Friday, April 17, 2009

To Iraq: Day One

We land at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.

Our military launches all kinds of aircraft from there for all kinds of missions to support Iraq and Afghanistan and the rest of the world.

To see these huge planes on the flight line you can't help but be proud of the USA. We own the sky.

And to see this operation being handled by young men and women is phenomenal.

After a night in the Air Force Inn (which is a nice place for soldiers in transit and visitors to the base), we reboard the American plane and head for Kuwait City.

On the way, we dropped some passengers in Bahrain. Amazing skyline on this tiny island. Oil money is amazing. It builds skyscrapers that look like Dr. Seuss designs in the middle of sand.

We land in Kuwait City. We are met by sheiks in full dress. This flight made alot of noise in that part of the world. It had never happened before.

After our greeting and lots of photos, the crew began to unload 20 tons of care packages, school supplies 6500 pairs of Crocs shoes that were donated for Iraqi kids.

We began to mingle with the soldiers that work there. Lots of freight comes and goes into Iraq thru this spot. Army, Marine, Air Force, Navy. All were represented. All were glad to see us.

We received our body armor and helmets and a briefing on when and how to wear it. Meet your new 60 pound friend that you will be carrying everywhere you go.

We had heard in Germany about the five soldiers that were killed in Mosul the day before we arrived. Killed by a terrorist bomb. Those five sweet young bodies had arrived at this location in Kuwait City about an hour before we landed.

There is a team whose assignment it is to care for those bodies by unloading them and holding them until the plane that will take them to Dover arrives.

A Marine chaplain was with us. He had spoken with the team and they were shaken. Five at once is alot.

He asked if I would be willing to speak to them. I was only to happy to do it. I told them thank you for taking care of their brother soldiers. I told them thank you on behalf of all Gold Star families. We thank them for their service to our family members.

They were astonished. They had never met a Gold Star family member before. They receive little thanks, acknowledgement or support for their awful responsibility. All of our military is wounded everyday. They are a family and they hurt just like a family when one of their own falls.

After a few hours, our C17 arrived. What a machine. And what a machine the crew that operates the plane is.

They landed, dropped the rear door, and loaded tons of our supplies and about 50 of us on the plane so fast it made your head swim.

Here we are. Sitting along the walls of the plane. Full body armor and helmets. Ear plugs for protection from the powerful noise of the engines. Strapped in just like thousands of other soldiers that have been flown into Iraq.

Holy crap. This was for real. There was no turning back. The collective fear and puckering was so real on the faces of our fellow civilians. Imagine being 18 and knowing when you land, you aren't leaving for 15 months.

We are off like a rocket. The power of the plane was unbelievable. The crew looks like kids you've taught in Sunday school. Except they are wearing Air Force jump suits, pistols in shoulder holsters and talking amongst themselves on headsets as they guide this behemoth north into Iraq.

As we entered Iraqi airspace, the interior lights were switched to an eerie red to reduce visibility to the outside. More puckering.

In 40 minutes, we were approaching Joint Base Balad. Formerly known as Camp Anaconda. Now that we are transitioning control to the Iraqis, Joint Base Balad.

We land in the dark. Not a gentle descent, but a steep one. Apparently the locals outside the camp just love to lob grenades at the air strip. It happens almost everyday.

As soon as the plane stops, the back door is down. A swarm of young hardbodied Air Force crewmen pull conveyors up to the plane. At least 10 tons of supplies are unloaded before the 17 passengers that were designated to spend time in Balad can get off. Amazing.

As soon as we reach the tarmac, F16s roar off right behind us. Two by two. So fast you can't believe it. Disappear before your eyes into the night. And the C17 is gone for another mission.

The military folks in Iraq have a greeting for newbies. "Welcome to the suck." It doesn't do much to calm jittery nerves.

We are loaded quickly onto a bus and taken to our quarters. Air conditioned trailers. Behind walls of blast proof concrete. Before we can go to bed, we are shown where the blast bunker is out front in case the siren goes off to warn of incoming.

Exhausted and scared, we shuttle off to get some sleep. Or at least try.

2 comments:

  1. This may seem nit picky, but I wanted to clarify. "Soldier" is a proper term for Army personnel. Other branches should never be refered to as Soldiers.
    Troops or service members are good generic terms.
    Thanks,
    SFC Ewer

    ReplyDelete
  2. You are correct, sir. My mistake. Duly noted.

    Thanks for your service.

    ReplyDelete