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September 14, 2005

Getting to the fight...

...a continuing intermittent series of no-juicy-stuff-because-of-OPSEC emails from Blake, helping the 101st Get To The Fight.

From "Somewhere in the Middle East..."


Greetings from about half-a-mile past the back of the Beyond,

I made my own memorial to 9-11 by getting on an airplane at Fort Campbell about 0500 that morning and flying to Kuwait with the quartering party for the brigade of the 101st Abn Div that I support. At least, “quartering party” is what the manuals had been calling it for several hundred years when I was a serving soldier. I guess that that phrase didn’t sound manly enough, or something, as these days the phrase used is “torch party.” Go figure.

I’m not giving anything away by saying this, as our local PAO had already issued a press release indicating that passenger flow for several of the infantry brigades in the 101st would be starting this week.

CENTCOM has made a specific OPSEC issue out of writing home about ongoing logistics operations, so I’m not going to be able to talk much about the specifics of the reasons why I’m here. Basically, this 50-year old retired sergeant is here to expedite the movement of my brigade’s equipment off the ships we put it on a few weeks ago, move it from the port to our staging base, and then to arrange for its transport north to the brigade’s assigned operating area in Iraq. Once I get that done, I should be able to go back to the US and help handle sustainment flow.

So I guess I’ll have to write about other stuff. Like the flight, which was way, way, too long. Precisely 24 hours elapsed between the time when I had to report to the passenger marshalling area (a gymnasium at Fort Campbell,) and the moment when they opened the door of the airplane in Kuwait. The plane had seats for 173 passengers, but because of weight and fuel limits on the 737-800, we only loaded 90. I was lucky and got one of the 3-person seat-sets to myself. But when you are over 6 feet tall and weigh 240 lb, even having that much space it’s still hard to be comfortable, especially when you are trying to sleep.

In transit, we stopped at Bangor, Maine; Keflavik, Iceland; and Bucharest, Romania. Enroute to Bangor we flew directly over Bucksport, Maine, and I was able to get an aerial photo of Fort Knox State Historic Site, just south of Bucksport on the Penobscot River. It’s a multilevel granite casemated fort with extensive water batteries, set into the side of a bluff overlooking the river. While it was never fully completed, Maine’s Fort Knox is still very well preserved, and it was never modified to house later period weapons, as so many of the larger Third Period casemated forts were during the Endicott Period.

I’ve attached the photo. It’s not as good as I’d hoped, but it’s not bad for having been taken out the window of an airliner when I had only a few seconds to realize that the possibility of even taking any such photo existed.

Changing the subject a little, I want to say some nice things about the people of Bangor, Maine and the surrounding communities. When they realized that a lot of aircraft carrying US military personnel to and from the CENTCOM AOR would be landing in Bangor to refuel, these people took it upon themselves to meet every plane as the troops offloaded, to applaud the troops and to try to attend to their needs. These days, the Maine Military Greeters gave taken over an unused retail space in the airport concourse, where they offer free coffee and snacks, free telephone calls, and free reading material to their military guests, including free gun pron, (or so I classify the periodical “Small Arms Review.”)

I have to admit that, as a civilian who is not expecting to go in harm’s way on this trip, I was a bit embarrassed to be receiving part of this attention. (I’m still getting over being told by a WW2 veteran that he is grateful for MY service. By all rights I should have been thanking him…) But several of the greeters told me that what I was doing is, in its own way, just as important as what the soldiers are doing, and that that meant that THEY thought I was entitled, so I decided not to argue. I did try to give them a donation to help cover their costs, and was told that as long as I was a passenger inbound from, or outbound to theater, my money wasn’t any good in Bangor. So I’ll send them a check when I get back…

I’m told that Iceland has beautiful green farms set amid some of the most spectacular scenery in the Northern Hemisphere. Naturally, Naval Air Station Keflavik isn’t near any of those parts of Iceland. Instead, it sits near the end of a peninsula that is, geologically-speaking, a relatively recent addition to the island. Which means that the peninsula consists mostly of dense igneous rocks with a coating of lichen, and there isn’t much of anything to block the wind coming off the Atlantic. Which it was. The ambient air temp when we arrived was about 45 degrees F and the wind was doing 15 knots or so when we stepped off the plane. Just another autumn Sunday evening in Iceland, while we’re all dressed for the desert. The walk from the airplane stairs to the terminal entrance was short but, er… …ahh,… …uhh,… … invigorating!.

Because it was Sunday evening when we set down, pretty much everything at the Keflavik military passenger terminal was closed. (The big airfield at Keflavik is now also the principal international airport for Iceland as a nation, but the new civilian terminal at Keflavik is completely separate from the NAS facilities.) But they did have the USO and gift shop open for us. If I’d been on my way back to the US I’d have bought souvenirs. Instead, I settled for an enameled pin in the shape of Iceland for my “I was there” hat. Heck, I’ll probably loose the silly thing before I get home.

We arrived in Bucharest, Romania, at about 0200 local. We weren’t allowed to deplane in Bucharest. At 0200, when viewed from the terminal apron, every airport in the world looks just like every other airport in the world.

Which brings me to Kuwait. One would think, based on looking at a map of the region, that pretty much all of Kuwait is occupied. Au contraire. Maps lie. Kuwait has lots and lots and lots of not-really-anywhere-at-all, and the Army picked one of these spots to build the transit camp where I am now situated. It’s basically a big rectangle, several miles on a side, with a big sand berm around it to tell people where the edge of the camp is. As someone else once observed, “It’s not really at the end of the earth, but you can see it from here.” And in this place the US military has contrived to place all of the comforts of home, as long as your idea of comforts includes sleeping 60-plus to a room, having to walk a couple hundred meters to get a shower, and water that has to be brought in in tanker trucks. Still, the mess hall serves 4 meals a day, and if that palls, we have Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, a pizza joint open 24/7, a place that sells decent Chinese, and a Kuwaiti-run donut shop that sells pretty decent pastries and really good coffee. But scenic it ain’t. See the other attached photo.

That’s it for the moment. Gotta go back to work, about which I aintasposeatalkabaout.

Regards,

Blake
Deployment Specialist, GS-9
3rd BCT, 101st Abn Div (AASLT)

P.S. No attachments this time. Interface doesn't want to load them. I'm working at a peak usage hour and I suspect the upload would require too much bandwidth.

Ya wanna see what Blake saw, except in black and white... click here.