Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kuwait and Beyond

As promised, all of us that did baggage detail flew in business class.  We loaded on to the plane right after the officers that were on the flight.  I sat in the 5th row from the front and a window seat.  We flew on World Airlines and I don't know what kind of plane it was but it was big.  There were 3 seats on each side and 5 across the middle.  Part of the business class gig was that we got a empty seat between each of us so there was plenty of room.  Our first stop was in Germany.  It was a very painless flight.  Somewhere around 8 hrs. long.  We watched the A-Team and two other movies that I truly don't even remember what they were.  It was kind of weird because night only lasted about 3 hrs from the time it got dark to the morning sky was turning red.

I'm not really sure when we arrived in Germany but it was the same time as the first news coverage about the shootings in Norway.  We hung around the airport and visited a couple of shops.  They had some great Bratwurst.  We were there for about 2 hours while they refueled and cleaned up our plane.  It was a good break.

Row of AC tents

One of many runs of tents
We loaded back onto  plane and headed off to Kuwait.  That was a 4 hr flight.  I'm not really sure where all the time went but it went fast. Again, I'm not sure what time we landed but it was still daylight and hot around 120 so it was starting to cool off.  We off loaded the plane and got onto several buses to start our movement to Ali Al Salem Base.  We sat on the buses packed like sardines while some other lucky souls got to unload the baggage into 2 semi trucks.  The convoy of trucks and buses were escorted by security quite a ways.  We had been on the bus for a heck of a long time and everyone was eady to get off for one reason or another.  We finally came to the first check point and so many people were in dire straits that they let us off to go to the bathroom.  It was a mad, unscheduled rush. We were only half way to the base.  We finally got to the base and unloaded in a holding area where we got iced down, truly cold water for the last time.  We were there standing around  for a long time as other groups joined ours.  There were several hundred people there before we were loaded up once again and transported to tent city.  By that time it was well past dark but it gets dark here at 6:30.  We all gathered for a briefing which lasted an hour or so then everyone went out to unload the trucks and try to find their duffels.  The military guys and DOD civilian each had 4 bags and the contractors each had 2 bags.  It was kind of chaos.  Those of us that were sticking together helped each other out. After we got our stuff located we had to go in and get our ID and LOA stamped for a flight out.  We then went to get a tent assignment.  John Lucas and myself were in Q6.  We went and got the stuff we could carry and went to look for our tent.  It was around 10 PM at this point.  Each tent had 10 bunks and was air conditioned which meant it was a nice cool 95.  We claimed our bunks, locked our stuff in lockers returned for the rest of our belongings hoping they were still there and went exploring. 

Bunkers in case .......

These are everywhere.
We found a Pizza Hut, KFC,Subway, Mc Donalds and a doughnut shop.  All open but the doughnut shop.  I got some KFC.  We then went to the tent and crashed.  Even though it was 95 it felt pretty gosh darn good compared to the outside temp.  There was a flight to Bagram at 2 AM and both John and I needed to get to Bagram but it was booked.  We slept until we woke up, showered and went to see when the next flight left.  Show time was 1515.  That means you are there and if there is room you get on if not ...oh well there is always next time.  Some folks are stuck for days here before they can get on a flight. That was the only flight to Bagram for the day. There was all kinds of free food there...the Honey Buns were the best.  We hung there for a couple of hours because it was cool and we would be farther up in the line to get a chance at the flight.  When showtime came ...we didn't make the cut.  We were in Kuwait for another day.  We hung out for a little longer in the cool and then went and found the entertainment hall and watched movies and got a pizza and hit the sack.
Added reinforcement

Communication dishes.

Tent City transportation services.
When we got back to the tent some bottom, cooler bunks had opened up and we moved into those.  At about 4 am we got new tent mates who were rude as heck and we were basically up for the rest of the day.  We went and showered and back to the terminal to see if there was a flight.  At 4 am the sun is starting to come up and it is already heating up.  It ended up that there was a flight to Bagram that afternoon (Monday) and showtime was at 1300 so we had a Honey Bun and went to get our stuff deciding that if we missed the flight we would just stay at the terminal until we did get a flight--no matter how long--because it was cool and no more noisy than our tent.  We lined up at 1300 and were the 3rd and 4th in line and got on that flight which was scheduled for departure at 1600.  We had a briefing, palletized our baggage got in line and loaded onto the buses and drove to the airport and waited on the buses until the plane was ready for us. That was a 2 hour process.

Were were flying from Kuwait to Bagram Afghanistan on a C17 A which is a huge cargo jet with 4 engines.  There were at least 200 of us on this flight. When we pulled up in the buses the back ramp was open and we could see that there were no seats inside.  A transport rig of some sort pulled up with a section of seats on it and they loaded them on the plane and secured them and the cargo plane instantly became a passenger plane.  Once the seats were in place we exited the buses and loaded onto the plane.  Once again I got lucky and got into the 4th row aisle seat.  These seats were really tight.

The flight lasted for 4 hrs.  No stewardess, no food, no movie so I read a book on my iPad for the 1st hour and a half and then got up and walked to the back of the plane where some of the guys were standing and just hanging out rather than sitting the whole flight.  Some were laying on the floor sleeping.  Stood for the rest of the flight until about 15 minutes before landing.  We landed and they unloaded some of the cargo and we all marched off the end of the plane wearing our body armor  and helmets and carrying our back packs.  No bus at the Bagram Airfield....we walked about 1/4 of a mile to the terminal.  The best thing about being on the ground was that it was cool and misting.  Once we hit the terminal we had a briefing.  It was 1 am,  show time for my flight to Kabul wasn't until 3:30 am so some more waiting.  The mantra for this whole experience has been "hurry up and wait". I had been up from around 4 the previous morning so it had been a long day.  3:30 came along and I made the flight which was to leave at 6:30 .  Fifty-nine of us made it.  When 6:30 came along 19 were bumped from he flight including me.  Had to make a call and it was decided that GTW would drive and pick me up and transport me to Kabul. I was of the guys in our travel group was going to be stuck there for 5 days miminum.    Next.....My First Day In Afghanistan

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Beginning---CRC Training

CRC Drive
This is the start of a series of blogs to share my experiences during my preparation and stay in Afghanistan.  This opportunity came about after working with the Nebraska National Guard ADT2 ( Agribusiness Development Team) group.  The group spent 2 days with me at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Kimmel Education and Research Center in Nebraska City, NE learning about alternative agriculture practices. We covered topic that included grape production, vegetable production, tree and small fruit production, intensive production practices, season extension and high tunnels.  The group participated in hands on activities such as fruit tree pruning, grape pruning and grape propagation.  We had a great 2 days that resulted in my being asked to travel to Gardez Afghanistan to work in the field with the ADT2 group and their interactions with Afghan farmers.  The basic premise is to help the Afghan farmers re-establish agriculture in their country.  To help them transition from war to agriculture production.
Starting from the beginning.  My Afghanistan Experience started at Fort Benning GA on the 15th of July 2011.  My visit to Fort Benning began when I arrived at the airport in Columbus, GA and loaded onto a bus that took myself and 30 or so others to CRC training at Fort Benning.  We arrived and were immediately billeted or in civilian terms assigned a room and issued 1 set of sheets, pillow case, wool blanket and a very noisy uncomfortable pillow.  Each barrack consisted of 10 rooms each having 2 sets of bunks, 4 sets of washers and dryers and 1 latrine.  All total there were approximately 400 military and civilian attendees who were deploying to various parts of the world that participated in this CRC training.

Saturday the 16th was the official beginning of CRC and we had a 0900 formation and were bussed to a very large tent for a briefing that basically laid out the ground rules and some medical info that sent 1/2 of the contractors into a tail spin because they announced the TB test was good only 30 days out rather than the 90 days printed in the information provided so many of us including myself because my test was 38 days out had to scramble to get TB tests re-done.  Several local clinics were available for anything that was needed. We then did computer based training on subjects like Survival, Escape, Recovery and Evasion (SERE), Heat Injury Prevention, Suicide Prevention, Human Trafficking, Cultural Awareness and some others.

Sunday the 17th consisted of another briefing, being fit for body amour and helmets and continued the computer based training and ISOPREP which basically  next of kin info and a series of information that you generate about yourself that can be used for identification purposes if you are captured.

Monday the 18th started with a briefing and we were transferred to another facility for the initial deployment briefing, ID Card validation, meet with a Chaplin and then legal advisers about wills and power of attorney.

Tuesday the 19th we were again transported to a different facility for our medical certification which was a very long process.  At this point many were declared "NO GOES" because of some medical issue.  This process started at 6 am and I was finished at 1 pm upon which we were transported  to the supply warehouse where our body armor and gas mask were issued.

Wed the 19th again started at 6 am.  We had more trainings on Sexual Assault and Prevention, Identifying Improvised Explosive Devises, Evaluate Casualties, Shock Identification and Treatment, First Aid on Head Wound, First Aid on Abdominal Wound, First Aid on Chest Wound, Transport Casualties and Requesting Medical Evacuation.

Thursday consisted of pre-flight information and makeup for anything that you may need.  Lots of free time to get everything packed.  I was allowed 2 duffels, 1 carry on (back pack) and I could  on my iPad satchel.
I volunteered for baggage detail along with some of the other guys that I met for Friday morning the reward for that was business class seating on the flight from Benning to Kuwait.

Robert Taylor, Tom, John Lucas and Greg Capitano

John Lucas, Squirrel, Mike and Tom
Friday the 23rd....shipping out day.  Got up early--kind of nervy.  repacked for the heck of it, turned in my bedding and moved my stuff to the area that we were to assemble at.  Baggage detail--20 of us were to report at 0945 for instructions--bags in 12 a straight lines with 2 ft between so the drug dogs could get through.  There were just shy to 700 duffel bags and other luggage. When that was completed we signed out.  At 12:30 we started loading the buses-6 of them and heading to the airport.  A very slow trip, just a few miles that took an hour and a half.                                                                  Unloaded into a very nice converted hanger around 1400, an hour behind schedule.

Mr. Lee
We then hung out here for quite a while and had a briefing after which we had to file through security with our carry ons to get weighed with everything we were taking on the plane on our person.  We then had to slide our carry on bags into a sizing box to make sure they were not too big and  line those up for the drug dogs to take a sniff and pass through a metal  detector.  It was finally time to eat.  Also time to meet with a Chaplin, go to confession or go to a church service.  Another briefing and then load onto the plane.  We finally lifted off at 7:00 pm, 2 hours off schedule for our first stop which was in Germany.