Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Odyssey Of The Four Day Pass, Part Two

Even though the last post was posted yesterday, it was written days ago.

Since that time, I showed up for a 0300 roll call only to find that there were no seats for those of us who were already manifested. Since I had been selected as the "chalk leader" due to being either the only E-7 or the only one to raise my hand when they asked who was an E-7, I inquired at the desk in the Pax Terminal as to what had occurred.

"We only had two seats on the plane, Sergeant."

"Really? But we had been manifested already."

"We only had two seats on the plane and they were taken by two people on emergency leave."

Well, if someone had to have the seats, emergency leave people would be my favorite candidates, but why had they manifested us? It was a C-17, for Pete's sake... a big plane.

We will never know what happened. We were told to show up again at 1900 that night. One of the young soldiers came to me and told me that his wife, currently in Iraq, was slated to arrive the same day that he was so that they could share their four days together.

I couldn't help him. My heart broke for him, but there was nothing that I could do.

It was bitterly cold outside. I went over to the USO, only to discover that the wireless internet there was down, going on the third day of malfunction. I was not a happy camper. I had sat in the USO for hours watching movies and awaiting the 0300 roll call. I was exhausted, I was chilled, and I was out of communication. I could not even post of my frustrations.

The staff at the Tillman Center did not seem in the least bit concerned over the loss of communications. The immortal words of Bill the Cat came to mind.


I tried to sleep on one of the couches, but remembered that the USO is closed from 0900 to 1100 for cleaning. I had to go. I loaded up my day pack and laptop case and headed out into the shocking chill. I had left most of my cold weather gear behind... it would be unnecessary in Qatar.

The shuttle bus took waaaay too long to arrive, but it took me the mile or so down the road to the old B-hut and a borrowed bunk. Jacques Pulvier and the boys were out in The Valley overseeing some construction work going on and wouldn't be there. I needed sleep.

I found my sleep in my sleeping bag in a borrowed bunk and awoke around 1300. I thought that Jacques would be surprised to see me and that he would probably be there soon. I read a hot rod magazine (something I do as rarely as listen to rap music) and waited.

The sun went down, and Jacques Pulvier was no where to be found. I knew that they had not made contact in The Valley... he must have gone to take care of business elsewhere on Bagram. He wasn't answering his phone, but that wasn't so unusual; he frequently forgets it.

I finally saw the famous humvee outside and found Jacques with MAJ Stone Cold at the DFAC (dining facility.) The Maniac was there as well. We sat and chatted, the four of us. Conversations with this group are always easy, always humorous. It's like being at home.

Finally, it was time to go again. SFC Pulvier gave me a ride to the Pax Terminal and dropped me off yet again.

"Good luck getting out," he said.

"Thanks! I'll call you if they put us off again."

"You never know."

"I'll email you when I make it to Qatar."

"And I'll see you when you get back to Bagram! See ya!"

"See ya, buddy."

The 1900 roll call went smoothly, except I found that instead of a speedy C-17, we would be flying in a blender; the venerable C-130. A four-engined turboprop, the C-130 is hundreds of miles an hour slower than a C-17. It is also cramped, noisy, and the climate control isn't exactly precise.


A three and a half hour trip had just been extended to five and a half hours.


Okay... so now we wait. And wait. Finally, it was time to board. They loaded 54 people on a 44 passenger bus for the short drive down the flight line to the plane. We filed off the bus, up the ramp, and into the web seats on the ancient bird. It was noisy, and it was cold. We settled in and, you guessed it; we waited.

They loaded the pallet with our larger baggage into the plane and locked the pallet into the floor while we sat in the noise and cold. The smell of jet exhaust filled the interior of the plane. I busied myself with looking at all of the interesting things that you can find in the hold of the C-130 while I started my iPod and turned the volume all the way up. Alice in Chains slammed into my ears, nearly inaudible over the giant vacuum cleaner overlaid with industrial lawnmower sound of the C-130.

After what seemed an hour, the hydraulic whine that signaled the raising of the rear ramp assaulted our ears. Some people had already gone to sleep, ear plugs firmly embedded in their auditory canals, the vibration of the aircraft lulling them while the lawnmower lullaby hummed right through them.

I was too cold, leaning forward on the webbed seat at the front of the cargo hold in the center aisle, facing outboard. "Man," I thought to myself, "this is gonna suck."

The engine roar increased, the sound of the mighty four-bladed canoe paddle props grabbing air was unmistakable. The rumbling, vibrating, whining plane lurched forward, passengers tilting momentarily towards the rear of the plane, then forward again as they countered the thrust. Eyes opened, then closed as the surprise of shifting was accounted for.

I was right; it did suck. It turned out to be a six hour flight. I slept on the cold floor near my seat for a good part of the journey. It was a nice counterpoint to the convection oven heat being blown down on me by the heating system of the plane.

A young Staff Sergeant nudged me. I turned my head and looked at him resentfully.

"We're getting ready to land."

"Okay." I shook it loose and raised myself back into my seat with my arms.

I was in for a surprise.

We weren't in Qatar. We had landed in Kuwait.

What the f:-)%!"

Apparently, Qatar was having some weather. I never knew that Qatar actually had weather. I thought it was one of those places that just is... no weather, no disturbances of any kind. Qatar had taken on mythical proportions somehow. My bubble had been burst.

Qatar has weather.

We spent a day in lovely Kuwait, causing me once again wonder why we hadn't just let Saddam have the place as a curse. Oh, yeah... the black oozy stuff under all that sand. Now I remember.
That evening, it was back on another plane. You guessed it; another C-130.


Well, we arrived in Qatar after a mercifully short hour and a half flight. We got the speech about not having any porn before we went through customs. Something about a Turkish prison. We went through customs. We didn't have any porn. No one was arrested. We never found out about the Turkish prison in Qatar.

So far, it looks like Kuwait. It was dark when we got here, and all I can see is the American base. Tomorrow I am going on a tour of Doha. More Middle Eastern culture. I am looking forward to it. I just hope that I can wake up in time.

So far, R&R is really taking it out of me.


  1. I really enjoy your posts. You are at times wry, lyrical, comedic and sarcastic...all fine points in a writer. And now you have quoted Bill the Cat. I am completely enamored! Keep up the good work; I hope the rest of your R&R is less angst ridden.

  2. I think "R&R" really stands for something other than rest and recuperation or rest and relaxation..I just haven't figured out the real meaning. Maybe it is some kind of code for "laugh and cry at the same time." Hang in there!

  3. "So far, R&R is really taking it out of me."

    I can really empathize with you int the hold of the cold C-130. Freezing without cold weather gear truly sucks.

    By the way, Bill the Cat is my absolute favourite cartoon character for what it's worth.


  4. I kept telling (complaining to) my son about web seats. He didn't get it until his 4-day to Qatar on a C-130...hehe

  5. Oh my, I hope it can only get better from here on in. Looking forward to your next post...

  6. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in a blog post From the Front 02/15/2008 Due to lax posting this week I’m bringing you ALL of the front line posts for the week today in a separate post. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy.


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