Thursday, March 29, 2012

We have arrived at Camp Buehring

After the chaos and insanity that got us here, we've finally made our way to Camp Buehring, formerly known as Camp Udairi. Here, we find a whole lot of nothing. A huge air strip that is extremely busy with US Army Apache helicopters flying constant sorties, billeting in the form of "shotgun"-style trailers--a hallway down the center with four rooms on either side. Each room should hold 2-3 people, but because of the troop drawdown in Iraq, some of the rooms are stacked up to 4 and 5 deep. We were one of the fortunate to be assigned to a room with 5 people. Oh, joy.

Look closely and you'll
see several dead camels
on the side of the road
The road to Buehring is anything but scenic. Mile after mile of blowing trash, sand, and dead camels. No, they didn't die naturally--they're just really slow, and the vehicle traffic on this lone highway is very high and very fast. You almost have to chuckle a little thinking about a big, slow camel making its way across the highway--I mean, there isn't a single tree or bush to "hide" them, so exactly how is it that these huge animals are able to surprise you walking across the highway? You can see miles ahead of you, yet there are dozens of dead camels scattered all along this highway.

A bit of trivia for you--the highway we're on (Highway 80) is known as the "Highway of Death". This is the road the Saddam Hussein (no relation to Barack Hussein Obama known at this time) took his Iraqi troops down when he invaded Kuwait's oil fields. Camp Udairi was actually taken over by Iraqi troops for several months, but was riddled by US troops and their "bunker buster" bombs, which penetrated the French-built bunkers that the French guaranteed to be 'impenetrable'. I guess that didn't work out too well for them. But I digress....

Half-way back to the house from the
bathrooms. Loving the landscaping!
Upon arrival at the barracks, I can't say I'm impressed. They're arranged in a sort-of rectangle, with the bathrooms being the center of the rectangle. In other words, some of the housing is a pretty good jaunt to the bathrooms. My house is such a place. It's on the corner, so it's the FURTHEST away. Try making a run for the border at 4:30 in the morning when you've REALLY got to go, but it's 150 yards away! I guess it's not bad, but it makes for an interesting wake up in the morning.

The view just outside the T-walls in
front of my billets. Not a lot to see here.
There are several pods of these portable buildings, each housing anywhere from 25-40 people. They're surrounded by six foot 'T-walls', which are intended to block drive-by bombers or suicide drivers trying to crash into the housing units. These T-walls are usually painted up by the troops who spend a rotation at this God-forsaken hell hole, and some of them get pretty creative. That, coupled with the porta-potties scattered all about the campus, make for a

So, that's about it for this trip. I'll try to get more pictures as I can, but they're very much frowned upon in most places on base. I'm not really sure why, as Google Maps certainly has no problems showing it all...but whatever. Until next time....

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Training week in Mahboula, Kuwait

The ABC Towers in Mahboula, Kuwait
When we last spoke, I had just arrived in Kuwait, and we had experienced the wonders of Ali Al Salem. Well, my contractor, ITT/Exelis, has procured apartments in a downtown area in Kuwait City known as Mahboula. So, we are shuttled in a nicer bus (still with curtains drawn) to these apartments, not knowing what to expect. There were 19 of us, all of differing ages, experience levels and job statuses. We arrive at the buildings, and WHOA! There, we find two 18-story towers, with glistening marble floors and all the trimmings. We would be housed on the 2nd and 3rd floors, with our group split mostly in half.

The strip mall in front of the towers

McDonald's, with a Play Place!

Hardee's and Baskin Robbins
The apartments were 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, with plenty of furniture for everyone. The biggest drawback were the bunk beds in each room. The apartment was made to sleep 18, but we were lucky to get by with only 10. So, we each claimed our bunk, then set out to explore. Across the street, there was a strip mall, which housed a McDonald's, a Hardee's, a Baskin Robbins, a Starbucks, and several other American cuisines. We also had a Domino's Pizza next door, as well as a Buffalo Wild Wings directly in front of our building. Down the street, there was Taco Bell, Burger King, TGI Friday's, Chili's and a host of other American delights too numerous to name! It was like I never left home!

Talk about a motley crew!
Every day, we would wake up very early, do our morning routines, and be on a bus by 6:30, headed across town to our training center, which was actually a 3-story home in a residential part of Kuwait City. We would be downstairs, taking tests and filling out the necessary forms to ensure that we could not only stay in Kuwait legally, but work for the US Army legally, as well. Lunches were fish and chicken every day, but in different forms. It was a very deliberate process that concluded on time--surprising, considering we were a day late because of the airplane incident. Our last day in class would be Friday morning, and we would conclude just after lunch, at which time we were divvied up to be shipped to our respective final destination, be it Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar or Kuwait. Some were on their first tour, but several were on their 2nd, 3rd or even 4th tour. Most were headed to Afghanistan, some were off to Iraq, and a handful were headed to Kuwait. All in all, not a bad bunch of guys.

Outside our window at 9:00am
Outside our window at 12:00 noon
Our departure from the villa was delayed by two days due to--you want to guess?--a dust storm. This one blew in so fast that we weren't even able to make adjustments. We woke up to crystal blue skies, but within just a few short hours, visibility was down to nearly zero. It lasted for a day and a half, but we had to get out on Sunday, because the next group was going to be there within just a few minutes. So we made our exit, passing the next incoming group on our way out of the parking lot. What an adventure!

Now, it's off to Camp Buehring...a very remote post located just eight miles south of the Iraq border. It's not close to anything, and it is completely cut off from the outside world. There are no trees, no grass, no bushes...basically, it's just a camp in the middle of hell. More on that in my next posting. Until next time...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Welcome to Kuwait -- the first days

So, it's been several months since I last posted, and there's a reason for that. I've been preparing for my journey to the Middle East--Kuwait. As of March 3, I am officially a resident of that very place. So I figured I would give you a chronology of my trip, as best as I can.

Camp Atterbury
What can you say about Camp Atterbury? It's HELL on a stick! This is where all of the contractors from all of the different companies go to get their medical, dental and other clearances to deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar and Kuwait. There are hundreds of them processed through every week! Some will make it, others will not.

Rows of bunks at Camp Atterbury
So, we arrive on this sprawled out, 36,000 acre post after an oh-so-eventful plane ride, and a bus ride that would rattle the fillings out of a corpse. We're given our billeting, and told to "move out smartly" to our assigned areas. So I pick up my giant duffel bag and my computer bag, and I'm on my way. When I arrive, I'm less than impressed. Row after row of bunk beds, all stripped of character (and linens). Canvas mattresses? Where are we, prison?! We're given sheets to make these bunks, along with a thin wool blanket. We'll make do, right?

My bunk
It snowed the first night. The winds howled in at 25mph. It was 25°. Did I mention that the door latch was broken, so the door wouldn't stay CLOSED? But we made do. My bunk was the first one by the door, so I got to experience the cold winds first hand. Is it really that hard to close a door?

The only redeeming quality--the All Ranks Club. We could walk there and have a few cold beers, a great steak, and play a little pool. The club was where you'd go after you got evening chow, simply because you were headed to a country where alcohol, pork and fun were all illegal. May as well get it in while you can!

As our time at Camp Atterbury drew to a close, we were quickly herded into buses and carried to a large concrete and steel building on the outskirts of the post, where we were to wait for our "Chalk" (another name for "bus ride shift") to depart. However, upon getting all 300+ of us into this building, we were informed that our plane had a problem with the air recirculating system, and that the parts had to be flown in from Baltimore. What did that mean for us? You guessed it--14 hours sitting in this aforementioned concrete and steel building. There were no padded chairs, and the floors were terribly dirty from the mud that had dried from all of the boots and feet that had plodded in.

Where we stayed for 14 hours
So, as we spent the entire night in this building, we were informed that our "Chalks" would begin departing at 4:00am. Yes, we'd spent the entire night in this building. We were exhausted, hungry, and by this time, pissed. I managed to snap a picture of the pleasant conditions we were kept in--plastic tables, folding chairs and concrete floors. Awesome job, Atterbury!

So, here came 4:00am. We were herded onto the buses like cattle for the hour-or-so-long drive to the Indianapolis International Airport, where we would be queued up like cattle (notice a theme here?) to have our bags checked in and our passports validated. This process would take upwards of two hours. Then, we would head to our gate and proceed to wait another three hours before our plane was ready to fly.

Beef tips and mashed potatoes--dinner
We boarded our plane, a World Airways MD-11, which was 10 seats wide in the middle. Comfort was adequate, considering it was a 12 hour flight. Movies played on screens that were green and out of focus from age, and everything rattled and squeaked. The meals were "OK"...with the customary, "Chicken or pasta?" question coming several hundred times over the course of our flight from Indy to Leipzig, Germany. The meals weren't bad...a little bit institutional, but not bad. By this point, we were nearly famished, so we scarfed it down, like it or not. It was survival food by now.

Leipzig came and went in a blur, with the customary 'bier' purchases coming fast and furious, as it was the last imbibings that we'd be getting for quite some time. We were there for about two hours, then it was back on the plane, headed for Kuwait City, Kuwait.

Ali Al Salem

Our arrival was uneventful, as expected. However, there was a dust storm underway, which became painfully evident as we flew in--everything was blurred by the dust and the strong winds, and the dust was unrelenting. The best part of the whole trip was, upon our deplaning, some Army guy came on the plane and got on the loudspeaker, proclaiming that they needed "40 people" to help with the bags. To those not paying attention, this was quite unexpected. We were to unload our own baggage? What kind of place is this? Then I remembered--we're on a "Mil Air" flight, which is synonymous with "no frills". I was unable to take photos, as they were strictly forbidden in and around the airport. Not really sure why...but whatever.

We were then loaded on to buses with carefully-closed curtains, so as to keep the "Hadjis"--the name given to native Middle-easterners--from getting a bead on passengers, just in case they weren't American-friendly. We were driven quite some distance over numerous speed bumps and near-hit traffic incidents to Ali Al Salem, the camp designated as the transient distribution center for Kuwait. Nearly everyone processing in or out of Kuwait, Iraq or Afghanistan typically will process thru Ali Al Salem. Here, we're met with row after row after row of tents. Not just tents, but AIR CONDITIONED tents. My best count is that there were 216 of these fine tents, each with a 5-ton AC unit. We would be assigned a tent at the very back of the pod, with only three people bunking in a tent big enough to house 24.
Tents at Ali Al Salem

Dropoff point at Ali Al Salem
Rows of generators for the tents

Off in the distance, you can see
rockets aimed directly at Iraq from
Ali Al Salem

More of the tents at Ali Al Salem
We would find water to be plentiful, as there are 'water stations' sprinkled throughout all of the camps in Kuwait due to the extreme heat and very low humidity. There are also smoking stations nearby, and everything is surrounded by 'T-walls', which are 6' high cement walls meant to deflect a blast from a bomb, or to prevent suicide bombers from driving a vehicle into heavily occupied areas.

As we met with our ITT contacts, we discovered we would be leaving this canvas paradise for a "villa" in downtown Mahboula. This turned out to be a nice place...where we would spend yet another week. We would be bussed to training during the day, then we would fend for ourselves to get dinner and ensconce ourselves in the Kuwaiti culture. But that's for my next blog entry.

Until next time....