it wasn’t worth it) and aching knees from not being able to move them, we landed in Qatar. It was now 0130 in the morning, local time, 0300 Afghan time. (Yes, Afghanistan is off by a half hour. I have no idea why. It’s weird.) Anyway, we proceed through all our in-briefs and by the time we got to our barracks room, it was almost 0400 in the morning.

I’m sharing a room with 4 other guys. It’s not so bad, at least it wasn’t last night. I was so tired I didn’t hear anything, not even the alarm on my watch that I forgot to turn off. The barracks are actual rooms located within a huge warehouse. There are connexes for O-6’s and above as well as those that live and work here. Putting the housing units in the warehouses is a stroke of genius. Not only is the warehouse heated and cooled depending on the season, but the individual rooms are as well. I imagine in the summer time when it gets in the 120’s and even hotter here, the rooms are nice and cool. Actually everything is in warehouses here; offices, base facilities, everything. As far as the eye can see are nothing but warehouses.

It’s also extremely flat here. I’ve taken for granted the mountains around Blackhorse. It’s so much like home that to come here and not have mountain ranges all around me is a little disconcerting. I tend to navigate by the mountains and not to have them gets me all turned around. Good thing I have the sun to navigate by (not). OK, it’s a good thing I have the cheap little compass on my watchband.

I’d post pictures of the base, but you actually have to get a pass to take any pictures of base. I don’t know that I’ll go through the hassle so you’ll just have to imagine a base of nothing but warehouses.

I’m hoping to get off base on an excursion or two. We can take all the pictures we want then so I’ll post them later in my trip.

Since we got here so early in the morning, today counted as day zero "0" of our pass. Day one starts tomorrow and we get 4 days here. So, in essence, I’m actually getting 5 days of pass. Had we actually gotten here last night like we were supposed to, that would have counted as day 0 and today would have been day 1 so I think that despite the uncomfortable flight, I’m glad we got delayed.

After sleeping in, I took the shuttle to the PX – the base is so big it’s easier to get around with the shuttle. There must be something in the air here that triggers my "late in life" allergies. So my first purchase was some Claritan. My second purchase was sunscreen. Janae will be shocked by the news. I hate sunscreen but since my sole purpose in coming here was to lay by the pool and sleep or go to the beach and since my skin hasn’t seen the sun in almost a year, I figured I’d better buy some sunscreen.

Did I make it to the beach? Not yet. I have to sign up for excursions tomorrow. Wish me luck? Did I make it to the pool? You betcha. It was wonderful. It’s a beautiful pool with lounge chairs scattered all around with really nice full-body cushions. I put in my earphones, turned on my iPod and slept for an hour. It was great. I got there late enough in the afternoon that I didn’t need any sunscreen and am happy to say that I didn’t get burned. Tomorrow will be another matter as I plan on getting there before noon and spending the day.

Chili’s has a restaurant here on base and it’s there at the pool. I’m looking forward to having "lunch by the pool". Should be fun.

Everyone said the chow hall here was great, that the food was wonderful. It was OK. The variety was a little more varied but I didn’t think it was all that great. What was great though were the little things; soda fountain with ice for the soda, "real" milk, and all the Baskin Robbins ice cream you can eat. I was going to limit myself but no luck. I started off with a scoop of mint chocolate chip and a scoop of chocolate chip fudge. On my way out, I just had to have another scoop of mint chocolate chip and added as scoop of pistachio for good measure. Later, I went back and had another scoop of chocolate chip fudge and gold ribbon. Six scoops in one day is limiting myself don’t you think?

I did get to the gym and burned off a few calories but I don’t think I offset what I ate today with what I burned at the gym. Maybe I’ll limit myself tomorrow…nah!!

I was amazed to see a piece of grass near the pool and the gym I was at. Everything is bleak and barren, as you would expect in a desert country. It was lush and green so had to walk across it. It felt so good. I was tempted to take off my shoes but thought that would be a little much.
So that’s about it for my pass so far. Tomorrow is pool day and sign up day for an excursion. So long as I can get to the beach, ride the wave runners and swim in the Persian Gulf, I will have accomplished all my goals. That and sleeping. If I don’t do anything else, I will have considered my pass a success.

Anyway, until tomorrow.


Chris said...

Glad you are having fun. Your mission, whether you choose to accept it or not, is to figure out why Afghan time is off by 30 minutes. I've been wondering that ever since you got there. What, no intellectual curiosity? Enjoy the beach!! See you in May.

Aaron said...

Sounds like you are having fun!! I really hope you get to go on a good trip while you are there. It can be kind of tricky. There is a building next to the pool where you go and get your photo pass. It only takes 30 seconds to get and it is worth it! I mean, that is a beautiful barren waste land! And another thing.... I think Sunday night is Karaoke night at the main building. So, for the sake of the whole Middle East, please refrain from participating. We don't need to make the terrorists angrier. :-) Have fun and remember to wait 30 mins after you eat before you go swimming!


Anonymous said...

I spent a total of 18 months on a carrier. Thats 3, 6 month cruises. Every one of them was to the gulf, criss crossing the water letting the planes launch and recover. The carrier has a large deck on top...but its steel and the steel is covered in Black and Grey non-skid. Now that I am out....I walk on grass. I walk on grass, I smell grass, I make those cool whistles out of grass, the works!! I cant wait for the first person that tells me to get off the grass. So go on, give it a whirl! You earned it.