30 January 2005
Well folks, it’s official! As of 24 JAN 05 I checked off my 7th continent, and I’d like to come home now if I could.
We left Youngstown on Thursday, Jan 6th and headed east to Newfoundland.
I was pleasantly surprised Wednesday morning, Jan 5th, when Shannon unexpectedly knocked on the door to my condo and we spent the day together which was a nice diversion from what I had originally planned to do, which was lament the passage of a wonderful Christmas vacation with family and most importantly, Shannon and Hannah. It was hard not to look back on all the events of the past 3 months and what a glorious time it was to be home, and then look forward to the next 3 months and contemplate all that I was going to miss out on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pessimistic by nature, it’s just I wasn’t looking forward to this rotation so much.
Thursday morning was bittersweet to say the least. Last year when we were leaving for Kyrgyzstan for the first time, I remember wishing I had
someone there to see me off. I felt blessed that Shannon was there with me this year, with a little change of status from last year (married as
opposed to having a girlfriend with whom I was in contract negotiations). It was a sad goodbye though, as most goodbyes are.
The trip over here was enjoyable after I switched from my being at home mode to my being deployed mode. It’s a tough transition, but a necessary one that mostly involves a lot of sarcasm, biting humor and the honing of sharp wits. It takes a couple days to readjust to the daunting task of leaving home for three months, but I guess it’s just one of those things we all do when we leave. Our first night was spent in St. John’s Newfoundland, a beautiful place, with a little bit of aviation history to it. I don’t know any of it well enough to relay to you today, but suffice it to say if I did, you would be impressed with my knowledge of such things.
I didn’t get much sleep the night before leaving, so I took the opportunity to catch up on my sleep that first night, because it’s miserable to
fly while tired, and the next day would be my leg to Scotland. St. John’s does have a reputation for having a pretty incredible night life, and that I do know well enough to relay to you today, but won’t in the interest of brevity and general decency.
The big highlight on the trip over here was Scotland. I hadn’t been there in about 10 years, which is a shame since it is up there in the annals of my traveling past as one of my favorite places. It’s a wonderful country and the people are great. Fortunately, we were unable to depart on
schedule due to a malfunctioning radar unit. Judging from the weather we’d be flying in, we needed an operable radar. Darn the luck.
We were parked at the airport in Prestwick, near the town of Ayr. After getting back to the hotel, Rodger and I beat feet in a torrential downpour to the train station to make our way to Glasgow. I was happy to get an extra day away from the sandbox, and even happier to spend it in one of my
favorite countries. Rodger too, was excited to be in the land of his ancestors, and it was a good thing I went with him because he needed a
translator. Everywhere we went he’d ask people questions and then look at me like a dog watching TV to find out what they said. Then they would ask him something and he would look to me trying to figure out just what it was they asked. He got the hang of it after a while, and by the end of the day he was fluent in the Scots’ version of the Queen’s English, even remarking at how cool it sounded.
We left the station in Ayr and an hour later we were in Glasgow. I’m sure after about 30 minutes into the ride all the passengers around us were
tired of hearing us call out every golf course we saw. We’d never seen so many golf courses and couldn’t help ourselves. I can’t, for the life of me understand why anybody would play golf, let alone in January when it was just cold enough outside for the weather to alternate between snow and rain with wind blowing so hard we had to lean into it to keep from being blown over. More importantly, how could anyone play golf when there is an entire countryside full of trout streams? If you’re braving the elements, why not brave them on an enjoyable venture?
We happened upon a pub there in Glasgow that housed more bottles of whisky than I’d ever seen. Not being one to pass up an opportunity to try
new things, I convinced Rodger to stop in for a wee dram. We got a lesson from the woman behind the bar on different styles of scotch and I feigned interest in her teachings. I felt like a little kid on Halloween enduring the third degree about my costume, all the while just wanting to get some candy and move on to the next house to fill my bag with goodies.
We walked around Glasgow for the better part of the afternoon and evening, without much of a purpose. We stopped at a kilt maker and a bagpipe shop, got some fish and chips, a haggis, blood pudding and some coffee before I convinced Rodger that we should go back to that house that gives out the really cool candy. For the record, I tried the haggis but steered clear of the blood pudding.
The next day the plane was still broken, although the weather was just marginal enough to get us to Germany. There we could get the thing worked on by our own maintenance folks who were deployed on a much better deal than the one we were embarking upon. They got the plane
up and running, and our play time rapidly came to an end. It was time to pay the piper for our two extra days of freedom and we had a long day ahead of us. We pressed straight through to Qatar, with only a fuel stop and a slice of thin crust pizza to break up the 12+ hours of flying ahead of us.
When we arrived, we had about 2-3 hours to get our rooms, unpack, look longingly at our beds and then attend a plethora of “Welcome Aboard, don’t do this, don’t do that, wear this, don’t wear that,” style briefings. They aren’t the most exciting things in the world to endure and I think they should give you a proficiency waiver after sitting through more than one a year. You hear one of those things and you’ve heard them all.
Evidently the base commander has a standing policy regarding people falling asleep in his briefings, he won’t stand for it. Never mind that every one of us had been up for better than 24 hours; we spent the entire afternoon nudging each other when we started to drool. The next day was
our “day off” to acclimate ourselves to the new time zone and get a feel for the base before we started flying. The day off consisted of a few more
briefings and studying up on all the local procedures.
The base here is huge, way bigger than the base in Kyrgyzstan with a good mix of Brits, Aussies, and Americans. I think that having some other
countries represented here has created a little bit more lenient environment for the drinking of beer; we’re allowed three a day, which is a nice diversion from the none a day we had in Kyrgyzstan.
After a typical mission into the AOR flying DVs around on an OIF, OEF or HOA mission we’ll stop by the DFAC for chow, then hit the Cadillac for a shower and head to the DEL for a drink underneath the Bra, our beer chit ensuring compliance with GO-1A. Sometimes we’ll go to the BX, but that’s only if the LRC is too busy to get a computer.
That is after a typical mission, we haven’t really had any of those yet. We’ve flown one mission into Iraq so far. That was the first mission we flew, and it was a pretty easy day. I was surprised by the contrast between the countryside in Iraq compared to what I was used to flying into Afghanistan. It’s a flat and desolate country, a few urban areas here and there with a lot of oil wells scattered about. I imagine I’ll have more to tell you as I get more flights up there.
Our next two missions were back to Afghanistan, which made for some very long days indeed. On our approach into Kandahar I looked around and was pleasantly surprised to see herds of camels just lollygagging around outside the base perimeter. On the way back we flew over Dubai
where they have constructed a series of jetties in the gulf shaped like a palm tree. Those OPEC folks must have money to burn. I imagine it would make for a nice, romantic evening with my funny little honey sipping wine on one of the fronds by the light of the oil well fires burning off shore.
I’ve definitely seen more than I ever thought I would of the Middle East on this little hiatus from the good life back home. I’ve logged off a few more countries, and got my seventh continent last week. I expected Africa to be a flat, barren wasteland and although I wasn’t completely wrong, I was pleasantly surprised. We flew into Djibouti, which is in Djibouti. It’s a small country on the eastern most corner of Africa, known as the Horn of Africa. It’s just north of Somalia and across the Red Sea from Yemen. It’s definitely in the third world, and I was happy to be staying on base. Ever the explorer, I would’ve liked to check out the countryside though. Fortunately we were confined to camp and I got enough mosquito bites there to keep me scratching for the next week. Now I have to take malaria medicine for the next two weeks.
We spent the next day picking up big wigs and hauling them to a conference in Ethiopia. We left Djibouti and flew north to Eritrea where we
picked up some more folks. The flight up the west side of the Red Sea wasn’t very exciting, until we started inland where the terrain began to rise, so much for my thoughts of flat and barren, well flat anyway. The airport there was about 7500 feet above sea level. The mountains in Africa seem to just rise out of the desert and then flatten out at the top, like another desert floor 8000 feet up. I suppose it isn’t so different from the Grand Canyon.
We flew from Eritrea east to Saana, Yemen, another high elevation airport. The real fun part there was trying to communicate with a ground
controller who sounded like he might be better suited driving a taxi rather than giving taxi instructions. It probably didn’t help, according to the
Marine we had on board, that they wanted nothing to do with Americans in their country. That’s the edited version of what he said of course, you know how colorful Marines can be in their manner of speech.
We left Yemen and headed west to Ethiopia. Flying over Yemen I was surprised to see dozens of small volcanoes dotting the landscape below.
There were a few good-sized ones that must still be active because there seemed to be plenty of fresh lava floes; fresh in a geological time frame that is.
The airport in Addis Abeeb, Ethiopia is also up above 7000 ft in elevation. This was the prettiest place we’ve flown to yet. Again, it was perched atop a flat plain, high above the desert floor, but still seated beneath some pretty steep hillsides. I was somewhat hopeful that we’d get to spend the night, just to get a feel for the country and the local culture. The folks we met at the airport were very friendly and smiled from ear to ear when I told them I thought their country was beautiful. Heck, it was the only place I’d seen a tree since we left Germany, and there was a stream running crystal clear through the city that looked like it might hold fish, and that always ups my estimation of a place’s potential. I felt an ambassadorial obligation to make good on a professional faux pas I made earlier that day speaking on the radio to a controller. I mispronounced a compulsory reporting point, two actually. First there was the point titled ASOLE followed by what I interpreted to be GeeWhiZ, but it was really just Gulf Whiskey Zulu. The controller was quick to correct me on both points and most of my crew was quick to respond in fits of laughter that debilitated all but one.
That’s the latest scoop in this first volume of the Iraqi Indiqatar. My apologies for the great length, I’ve been remiss in my chronicles and this is the result; a long-winded missive about my adventures so far.
I hope this finds everyone doing well and enjoying the winter months. I hear winter has hit the Midwest hard this year, which I’m bummed
about. Two snowy winters in a row and I’m missing it. I can’t complain though, I was happy to get to spend Christmas at home this year, and I can’t ask for much more than that. It was nice to have two new additions to Christmas at the our house this year, Shannon and Hannah.
Hello Again, Everyone!
There is a spring in everyone’s step today as we count down the hours of our last days remaining here. It’s been a long deployment, but I’m happy to report it seems to have gone by more quickly than our previous rotations.
My apologies for not being better about sending out regular volumes of the Iraqi Indiqatar while over here. Life can get a little monotonous over here and time seems to pass quickly and without much frame of reference. I’ve planned to do something one day and a week will pass before I give the project a second thought. I suppose that’s not such a bad thing if all you’re doing is counting the days until departure, but it isn’t so very good when you’re trying to be productive about something, like the sending of e mails home or the tying of flies for the much-anticipated and eagerly awaited spring fishing season.
We’ve flown roughly one-third of the days we’ve been over here, up to Iraq mostly but back to Afghanistan a few times and twice to Africa. The second trip to Africa wasn’t nearly as much fun as the first, as we did the one day out and back, sit on your posterior looking at desert for 5 straight hours twice in one day. It wasn’t really that bad, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf broke up the monotony of the desert below.
I’m typing this up as I get ready to don my flight suit hopefully for our last mission before we depart the fix on Tuesday night. It’s been an enjoyable time with a great crew that has made this rotation all the more bearable. We’ve had our differences and it’s been interesting
to see the group dynamic go full circle when said group spends 90 days together.
There isn’t much new to report from this end, which is mostly why I’ve been remiss in my missives. The routine of a life deployed is broken only by the excitement of getting to fly every other day followed of course, by the obligatory bitching about having to fly every other day.
Kevin, the other pilot on the crew, provides the majority of the entertainment in the air and on the ground. He does a good job of keeping the morale up and making sure the routine isn’t so routine everyday. Flying with him is like flying with both of my grandfathers every day. He’s got a very distinctive voice that will be ingrained in your mind’s ear from the moment you hear it, and a manner of speaking that harkens back to the 1940s. He refrains from using foul language, opting for words such as bunk and son of a buck instead of the standard aircrew verbiage. Unique, and certainly entertaining, he seems to have memorized every single bit of Yosemite Sam dialogue from the Bugs Bunny era of cartoons, and quotes them with great timing and regularity, referring to others as varmints or critters, as though he were Yosemite Sam himself.
The past week has been spent getting ready to redeploy home, packing, unpacking and repacking again to make ten pounds of stuff fit into a
five-pound container. There is plenty of cleaning and dusting to do so we don’t leave pig sties for our replacements, and lots of planning ahead for things like getting our laundry turned in on time so it is ready for the flight home.
You see we don’t have laundry facilities here. At first thought, that may leave you with a hoity toity impression of the Air Force, as though we are too good to do our own laundry. Well it isn’t the case, I would prefer it actually. We have to go to a central facility where everyone airs their dirty laundry so to speak. The TCNs (third country nationals) sift through all our unmentionables, throw them in a plastic bag and three days
later we’re wearing clean undies. The downside to all this is that in order for them to identify our clothes they place linen stickers somewhere on the inside of our clothes. Just where they are placed remains a mystery until they start itching at an inconvenient moment. I’m planning on spending the next month home picking them out of my clothes because they hide them in a different location every time.
The laundry facility is located on the other side of our compound from the Bra, which is where we go to unwind and partake in our three
beer per day quota. After a hard day of doing very little and when the weather is warm enough to enjoy being outside, we spend most evenings there. The weather has certainly been plenty warm the past few weeks, it’s actually been downright hot and we’ve been spending most evenings there indulging ourselves in our 3 per day ration.
The Bra is a giant, big top style tent, with two big tops. Underneath are a bunch of tables and chairs so that everyone can gather around and stand on the sidewalks going through the Bra. It came to the attention of some of the guys on the crew early on that we are no longer
supposed to refer to the Bra as the Bra. It was deemed offensive by someone, although when you look at it, only two things come to the mind that has been subjected to a life deployed. Since no one really knows what it is officially called, I just told the boys to refer to it the Base Recreational Assembly Area since that couldn’t be deemed offensive even by the most politically correct of residents here at the Deid.
It is now Monday night, the night before we leave and I’ve got things pretty well wrapped up. My bags are packed, my laundry is complete and my three beer quota is filled. We leave this garden spot tomorrow night at 10:00 pm, and we’re basically reversing the course we took over here to get back home. A night in Scotland and a night in St. John’s and then home to Ohio Friday afternoon if all goes well. It will be good to be back home.
I want to thank all of you who have written and kept me in the loop on all the happenings back home. I can’t wait to get back there and catch up with everyone face to face, or at least on the phone.
Thanks again for all of your support and prayers. This stuff over here is a lot easier to get through when I think about everyone back home.