Outside the Wire
I am sorry I haven’t written in a while. I…
This is a post from an earlier blog I kept when I was in Iraq.
Where should I start? Well, when I last left y’all I was still at Beuhring, burning up. Well on Tuesday, space on a C-130 (Air Force Cargo plane that I have jumped off before during Airborne school) opened up. I met a unit from the Hawaiian National Guard, they were quite interesting. The funniest part was when they were down here for training they ended up staying 2 weeks more than they had to, and this was because they couldn’t handle the heat. Rumor was that at least 2-3 of their soldiers would pass out during training every time they went to the ranges. And each time they had to be MEDEVAC’d from the site. Then they would have to start all over again. Anyhow, I hooked up with them because they were headed in the same direction as me, and it’s always a good idea to travel in a group.
When we arrived at the airport, we loaded our bags onto a palette and some Air Force soldiers arranged them into a cube form and put the green mesh around it, like they were gonna attach a parachute to and drop it out the back in mid-flight. I was hot and thirsty so I turned away from them and look for the water point. They are usually identified by two white refrigerators, like the kind they have in 7-11, and it is stocked full of 1.5 Liter bottles of water, with a million boxes of water next to them. Then there’s a sign on the door that reads, “IF YOU TAKE ONE OUT, PUT ONE IN OR ELSE YOU WILL DRINK HOT WATER.” They ain’t lyin’… For some reason, that water sits outside all day and gets boiling hot but never cools off, so even at night the water is undrinkable. I remember taking a shower once and I had on the hot water, it was about 4 o’clock; it was a little too warm so I turned up the cold water… WHEW! That water was scalding hot!!! Since when is the cold water hotter than the hot water? I found out later that the cold water tank was sitting outside in the direct sunlight, but I digress. I grabbed a bottled water and an MRE and went and stood in formation. A captain took control of the company and told us the flight would last about two hours, and that time in Iraq is an hour ahead of Kuwait. We boarded the plane and I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to eat my MRE because they jammed us in like sardines.
On the C-130, the seating is arranged in 4 rows: 2 that run along the sides facing in, and 2 in the middle of the plane facing out. But the seats aren’t really made for comfort. As I said, this is a cargo plane so the seats fold out. They are aluminum frames with meshed green canvas that supports you. That’s ok for a 45-minute flight. But to be in the air for 2 hours! My butt hurt so badly! And to add to the misery, Air Force pilots fly the plane like there’s nothing but cargo in it. They handed out earplugs because the thing is so loud and it’s not really pressurized. But the WORST part was the ventilation system. It only blows hot engine air inside the cabin as long as the bird is on the ground. And I swear we spent half an hour taxiing, I nearly passed out. After we landed we got off the plane, and the commander got out and said, “Welcome to Balad Airbase, you are now in a combat zone.”
We caught a bus over to a tent to receive our initial briefing, where a PFC told us about the base amenities, such as 24-hour bus service, gyms, and a PX. He also told us about our greatest danger…Mortar Attacks. “They occur on average every other day. If you hear the siren (which you will usually hear AFTER the mortars strike), run into any nearby bunker unless you are in a hard building,” he said.
Everyone’s unit was there at the briefing waiting on them to take them to get settled in… except mine. I called and they said that they will get me as soon as they find and wake up the guy who usually does it. He didn’t show for about an hour. The people who did the briefing put me out in the heat and went home. Remember that MRE I picked up before I left? Well by this point I was starving so I pulled it out—’Spaghetti with meat sauce.’ I licked my chops, ripped off the top of the bag without even heating it up, and took about a bite and a half before I heard, “Hey you throw that damn thing away, you ain’t gonna need it.” It was a First Sergeant who apparently was in a bad mood because someone woke him up at 4:00 in the morning to come get a private. I was about ready to disobey a direct order but then thought to myself that that wouldn’t be starting me off on the right foot. After he saw me reluctantly throw my MRE in the trash, he said “Look, private, I’m going to get you some nice hot food.” He then commenced to rushing me to get all of my 5 VERY HEAVY bags onto this Iraqi Minibus that has about 20 seats in it but could only seat about 3 Americans comfortably. I struggled to get my bags in and he lost his patience with me very quickly. “Hurry up private; you’re moving like pond water!” I finally got the last bag in and I was drenched in sweat from head to toe. He started driving and telling me that he was going to feed me… Then he told me that he was from New Orleans and that he hated it there and after he joined the Army he never went back. I told him where I was from and, he acted like he didn’t hear me and kept talking about Louisiana. “Yeah nutt’n good about it Prive.” (Old NCOs don’t really enunciate their words they tend to only say the first syllable of every word they say). He kept rambling on about Louisiana so I tuned him out and started pondering life’s great unanswered questions like: Why did the Fugees break up? And whatever did happen to those weapons of mass destruction?
We finally arrived at the building that I was to stay for the night and the 1SG (First Sergeant) stopped the bus and said “Yup prive, nutt’n good about.” I rolled my eyes and pulled my things out and followed him to my quarters. There were 2 marines in there asleep, I dropped my bags off quietly so as not to wake them up then the 1SG walks in and turns on the lights and starts talking really loud, telling me to hurry up so he can get some sleep. Then I whispered, “Don’t forget I haven’t eaten yet.” He replied “Hell prive, stop being so damn hungry! I said Imma feed ya’!” We hopped back into the bus and drove to the DFAC (Dining Facility), it was closed. The time was about 5 in the morning and it wasn’t scheduled to open until 6:30. Frustrated because I had a bite of food earlier that spurred hunger pangs, I asked if he could take me to the 24-hour Subway. “You’ll be alright prive,” he said. And he drove me back to my room. I lay in the bed and passed out only to be awakened by him about 2 ½ hours later when he came to get the marines out of the bed. He didn’t spare me the lights and the loud talking. I asked him where I was supposed to go. He said that I should go to the HHC Orderly Room, which is my unit’s main office. I asked what time and he said he didn’t care. So I turned over, and went to sleep and didn’t wake up until 4PM.
I finally went where I was supposed to go and they acted like they saw a ghost. Obviously, nobody knew who I was or that I was coming. They told me to go back to the room and show up the next day at 9. That night, or should I say early morning, I heard a loud siren. It sounded like the ones you hear on old movies where the Americans are scared that communists are going to bomb them. It was followed by another alarm that was the same pitch but sounded as if it were computer-generated. What soon followed was one of the most terrifying sounds I ever heard in my life… BOOM! BANG! BOOM! …This went on for several minutes. The explosions were very audible, and they shook the whole building. I felt as if the target that they were aiming at was me. Were the Iraqis mad that’s such a good-looking young man entered their territory? I hopped out of my bed. The room was very cold. Goosebumps were all up my arms and back, whether it was because I was terrified or because it was freezing. For some reason, they turned the air conditioner to -50F or something. I walked out of the room and looked out the window. Curiosity killed the cat so I dashed back inside the room and slammed the door. One of the Marines woke up and just looked at me. I said “We’re being mortared!” He smiled, got up, and walked to the bathroom. I heard the toilet flush then he came back and promptly went to bed. I looked at him in astonishment as he fell sound asleep. The thuds could still be heard at this point… I figured since he wasn’t worried, why should I be? It was a false sense of security, but it helped me through the night. The ‘all clear’ alarm went off a few minutes later; it sounds like a foreign ambulance. I had lain awake until the sun came up. In the morning I saw the 1SG and he asked me if I heard the fireworks last night. I told him that I did and the marines didn’t care and that all marines are crazy. He told me that they didn’t care because we were in a ‘hard’ building and that if any mortars were to hit it we would be OK. He took me to meet the people in my unit and I learned what the job was supposed to be. I will go into detail about that later. I have to wrap this one up. I’ll holla at you later.