Wednesday, January 03, 2007

R&R, New Year’s Eve and a Shiner

I’m sorry it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I was given the opportunity to go home on R&R (rest and relaxation) leave and I am a big believer in not doing ANYTHING work related when I’m on vacation. I have to tell you, I had a fantastic time from start to finish. The Army paid for the plane fare, and paid me for being on vacation.

Here’s the rundown of how the trip went. I left Iraq on a cargo plane (a lot of cargo included) and went to Kuwait to manifest for the flight to the states. I don’t remember much of that flight other than getting on the plane, buckling up, and sleeping. Once in Kuwait, I got to use a real toilet for the first time in nine months. Yes, it was a big novelty for me. I left shortly after that for Atlanta. I got lucky and got a first class seat all the way.

The fun thing about flying on a chartered plane is the flight crew. Particularly the flight attendants, they are not accustomed to being addressed with “Yes Ma’am, No Ma’am, Yes Sir, and No Sir”. They put out so much effort to spoil us for the short amount of time they have us with them. I talked to one who comes from Kansas. She has been a flight attendant for 15 years and repeatedly stated that she loves the military flights the most because of how polite we are and how appreciative we are of their work. We stopped in Germany for a two hour layover to resupply & refuel then kept going.

Once in Atlanta, I was sent through the security point to go from one terminal to another. The TSA agent tells me that I have to have my carry on bag checked by customs, never mind that I have a “Customs Cleared” sticker on my bags. I didn’t mind because I wasn’t in Iraq getting shot at. The one thing that did annoy me was that they said I may be chosen to be patted down to look for any weapons. This is where I calmly explained to them the position they were about to put themselves in. You see, I was already very uncomfortable due to the fact that, by regulation, I left my rifle, pistol and knife in theater because you can’t fly a civilian airline with them; I was also flying in uniform (something I don’t care to do often because I like to keep a low profile). I went further and expressed the fact that I had just been in combat operations about 48 hours before I arrived in Atlanta and “I have this thing about people I don’t know touching me”. Needless to say, they chose someone else.

I am fully supportive of TSA’s mission of insuring my safety on a plane as well as the safety of all passengers but I would like to know if they are able to or allowed to apply common sense to their job to make it easier. Think about this, if a soldier (clearly marked by his U.S. Army uniform) returning from Iraq comes up to your security station; wouldn’t you think to ask to verify that he has his customs clearance and his MILITARY IDENTIFICATION to verify authenticity? Oh well, water under the bridge.

I spent about three hours in the Atlanta Airport and I have to tell you about the Delta Airlines sponsored military lounge. They already have a USO (Uniformed Service Organization) office in the atrium of the North Terminal. This lounge was in the Bravo Concourse and had been opened all of two hours when I got there and talk about something that stands out. They had a food spread that could rival a five-star hotel. They also had local Georgians there that were spending their free time to greet us as we went by or stopped by. They had set up a Christmas tree using unit patches as ornaments that were donated by soldiers passing through. What a way to be welcome home from the desert!

From there I went to my home destination and had a fantastic time from the beginning to the end. Of course the end of vacation stinks because you have to go back. The only good thing I can say about that is that I already knew what life was going to be like when I got back. I took the same route back to Iraq.

This is where the trip gets “normal” for me. I was scheduled to fly into my post on New Year’s Eve. Point of interest: Saddam Hussein was hung a few days before so everyone has been expecting the country to go totally insane (more than usual). I was put on a C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft courtesy of Uncle Sam’s Air Force. Imagine flying in a huge sewer pipe with wings and no windows. Add to that sweat, vomit and fuel smells and you’ll get the idea. Things were fine until our attempt at landing.

Like the “Frequent Flyer Miles” posting on this blog, the C-130 will also do evasive flying to avoid becoming a target. In the middle of our first attempt, the pilot starts to launch counter-measure flares and weaving the aircraft like a drunk driver. Things are still normal for me, even though we had a few people already lose lunch. It was when the crew chief (the guy in charge of the back of the plane) starts losing his mind in a panic, that I knew we had problems. Normally, a crew chief will sit calmly for the duration of any flight I’ve ever been on unless that aircraft takes fire. At this point, the crew chief got thrown from one end of the plane to the other. A few of us caught him and held him down so he wouldn’t get hurt. I received a nice “shiner” from the incident. This is when the pilot aborts the landing attempt and rockets the aircraft up. Imagine the worst rollercoaster you’ve ever been on and add the possibility of a crash. He then swings around for another attempt because we started to leak hydraulic fluid and can’t go back to Kuwait. While all this is going on, people are starting to barf into their barf bags and on the floor.

On the FOURTH attempt that we actually landed in country. It seems that we had taken a few rounds and developed a hydraulic fluid leak from it, considering the alternative, not a big issue in my book. I imagine it must have been the local problem children helping us celebrate the incoming New Year with fireworks of their own. All in all, I think we got off pretty easy. The fireworks show continued well into morning so I didn’t get much sleep. I have to say the show wasn’t as entertaining as Disney’s show.


Post a Comment

<< Home