BALAD (AKA: "ANACONDA"), IRAQ - Disembodied voice, closely followed by two distant explosions, "Take cover. Take cover. We are receiving an indirect fire attack." I've been here for 4 hours, and this is the second time I have heard this announcement. A few of my fellow passengers pick up their body armor, and jog to the nearest bunker, but most don't even seem to notice.
I put on my body armor, and taking note of the lack of a general sense of urgency around me, I wander outside to check out the scene. There is a small cluster of transients gathered nervously inside the entrance of the nearest bunker, but the local civilian employees are still chatting in the smoking area. Protected from incoming mortar rounds apparently, by cigarette smoke and laissez fair.
I'm at the Balad fixed wing passenger terminal (AKA: "The PAX Terminal") waiting for a flight to Kuwait. In this case "terminal" describes a group of long green Army tents with plywood floors, and sandbag walls. There are three tents that I've gotten to know over the past few hours.
The first tent is the ticket counter, where three KBR employees stand behind desktop computers. There is a large whiteboard that lists the days flights arriving and departing for places named: BIAQ, TQ, Kuwait International, Ali Al Saleem, Mosul, and Al Asad, to name a few.
The second tent is innocuously named B-2, but it is really a never-never land of cots and sleeping soldiers, where you go to wait indefinitely in hopes that there will be space for you on a flight that is going your way. People can wait here for days, I had been told to allow at least 3 days to get from Fallujah to Kuwait.
I wait here for a few hours, and then go back to the first tent to check on my status. My first choice flight has been cancelled... There is another flight in two hours, but it doesn't have any seats. The woman tells me be back at 7:20 am to see if there are any no shows for the full flight.
At 7:30 I'm waiting at the counter in hopes of an open seat. A new shift has started since that last time I was here, and the woman working the counter seems irritated by my Press ID, and the fact that I'm making her call to check on the status of "line 10", the flight to Ali Al Saleem, Kuwait. She doesn't seem to have any desire to answer a direct question, but she takes my Press ID and tells me to go to a third tent.
Tent A-3 has lines of benches setup like a church pews, and they are full of soldiers. Outside is a small group of civilians, and a few older more senior soldiers. I join the outside group, and soon start a conversation with a middle aged Sergeant from the Tennessee National Guard who is on his way to Qatar on a 4 day pass. A Lieutenant Colonel from the Maryland National Guard joins our conversation. She is stationed in Kuwait, or "confined" as she describes it, and is returning to her unit from a "vacation" in Iraq. She has a 7 year old daughter at home, who she hasn't seen since July.
Happily, tent A-3 is the waiting area for passengers who have been manifested on the next flight. It would have been nice of the KBR lady at the counter to explain this to me. Within a few minutes a seasoned Army master sergeant begins a roll call of the flight manefest. He is on his way to R&R, and has been press ganged into the job by a KBR employee who can't seem to be bothered to do it himself.
We stack our bags on the side of the road, and a group of civilian contractors palletizes them so that they can be loaded onto the aircraft in one forklift friendly bundle. Then we board busses to the flight line, and proceed to pack 72 humans into a C130 bound for Kuwait. The seats are just as uncomfortable as last time, but I'm on my way home.
Day by Day, by Chris Muir (updated daily)
Chris Muir is the cartoonist that I met in Kuwait. He spent two weeks in Iraq at the same time I was there in February 2007, and so thought it would relevant to showcase his work on my site. Here is a link to Chris' humorous travelogue of this Iraq trip: http://billroggio.com/archives/2007/03/arrival_alignright_v.php