Friday, July 31, 2009

The Rime of the Ancient Leprechaun

"Water, water, everywhere (not), especially in the showers!" For the second day in a row, the generator which powers the FOB laundry and the water supply to the latrines and showers is on the fritz. Yesterday one of the intell unit NCOs shared her work-around strategy...take a case of liter-size water bottles into the shower trailer, and since the water is already hot, (it's stored in conex containers outside), there's your shower! I tried it, only required 3 bottles for a "Navy Shower", and it worked great. That'll be the plan for this morning as well. Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome, Baby! (or as we loggies always say, "Semper Effing Mobilis!")

A-1 First Class Care Package Acknowledgement

A big "Shukran!" ("Thank You" in Arabic) to my friend and colleague Tony, who as a veteran of a tour in Afghanistan knew just what kind of neat stuff to send...things I didn't even know existed, like very tasty low calorie Crystal Light drink mix with caffeine!!!! How cool is that? Even more timely was the generous supply of "Wet Ones" moist towelettes, which came in very handy today as the water supply to our showers was interrupted by a generator failure, and our little PX has been out of those things for the past week. No stinky Leprechauns on this FOB, for which my co-workers also extend their deep appreciation. Thanks, Bro...


I was momentarily startled this evening by the sight of orange flames leaping above the brigade headquarters compound. I exclaimed something intelligent, like "Holy S--t!" which prompted a passing soldier to remind me that the brigade commander likes to ignite big bonfires to commemorate various special occasions. I've no idea what spawned this particular conflagration, but it was pretty impressive all the same, in fact it seemed kind of "Lord of the Flies", pagan ritual cool. (I refrained from walking over there, just in case the Colonel and his staff were dancing around the fire clad in loincloths and bodypaint, and brandishing pig's heads on spears...)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Shaquille O'Neal Must've Visited Iraq

Because the KBR contractors who built our latrines surely used Shaq as their template for deciding the height to place every urinal! Yep, and that insures most of us who are of "normal height" have to stand on our tip-toes in order to safely and effectively use the facilities. On the other hand, it also precludes almost everyone from using the now-infamous "wide stance" defense.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It's Sand-tastic!

Well, not so much...but we are experiencing a heck of a sandstorm which began this morning, and it still looks like one of those California Central Valley fogs, where you can't see more than 10 yards in any direction. It's very tough to breathe, even indoors with a dust mask. At noon today, the sky was a deep orange, which was beautiful and eerie at the same we left the office to walk to the mess hall, one of us remarked that it was like being beamed down to a hostile planet in an old Star Trek episode. I replied that I hoped that I wasn't going to be one of those anonymous "Away Team" members that invariably got eaten by the latest latex space-monster! Heading back to my CHU tonight, I was surprised to see the entire FOB appeared deserted, with none of the usual foot traffic that goes on at all hours. Guess everyone else was just smarter than me, which has often been the story of my life...
Anyway, if the place is still Zero/Zero tomorrow, it'll be a great excuse to skip going to the gym. Yep, making lemonade out of lemons, that's my style...when it supports being lazy, that is.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

By the Rivers of Babylon...

Where we sat a UH-60 Blackhawk, on the way back from an investigative mission, and coincidentally provided me with a decent photo op (finally!) This is a snapshot as we prepared to land at the U.S. Embassy annex at Al-Hillah, better known as the location of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). No, the building depicted here isn't it, though if you look closely you can see potted plants in macrame' hangers, which I'm certain everyone "wonders" why those things continue to exist...
It was a moderately successful mission, and the folks at the camp were very hospitable. My partner and I were the first CID types anyone had seen there in a long time, so we got stared at a lot, but aside from the usual jokes ("Oh oh, guess you found out about the commander's porn collection!") we were treated very well. A special thanks to "Doc", who graciously and efficiently served as our guide and chauffeur...
I'll post more "OPSEC-friendly" photos in coming days, bandwidth permitting!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cry Havoc, and Let Slip the Blogs of War!

Sorry, Mr. Shakespeare...I just couldn't resist. Well, the helo-jockies decided to take off an hour earlier than scheduled, so am back in my nice comfy CHU until tomorrow. No complaints from me, as I'm not really looking forward to this mission anyway. (I've gotten used to not having to wear my helmet, heavy body armor and carry my rifle...yeah, dang it, I know I'm a Fobbit.)
By the way, I've learned a few phrases of Swahili to greet the African guard force on the FOB. "Jambo, Bwana!" Next mission is to figure out what language most of the Third Country Nationals (predominently from India) speak, so that I can pick up a few bits of that for use in the DFAC and Laundry Facility. I really enjoy the Bollywood musicals, so it's cool to hear that kind of music playing in most of the support facilities on the FOBs over here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bloggus Interruptus

The Fighting Leprechaun (Yep, that's me!) will actually be doing some Army-related missions for the next couple of days, so won't be posting. (And no, Mom, the Commanding General is not summoning me to Baghdad for consultation on the war strategy...)

Feel free to read the old posts, kind of like summer re-runs (which here on AFN-TV, are referred to as "New Programming".), or better still get out and enjoy the nice weather.
(If any of you want to pretend you are in Iraq, just park your car in direct sunshine, turn off the engine, leave all of the windows closed, and hang out for 4 hours...but be sure to bring plenty of water and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!)

Semper Mobilis!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It Happened One Night

Yeah, I did steal the title of one of my favorite movies...Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walls of Jericho...but I want to describe an interesting visual that was kind of cool, which indeed "happened one night".
The other evening, I was on my way back from the latrine, standing outside of my office, staring up at the brilliant stars when I heard the sound of a helicopter throttling up. I looked toward the airfield, and saw a ghostly Blackhawk, completely blacked out, zip over my head low and very fast. In its wake, a huge cloud of dust followed which resembled a giant wave off Waimea...I stood there in complete awe as the dust wave closed over was so hot I could barely breathe...until I ran inside, happily gulping the fresh air.
The whole scene had an "Apocalypse Now" surreal feel to it...I think it will be one of those images that'll be part of my long term memories of Iraq. (I also suspect that a good portion of that dust will remain in my lungs long after I re-deploy...)

Stoopid Kompewters, Again!

I wasted a total of 5 hours today at various times trying to get my dumb work computer to function. My boss "fixed" something on my email account that now prevents me from accessing my work email from my CHU, so even that option is gone. (He has really tried hard to get our stuff repaired, so I know the bad result of his efforts wasn't intentional...just bad computer Karma in our office.)
And the final score: Army 1, Leprechaun 0. (Too bad Navy isn't laptops...)

To heck with it...I'm gonna watch a Clint Eastwood movie, then hit the sack. Maybe a mortar round will land on my computer tonight while the office is empty, and I can start fresh in a couple of months when the replacement computer is delivered. Where's the insurgency when you really need them, eh?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I rarely get an opportunity to use that word, but tonight's weather conditions could be used to define "fetid". Add in an inversion layer, and the stink of incinerating poop and PVC and lord knows what else has settled over the FOB like the carpet from an old lady's house which has had 75 cats and 52 dogs cooped up inside all day...for the past 20 years. Yep, it's truly that bad. My sympathies go out to any troops who have to be outside all night. As for yours truly, I'll soon be racked out, sleeping with my head nestled in my just-arrived from home Tempur-pedic pillow.

My adrenaline got worked up a bit just now...heard a couple of bursts of automatic weapons fire to the south...turned out to be a unit armorer test firing a newly-repaired machine gun...

Final commentary: In yesterday's Stars and Stripes newspaper, some Iraqi colonel was quoted as saying something to the effect of, "Don't worry, we now have all the U.S. Troops safely under house arrest on their bases." Hmmm...guess I finally now have something in common with Martha Stewart, which may explain the overwhelming urge I just got to start crocheting a tea cozy for my canteen. "It's a good thing!"

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's A Wonderful Day in the FOBerhood

Why? Because I actually accomplished something related to a case today. Our team is sharing the two working computers, and so tonight I stayed (very) late and worked on a final investigation report. It may not sound like a big deal, but after over a week of frustration, it was nice to finally be a little productive.

By the way, the number "19" is very special today...Let's just say that it's an Irish lucky number, at least for this particular Leprechaun!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Even Leprechauns Have Sisters

And my sister is having a birthday tomorrow. I definitely won't reveal her age, or allude to the fact that where she and her spouse currently are, the U.S. Forest Service prohibits birthday cakes with that many candles due to the increased risk of igniting forest fires.

Happy birthday, sis, and keep your feet off the seats...

Go Tom Go!!!

Geezers around the world (like me, for instance) are rooting for Tom Watson to win the British Open. While it's kind of frustrating that the DFAC TVs are showing UFC fights instead of golf, at least I can follow the action via the Internets... Go get 'em, Mr. Watson!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Incoming! Incoming!

One of my fellow agents was hit by indirect fire today...but fortunately, it was launched by a pigeon (no doubt an Al Qaida sympathizer), and merely splattered my colleague's hat and ballpoint pen with bird poop. None of us returned fire, as such an occurance isn't covered by the Multi-National Force-Iraq Rules of Engagement.

"War is Hell"...General William Tecumseh Sherman

"G-Damned Pigeon!"...Un-named US Army CID Special Agent

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"...Everyone else watching the pigeon vs. agent encounter

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Naw, I'm not declaring "Mission Accomplished" here...just happily relating that I have achieved a minor victory over the incredibly dorked-up official computer network here. As I mentioned in a previous post, between the glacially-slow internet and computer issues, we've been hampered in completing the many official requirements that require on-line work. The latest challenge arose when we were required to complete 3 online courses (teaching us to recognize and combat Human Trafficking, which apparently has been a big problem over here) as soon as possible. After many fruitless attempts to accomplish this at the office, I got permission to try it from my CHU's internet connection. Sure enough, it was a relative snap to knock out all 3 courses in the space of two hours. Also, I discovered how to log on to my official CENTCOM email account from here, so I'm about 85% more effective when in my CHU, as opposed to being in the office...which is 100% Awesome. If only there were some way for me to do everything from back home...
Oh well, a "W" is a "W" (which stands for "Win", not the most recent former prez!), and I'll take that any day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dust...It's What's For Dinner!

I can hear actor Sam Elliot's deep voice intoning the tag line from those beef commercials, except talking instead about the layer of fine, brown dust that gets into everything here. There is absolutely nothing on this FOB that doesn't have a bit of Iraq on its surface. Doesn't matter if it's indoors or outside, the faint sepia tone gives the dust's presence away to the trained observer. Toilet paper has a layer of dust on it, which sort of acts like talcum powder I suppose, but the intriguing part is that even when you unroll it, there is dust 30 sheets under the surface. I bought a packet of M&Ms this evening, and when I opened it, there was dust on those multi-colored morsels. Thankfully, the dust also melted in my mouth, but not in my hand. The taste is subtle, with a hint of cinnamon and camel would really be complemented by a nice dry Riesling, if we were allowed to consume wine here.
We had another sandstorm today, and by 3:00 p.m. the sun was a dim orange bulb. I've noticed that my exposure to all of this dust and sand has given me a constant minor cough...probably giving me all of the benefits of smoking without the expense of actually buying cigarettes. Add in the constant smoke from the burn pit on the north edge of the FOB, and I'll sound like Sam Elliott myself by the end of my tour here.

Boom Goes The Dynamite!

Here's a sample of what passes for humor on a FOB:
A soldier is working at the computer with iPod earphones in place, and volume cranked way up. Announcement comes over the FOB's loudspeakers (and they are indeed LOUDspeakers) warning of a controlled detonation in 5 minutes. Soldier with iPod remains oblivious. Five minutes later, a huge blast rattles our building, knocks stuff off shelves. Soldier with iPod gets excited, heads for bunker, yells, "Shit, what was that?!" Other soldier turns and says calmly, "What was what?"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It Was Bound To Happen...

WARNING: Anyone bothered by a frank discussion of bodily functions should NOT read any further...

It was a day that started out like all the others before it...Awake at 0500, hit the gym for some "geezer PT" (treadmill set at 4 mph for 30 minutes), shower & shave, toss on the uniform and sidearm, and head for breakfast (after a thoroughly enjoyable phone call to my wife). Upon reaching the DFAC this morning, I made a fateful decision to change my routine, and then everything went horribly wrong...
Up until today, I had escaped the fate that had befallen most of my comrades in arms, which is known locally as "Saddam's Revenge". (I doubt that Moctezuma's heirs will be suing for copyright infringement.) In fact, I was feeling pretty superior to everyone else, not to mention a lot more comfortable during the workday. While here at the FOB, on a normal day we just wear ACUs and carry a pistol, but before arriving here we often were burdened with body armor, helmet, and both a rifle and pistol, which combined to slow preparation for pooping by up to five vital minutes, which if you happen to have the trots can seem like an eternity.

Anyway, while on my way through the food line I felt kind of dehydrated from my rigorous (ha!) workout. My usual routine is to grab a bottle of water or Gatorade from the cooler by our usual table, but I was so parched that I instead filled up a glass from the water dispenser, and chugged it. It was cold and refreshing, so I had another...and then I realized that I had just violated Rule #1 of Surviving Your Iraq Tour, which is: "Never Drink Anything That Isn't Bottled or Canned!" Well, it was too late to undo that move, so I ate my breakfast and hoped for the best.

Two hours later, I broke my age group record for the 50 Meter Porta-Pottie Dash (I estimate that it was 5.2 seconds...though it was a "wind-aided" time, if you get my drift.) and even so, just barely avoided turning my green and tan uniform into a brown camouflage pattern. I was very thankful to have efficiently dropped trou, and also glad that I hadn't dropped my pistol into the holding tank while rushing to disrobe. Fifteen minutes later, I was reminded of what Winston Churchill said about the Battle of Britain: "This is not the end, nor the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning!" As I made my way back to the office, I passed a small group of Iraqi workers who eyed me with either sympathy or amusement, making clucking noises and shaking their heads.
Ten minutes later, I shot out the door and resumed my position of Porta-Pottie defilade. In a bit of ironic timing, the outdoor loudspeakers blared, "Attention in the FOB! There will be a controlled detonation in two minutes!" At that very moment, I unleashed my own uncontrolled detonation, which was very possibly both louder and more prolonged than the announced one. Some wiseass walking by my refuge yelled, "Hey, I thought "Chemical Ali" was in prison, but he's here on our FOB!" Very funny, jerk....

Now this being my first combat zone deployment, I learned that the nature and quality of our bowel movements are an acceptable topic of conversation, same as discussing who's left on "American Idol" or the sports scores. I've been a bit more reserved than some of my fellow agents to share detailed after-action reviews, but today I threw caution to the winds and explained my dilemma, in case I had to disappear from unit meetings or suddenly drop the phone in the middle of a call and schlepp outside with a grimace on my normally happy face.

I skipped dinner in favor of the old one-two punch for the two-step: Pepto Bismol and Immodium. Three hours later, I'm sadder, wiser, and about 5 lbs lighter...and I'll never make that mistake least until the next time I'm due to be checked for staying within the Army weight standard! Now if you all will excuse me, I need to head outside for a bit...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hot and Cold

It's another 120 degree (F) day today, which means that 20 seconds after leaving an air conditioned area, I'm drenched with sweat. In this extreme heat, even ice-cold bottles of water become lukewarm in the time it takes to walk from the DFAC to my CHU. So, when the PX got their monthly allocation of one mini-refrigerator this morning, I snapped it up. Since we can take 2 bottles of Gatorade, or juice, or even non-alcoholic beer from the DFAC after each meal, I plan on stocking up this puppy real quick, and enjoy a cold beverage anytime I want to at home. (Note to Spousal Unit; I figured on buying either a TV or refrigerator, but not both...practicality won out...although I'm suffering from baseball withdrawals...Go Mariners!)
We bid farewell this morning to the team we replaced. They were absolutely superb during the transition process, and darn nice folks. They developed excellent rapport with the brigade and support units on this FOB, which will make our job so much easier. They left big shoes to fill, but I believe we are up to the task.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Blogstacles in Arabic

I don't know exactly what happened, but yesterday when I clicked on my "favorites" list to sign in to my blog page, the navigation buttons were all labeled in Arabic instead of English. Yeah, I realize that I'm now living in an Arabian country, but it caught me off guard. I tried clicking on the location where the sign-in button used to be, but since everything written goes from right to left here, the buttons were also reversed. I got redirected to what I think was a Chinese foot fetish blog, or maybe an infomercial for a homeopathic cure for athletes foot, and then something in cyrillic advertising nipple rings for men, before finally finding the way back to my dashboard. I added the dashboard (blog control panel) to my list of favorites, and Voila, problem solved.
By the way, tomorrow is Sunday, and is our first official "day off" since arriving in-theatre on July 1st. It's kind of anticlimactic, since there's not much to do around here besides what we do every day: work out in the early a.m., eat breakfast, go to the office, drop by the PX, drink gallons of water, go to lunch, return to the office to see if the computer repair dudes have shown up (and they haven't), read over old case files, go to the gym, shower, eat dinner, go check email in the CHU, watch a movie on the computer, and then go to bed...lather, rinse, and repeat. (Did someone just yell "Groundhog Day!" ?) Since our little office is responsible for covering 8 provinces, you'd think that we'd be slammed...but that ain't the case...yet. (I probably just jinxed us, but we'd all rather be bustin' our butts instead of repairing Maytags.) Be careful of what you wish for...

What is the Difference...

between the German Army of WWI and WWII, the Iraqi Army of 1991 and 2003, and the U.S. Army's Information Management Organization (the computer system folks)? The answer is:

Neither the German Army nor the Iraqi Army ever successfully defeated the American Army in the utter and complete manner that our own IM people have done.
That's right, sportsfans, ever since the Army began using computers, they've managed to have all forward progress in many units, including mine, grind to almost a complete halt. So far, I've expended more staff hours trying to get my Army computer working than I've devoted to anything else. Sheesh.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sweet and Sour Friday

Nope, it's not Cantonese Cuisine Night at the DFAC, but rather the conflicting emotions that come when deployed so far away from family and friends. While life here is going very well, and the feeling that I am actually accomplishing things that will make a (small) difference in this conflict is pretty uplifting, it's mixed with profound sadness. A good friend, Glenn M., passed away yesterday after a sudden but brief illness. He was proud of the fact that he and Mickey Mouse were the same age, and was one of the most genuinely decent people I've ever had the privilege to know. Glenn used to go on ride-alongs with me when I was a street cop, and was a pure joy to have in the passenger seat because he always had such a great time, even when it was a quiet shift.
Vaya Con Dios, my friend...I will miss you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hi, Honey, I'm Home!

Yeah, I wish....but I have arrived at my home for the next year, after a long hot helicopter flight and a marathon bag drag from the airstrip to the holding area. Big thanks to the CH-47 crew out of COB Adder who agreed to drop the 4 of us at our FOB, even though no flight was scheduled to stop here. We were met by the very nice folks who we are replacing. They had vacated their quarters at the beginning of the week so that we could move right in upon arrival...that's a classy move by these professionals. I've got a very nice, PRIVATE CHU, with a desk, wardrobe, wall locker, and nightstand to go along with the twin bed that my sheets from Fred Meyer (thanks, babe!) fit perfectly!
Internet connection was a snap, and if I can scrounge a TV, there is AFN via cable. By the way, did I mention that my CHU is private???? Yep, it is!!!!! (I guess it sounds bizarre to make such a big deal about this issue, but consider the fact that I've had zero privacy since May 5, and you'll probably understand my delight.
Okay, gotta hit the sack as it is 0130 hrs, and we have a full day of transition tomorrow at o'dark thirty. G'nite from my Little Chu on the Prairie.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Koo-Koo-Ka CHU

I'm not the walrus, nor the Egg Man, but I thought that I would describe in a bit of detail what a Containerized Housing Unit (CHU) is like. This is the quarters most U.S. troops have here in Iraq, and compared to those of you who were living in tents over here in 2003-2005, we have it pretty good.
What every soldier wants, but few get is referred to as a "Wet CHU", which simply means it has indoor plumbing. Those of us living in a "Dry CHU" get to walk anywhere from 20-100 meters to the shower and latrine facilities. Since the housing area footing consists of rocks and big gravel chunks, we normally dress in PT clothes with sturdy shoes to make the trek.
The typical CHU is like a block of one-room FEMA trailers. The ones where we are temporarily billeted have a couple of twin beds, two flimsy metal nightstands, two equally cheap metal wall lockers, and overhead fluorescent lights...and a pretty good air conditioner unit. I'm currently sharing a CHU with my SAC (Special Agent in Charge), and the two other agents from my office are next door. Once we get to our own FOB, we'll all have private CHUs, and can customize 'em with small refrigerators, TVs, maybe a mesh folding chair and computer table. The CHUs (like everything else here) get dusty really fast, so a Swiffer duster and an area rug will be on my immediate shopping list. The CHU I'm currently occupying has a single frosted window, which nobody opens unless the A/C fails....

Like any other real estate, the most important aspect of CHUs is Location, Location, Location. Since it is usually broiling hot, being near the DFAC, gym, PX, and one's workplace is optimum.

By the way, the walls are very thin, so those soldiers engaging in combat boinkery will need to rein in their enthusiasm if desiring any degree of anonymity...

What's For Dinner?

Okay, here's the obligatory rundown on the dining situation in Iraq. Yep, it's true that there is lots of food, and it's pretty darn good. It would be really easy to just eat tons every day, but I have seen a lot of troops here who obviously have done just that. So far, I'm eating mainly fresh fruit (all the watermelon I want, which is a lot!), and small portions of protein and veggies. I'm drinking more water and fruit juice than anything else. I have yet to try a cup of coffee since arriving in's just too darn hot outside. Will likely have coffee in the office once settled in at our FOB, but who knows when that stuff will arrive.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Road To Iraq (Part Two)

Continuing the saga...

So over a hundred tired, smelly troops descended upon the military Logistics Support Area (LSA), offloaded duffle bags and combat gear in a pile next to the road, and watched our buses drive away in a cloud of diesel exhaust. The rumor that quickly spread throughout the ranks was that we would be assigned temporary billeting, and fly out early the next morning. Well, like most Army rumors, this one was complete and utter hopeful speculation. Reality proved to be much different, as we moved our baggage four times to accomodate newly-arrived units who actually did have flight and/or billeting reservations. The boredom was alleviated by the discovery of a McDonald's 200 meters from our position, and the plague of junk food consuming locusts immediately moved in that direction. I kept one of my detachment buddies company as she headed for a rendevous with a Big Mac, but we had no sooner reached the order window when we were notified to haul ass back to the passenger terminal. We learned that since the first tactic had failed, we were all signing up for "Space A" rosters for our respective flights. Yippee, more lines to stand in!
Our collective karma improved the next day, after a sleepless night on a bed of duffle bags...spent throwing small rocks at camel spiders...those suckers can really move! My detachment got on a C-17 flight to an airbase in Southern Iraq (It's like flying inside of a warehouse, but aside from the combat descent, it was a reasonably comfortable experience.). The CID office here arranged for quarters, and picked us up at the terminal. Part of our detachment will be taking over here, while the remaining four of us head to our own FOB by helicopter. This base is pretty civilized, with an amazing chow hall, and apparently makes our FOB seem like Khe Sanh...
So, what's Iraq like? Well, everyone is carrying guns, and there are blast walls covering every structure...sandbagged bunkers are located within easy reach, and it continues to be hotter than I've ever experienced. Some of the coalition troops remain, but are on their way home shortly. (Love hearing the Aussies tell war stories in the DFAC...too funny!) And for a guy like me who actually likes non-alcoholic beer, it's paradise, because that's the only kind of beer available here. Lots of varieties, and it is dirt cheap for the Becks and St Pauli Girl brands.
OPSEC considerations prevent me from adding too much detail, but suffice to say the war is still in progress.
I'll post again once I've reached my FOB...Leprechaun Out!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Road to Iraq (Part One)

I'm writing this from a CHU somewhere in Iraq, and here's a synopsis of the journey to get here:

We sat in a vacant field next to battalion HQ at Ft Lewis for about 5 hours, swatting mosquitos and telling stories until our buses arrived at 2330 to take us to McChord AFB. We sat in the passenger terminal on hard wooden benches (relieved by short visits to the very homey USO, staffed by extremely nice folks) until 0330, when we boarded our commercial aircraft and flew to our first stop at Bangor, Maine. We had a two-hour layover while crews serviced the airplane, so we all headed into the main terminal to pee and grab a sandwich. None of us were prepared for the gauntlet of greeters lining the jetway, applauding us and shaking our hands. Yep, most of us choked up right there on the spot. These local volunteers meet every flight of servicemembers going to or returning from the war, and extend their thanks for our service. Just another reminder that America has learned a lot of important lessons from the Vietnam War, in a good way.

Much to my added delight, the airport cafe serves an excellent lobster roll, which I promptly bought and devoured. Mmmmm, lobster roll for just doesn't get any better than that!

We bade farewell to the greeting team, and were soon on our way to the next stop: Leipzig, Germany. Leipzig used to be in East Germany before the 1990 reunification, so Cold Warrior that I am, it just felt weird to be in Army uniform there. The airport had that Soviet-Bloc charm, but there were fresh Brotchen (rolls) for sale, along with bratwurst, so I again feasted on a favorite food. So far, this "going off to war" thing was pretty darn good, at least in the regional cuisine department. Well, that sense of well-being ended abruptly when we landed in Kuwait. Everyone piled out of the plane into a hair dryer on steroids, complete with a dust storm worthy of a Best Special Effects Oscar. We shambled into a holding area, were directed to drink lots of water (thoughtfully provided in big cases), and finally boarded buses for our next destination, a mega-huge transit camp. Plusses: Our tents were air conditioned (sort of), with plywood floors, and the chow hall was only a half-mile stroll away. There were several fast food chains located in the vicinity to satisfy the carb and fat junkies, and a gigunda PX.
On the minus side: Some of the senior people hadn't figured out "Desert Rules" yet, like not having everyone stand outside in formation in helmet and body armor 30 minutes before we needed to, and then haranguing us for "not hydrating properly". We had three required training events to accomplish before departing for our final destinations, and all but one were kind of disorganized. (We had one lecture presented by a female British RAF sergeant in a droll, "Bridget Jones" manner that was downright hilarious, despite the serious topic of "Fratricide Prevention"...she is to date the only presenter either stateside or here to get an enthusiastic round of applause.)
Weapons qualification was the last mandatory event before we could depart Kuwait. We climbed on buses at 0345 hrs, and headed out into the desert. Our bus driver suffered from a serious case of cranial-rectal inversion, and was tailgating the guide vehicle so closely that we expected a collision at any second. Anyway, when we turned off the asphalt road on to the range road, we immediately came to an abrupt halt. Seems that the unit ahead of us managed to have one of their buses get bogged down in the sand, completely blocking the road. We sat in our buses for 30 minutes, until our leader decided to have us walk the mile to the firing range. I have always respected the infantry, but now have a new appreciation for what those guys accomplished on foot patrols here. We slogged thru the sand to the range, and then when finished we slogged back, thoroughly drenched in sweat and covered with sand. Our transportation smelled like a high school football team bus after an away game ("Take that, you tailgating driver!") Once back at the camp, we were ordered to pack our duffle backs in a hurry, and get ready to head to the adjacent airfield, with no time to shower or change clothes. Another formation in the sun, frenzied loading of baggage on to a truck, and another bus ride. We made incredibly quick time to the airfield, unloaded all of our bags...and then we waited. Turns out our flights into Iraq weren't supposed to happen for a couple more days, but one of the "Good Idea Fairies" thought that if we all showed up at the terminal looking like Rommel's troops after El Alamein, the Air Force would smile and say, "Gosh, folks, let's just move you in front of all these other soldiers who made flight reservations for today, because you smell so foul we don't want you in our waiting area!" And so how'd that strategy work out for us? Not so well...
(To be continued)