Thursday, January 26, 2006

Baghdad Days

Our own parishioner has been in Baghdad from time to time oiver the last few years. He is there now and from time to time writes reflections. This is re-printed with his permission, I thought you might like to hear what life is like for him. . .

Baghdad Days: Getting in and out

After a somewhat longer trip than planned, I arrived in Baghdad once again safe and sound. Approximately 61 hours after leaving the Bank the journey ended at LZ Washington in the International Zone (Green Zone) in Baghdad. Along the way we made a side trip to Kuwait and got to spend some quality time in various sandy Middle East venues.

My plan was to fly commercial to Amman, Jordan. (BA to London and then BA Med to Amman). Then an overnight stay at the Marriott in Amman and a taxi ride to Marka Airport (don’t go to the Amman International Airport – the C-130’s don’t fly there). That all worked without a hitch.

The plan then was to take the regularly scheduled US Embassy flight from Amman to Baghdad in an Air Force C-130. One reserves such a flight by submitting a MILAIR request on line to FDC Forward specifying CAC, rank, and POC. A confirmation arrives by return e-mail warning that failure to confirm and to determine showtime at Marka will be visited by a host of unattractive consequences. Call for showtime before 9:00 am and leave 45 minutes to travel to the airport. At 8:55 I call as required and am unsettled to learn that showtime is 9:15. The voice at the other end seems unconcerned and says that if I have eaten breakfast and leave right away I’ll probably get there in time. At 2:00 pm we’re still waiting in the lobby for the short bus trip to the military side of the airport so I have to concede she was right.

Two and a half hours later and we’re making real progress. The 50-odd passengers are sitting on the plane with ear protection in place, our personal protective gear has been reclaimed from storage and strapped on, our luggage had been palletized and is sitting in the cargo bay behind us, the explosive-sniffing dog had been loaded in his carrier and taken on board with his handler and the four propellers are spinning with the cargo doors closed. It looks like we are on our way. That’s when the plan started to come apart. Word came down that the flight crew was approaching the end of their limit on flight time in one day. The loadmaster informs us that they have requested a waiver and hope that the initial denial of the waiver will somehow change.

The plan for the flight crew was to begin the day in Ali Al Saleem Air Base in Kuwait, fly passengers and cargo to Baghdad, drop them off and pick up more for Amman, drop off and pick up in Amman (us), drop us off in Baghdad and then one more time to Kuwait. The flight crew’s plan started to fall apart early. Substantial delays leaving Kuwait, including one false start, left them way behind schedule the whole day. When the crew stopped the engines on the tarmac in Amman we learned the perhaps inevitable result: the time restrictions on the flight crew meant that they had to return to their base at Kuwait as expeditiously as possible and not take us to Baghdad. (Do not pass Go, do not collect $200) Other possibilities apparently never occurred to the Air Force planners. (Could perhaps another plane take us to Baghdad?) Not to worry. There are frequent flights from Kuwait to Baghdad. We’ll fly you to Kuwait, someone will meet you there and get you on the next flight to Baghdad.

And so it went. After a certain amount of dithering (offload Iraqi police trainees and their luggage, run the engines incessantly, and wait), we take off for the two and a half hour flight to Kuwait. The flight begins dramatically enough with a loud banging sound on the outside of the fuselage as if some strap is dangling outside and trying to break free. After a few minutes it seems to and the loadmaster returns to her duties (I think it was a Ken Grisham novel). The weary flight crew carries us safe to Kuwait where we offload personnel and impedimenta and are surrendered to the care of the Kuwait dispatcher. It’s 8:30 pm local time. His plan is to give us free time to visit the DFAC and the MWR facility until 2:00 am when he will arrange an early morning flight to Baghdad. At 2:00 am no bus shows at the DFAC to take us to the flight line. Word comes down (that’s how word travels in the Middle East): no bus until the football game is over. We rush inside the DFAC to watch the Steelers secure their place in the Super Bowl and begin to wonder whether the emergency flight to Kuwait had something to do with the broadcast schedule of the Playoffs. We’ll never know.

More standing and bus sitting and we’re introduced to our second C-130 in two days. This one will fly to Tallil to drop off 16 soldiers of the 3rd ID and then take the rest of us to Baghdad. Luckily Tallil is on the way. The plane is full so space is at a premium until the soldiers deplane. The crew likes the inside of the plane to be dark when flying at night so reading is only possible if one twists at an unnatural angle to expose part of the page to a dim light. Baghdad is chilly but the sun is just rising over the tower at BIAP as we struggle to unpalletize our luggage and search for a way to get to the Green Zone earlier than the Rhino ride. Rhinos leave after midnight. Fortune is kind and the SES badge works its magic one more time. I get the last space available seat on two Blackhawks bound for Washington LZ. I realize just how fortunate when a colleague arriving later in the day at BIAP is told that weather is approaching and no birds will be flying. No birds means no Rhinos and a cold night at BIAP. But we’ve already put in our nights.

Be well,

January 23, 2006


At 1:28 PM, Blogger Andrew R. said...

Wow! And I thought I had a tough commute to lower Manhattan.
Raleigh you are in our thoughts and prayers.
Be well and keep safe.
Andrew Rowan


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