The author. "We could not tell if they were shouting at us or to us, so we kept weapons ready and smiled and waved."
We had a long flight and went right into training to confirm the sight alignment on our weapons; we watched two mandatory training videos and then waited on logistics -- all after two hours' sleep and jet lag. We are upgrading the armor on our vehicles and sorting out the equipment as it comes off the boats. We were supposed to head north Tuesday, but there were complications, and now we have to wait indefinitely. I am not sure if it is just a coordination issue or if there are other issues preventing us from landing. The camp we are at is barely big enough to hold the volume of troops here. Everything is a line, including meal time and port-a-johns. We are still living out of our backpacks, and the desert is not as exotic as one may think. Blue sky and tan sand -- not too colorful. The guys are great; despite some frustration and anticipation, everyone is doing well.
After spending ten days on standby to leave our port of arrival in Kuwait and head into Iraq, I am more than ready to find a more permanent residence. In summation, here are the highlights for reasons to leave (in top-ten format):
- Two helicopter crashes
- 18 hours of rain in one day and a whole lot of mud
- 20 gallons of water per day per soldier for personal hygiene (not hot)
- A 45-minute wait in line for food and 5 minutes to eat it
- Living out of one backpack for ten days, but the backpack had to include our chemical gear, night vision device, GPS, wet and cold weather gear maps...leaving room for razor, toothbrush, socks, and underwear
- A great three-day laundry service, but we have been on standby to leave in an hour for the past ten days (note: basic uniform allotment is four per soldier)
- 20,000 people occupying a space designed for 12,000
- Port-a-johns everywhere -- good thing it has been 70 degrees and not 130
- 70 people sharing the same tent (and cough) for sleeping
- Stowing away on the back of a personnel carrier heading north by ground; the other alternative was Marine aviation (note recent crash in the news). I made it safely; well, as safe as it is here. It was a wild ride. When we crossed the border, it was like night and day between the two countries. Although Northern Kuwait is still rebuilding from the Gulf War, it is far superior to its neighbor. As we crossed, the kids and dogs came running up to the convoys to watch and wave. It was like being in a National Geographic episode, except I was holding a loaded weapon and we were riding down the road at 45 mph. The terrain varied as far as lack of vegetation went; some spots were all sand and some had nice trees and grasses. Mud huts and grass huts peppered the landscape, and we saw a variety of animals -- cows, sheep, goats, dogs, camels. Most of the people seemed accepting of us, but it was a well-traveled route. One of the convoys veered off, and they said the mood changed. For the most part, the kids were very friendly, waving, asking for food, and giving thumbs up. The adults watched pretty emotionlessly. We hit some "police" checkpoints that forced us to slow down. They don't wear uniforms, yet they all carry machine guns. We could not tell if they were shouting at us or to us, so we kept weapons ready and smiled and waved. On the other side, there were guys trying to peddle cigarettes and other trinkets. One guy held two cartons and said, "Two hundred." I do not know what the exchange is or if he wanted American dollars. I think they have democracy covered, and we don't need to be here. I hope he wanted two hundred of his money.
After several minor incidents, we managed to make it to the base. We made it late Thursday; there were no lights in the streets or outside the tents or chow hall -- a preventive measure against mortar attacks. We had to learn how to walk around in the dark without crashing into the concrete barriers that protect us.
As for living conditions, we have been bartering and scavenging from the Marines who are leaving. I currently have a cot, footlocker, and three cardboard boxes that are serving as my nightstand and dresser. I am using the footlocker for my desk, and it's not too bad.
From the blog, Medicine Soldier in Iraq