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....

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