Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A three hour tour, a three hour tour...

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale...or so the story/song goes.  Well, last week I felt like I was living Gilligan's Island!  First of all, I had to go to Victory Base Complex (or VBC) for a 4-hour meeting on Thursday. We are getting ready for a rather important class, so I figure I can leave on Wednesday night, go to the meeting, then fly home late Thursday night.  And although I packed for about two days, I still was not prepared for what lay ahead of me.

First of all, my flight was supposed to leave Taji around 1700ish on Wed. Afternoon.  Only there was this dust storm coming in.  They actually had us kit up in our gear and walked us out to the lift pad, where we all watched in amazement as our two Chinooks circled on by.  We waited around on the 110 degree lift pad for about 15 minutes when they told us that we could go back inside.  Weather hold...another way of saying good-freaking-luck getting a flight on a helicopter!  So about 1030 they decide the flight is cancelled.  Now here is the messed-up part.  They have absolutely no mechanism to get people on flights once their original flight is cancelled.  NONE!  All they could tell us was to show up at 0630 in the morning and try and get out on the first flight to BIAP (Baghdad International Air Port).  Only they didn't tell us that the first bird going out doesn't take any space-available passengers (those of us not originally manifested on the flight - three days earlier).  So we get in there and they tell us that they are not allowed to put us on the ONLY flight that can get me into BIAP early enough to make my meeting, even though there are 7 empty seats on that flight!  So I have them connect me to their ops center where some specialist tells me what I want to hear, but the people in the terminal still don't believe me.  Well, anyway, the supervisor finally makes a call to the Ops Center and gets someone of authority and, wow, he makes it happen.  Only when they call out the 7 people's names that are getting on, MINE ISN'T ONE OF THEM!  unbelievable!   Anyway, a guy I gave a ride to the night prior when our flight was cancelled offered to give me his seat.  He ended up getting on, anyway, so we were off to VBC!

The day got worse and worse, yet they still would not cancel any flights!  Those people get us drunk on hope, and I think they like that.  So after a long day, I catch a ride to BIAP with a Master Gunnery Sergeant and all looks good.  Only the dust decides that it isn't going anywhere, so we sit, and wait...the kind of waiting they did in Casablanca...then they finally cancel the flight about 2330.  Same deal.  There is no system in place to roll people over to the next day.  They took our information down, and put us in for a flight the next day, and told me I had to be there at 0500 to check on the flight.  So I decide I am going to sleep there on the metal chairs, since it is only about 5 hours, and I would spend over an hour just trying to get somewhere to sleep.  If you have ever tried to sleep on metal chairs, with ballistic plates that stop bullets as your pillow, you will realize that I did not really sleep.  They did have free wireless internet there, so I was relatively set...until about 0900, that is.  The free stuff cuts off at about 150MB, and my little computer needed a lot of updates.  So now it is about 0900, No flights are coming in or out (helicopters, that is), and my dime is up on the free internet.  So I go up to the desk to check on my flight.  That is when they told me they put me in for a flight at 2130 that night...I was floored.  They needed me there at 0500 to check on a flight 17 hours later!  Anyway I caught a ride back to VBC with the guys that hosted the meeting.  There they had a tent (with awesome air conditioning) all for me, with a bed, linen, and a relatively clean latrine nearby.

They do have an awesome dining facility there at Victory.  The sports oasis is really nice.  Lots to choose from.  So now it is Friday and I am hanging out with the COIN SOC guys for Lunch and Dinner.  They drop me off about 1830 back at BIAP so I can finally catch a flight back to Taji.  Nothing flew, anywhere, if it was rotary wing.  Still too much dust, and a 4mph wind that was blowing it nowhere, slowly!  This time, I had it all worked out to get back to the tent...only Murphy decided to intervene.  The van that I had laid on to come get me was unreachable due to a problem with some Iraqi workers stealing some food somewhere, pulling the guys that were supposed to get me away from the phones.  So I try to call the KBR taxi service and their number is not working, UGH!!!!  Anyway, I remember that when I first arrived here there was this nice lady that worked for KBR at the Stryker Stables that can make ANYTHING happen with transportation.  So I waited about 45 minutes for a bus to see her.  She was there working, and made it happen.  After about another hour and a half (now it is 2330) I finally hit the pillow back in my private tent (that sleeps 20).  They wanted me to check on my flight at 0600, but told me I could call in this time.

Imagine everyone's surprise at COIN SOC when I was sitting in their offices at 0700 waiting to use the phone.  Now it is Saturday morning.  I went to the Sports Oasis for some breakfast (why is it that I only eat breakfast when I am traveling>) and run into a classmate from West Point.  She is a COL that works there on VBC.  At lest I got to see someone that I hadn't seen in a long time.  Anyway, they danced around if my request to get on a flight was approved for a while, but then finally we found out it was...for 2130 that night, of course.

So we are supposed to get there about 2000 for the flight and we are running late.  I rush into the terminal and the guys there (old pals by now) ask me if I want to get on one that is leaving right then.  I am not pressing my luck with the weather, so I say "ABSOLUTELY!"  They kind of take me the back way through the terminal and get me in line with a bunch of other folks.  A lot of contractors (This will come into play in a few minutes).  Anyway, these contractors have a bunch of luggage with them, so we are riding on a Chinook.  They start piling on all of the luggage, and I can already see that tensions are high amongst the flight crew (I am a leader, I am supposed to notice these things).  Then I see the Crew Chief point at his arms and then point at this female contractor.  She had short sleeves on...a Bozo No-no on helicopters!  Of course, her bag is at the BOTTOM of the Griswold pile of luggage that is on the floor of the aircraft, and she can find no long sleeve shirts.  At this point, I am panicking that Mr. Murphy is about to shit all over me once again.  Then I remember that I have an ACU top in my backpack, buried at the bottom.  So I reach into my pack and pull it out and give it to the crew chief.  The look of relief on his face was visible even behind his visor and NVGs, 1) because he wouldn't have to kick this girl off the aircraft, and 2) because we could finally stop pulling all of the luggage apart.

To make a long story short, I got home at about 2130 on Saturday night...a whole 48 hours after I should have  returned home, and much more smelly and apathetic for the experience.  The cool thing is, I get to do this all over again next week!

See everyone at the funny farm!

I think that I will go smoke a cigar now, take care everyone.

Peace, Love and Rugby!

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