Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Kuwait to Baghdad

Boarding the bus for our flight to Baghdad. Photo by CPT Mark Lappegaard

Green Zone, Baghdad, Iraq - The bus for our flight from Kuwait to Baghdad really did leave at 5:20 pm as advertised, and the trip proceeded at military speed (hurry up and wait).

The trip from the "terminal" (a BIG tent on a concrete slab), took us on a scenic tour of the air base. As far as I could tell we circled the entire perimeter of the base, nearly back to our starting point, to get to our C130.

A highlight of this tour was looking at battle damage from the first Gulf War. There were dozens of huge concrete aircraft hangers scattered around the base that were originally each designed to protect a single fighter aircraft from bombing. In can now tell you from first hand personal observation that a big box made out of 10+ foot thick concrete is the last place to you want to hide an aircraft that you would like to protect from bombing. Every single hangar had one and only one big jagged hole punched in the top or side by a precision guided US bomb.

We boarded the aircraft in the dark, and then proceeded to wait. If you've ever ridden in a C130, you know that it's not the most comfortable aircraft to sit around in. There are 4 red fabric benches facing each other down the length of the aircraft, and they are so close together that your knees touch the bench facing you. You end up alternating legs with the people across from you like a zipper, and you literally have no room to move. If somebody needs to get up to use the facilities they have to walk on the people in the seats next to them, because there is no place else to step.

First we waited for the pallets with our luggage to be loaded on the tail ramp of the aircraft by a forklift, and then we were informed that we were going to have to wait for some additional passengers... a general officer and his entourage apparently. An hour later the general and friends finally boarded from the front of the aircraft (because the pallets were blocking the tail ramp now) and we took off for Baghdad.

I've heard stories about steep zero g dives and evasive maneuvers on the landing at BIAP (Baghdad International Airport), and I can now tell you that they are greatly exaggerated. We made a relatively steep descent, and some hard banking turns, but I've had commercial airline landings in bad weather that were equally exciting. The load-masters watched for ground fire with night vision goggles through the windows in the rear troop doors, but other than that it seemed pretty routine.

As soon as we landed the general and his party exited through the front door, but we had to wait for the pallets to be (quickly) unloaded so that we could use the tail ramp. By the time we were walking down the ramp the general's flight of black hawk helicopters was taking off to whisk him to the green zone presumably.

We hiked over to the "terminal" (another temporary structure), collected our baggage, and found the bus to Camp Stryker, which is another area on the grounds of the airport. At Camp Stryker we signed up for a Rhino ride to the green zone.

We waited around until 10:00 pm to get in line to manifest for the bus ride, departure time TBD, and then come back for a briefing at 11:00 pm. It turns out that the earliest possible departure was 1:00 am, and it could be as late as 3:00 am. Good news, the DFAC opens at 11:30 pm for midnight chow.

Hike a half a mile to the DEFAC in the dark, and find it after a couple of missed turns. French toast and Frosted Flakes makes the fact that none of us have had more than a couple of hours of sleep in the past few days seem much more tolerable. Hike back to the bus stop.

The Rhino convoy finally arrives with a load of people from the Green Zone around 2:00 am and we form a human chain to load all of our baggage onto a semi-trailer. We are expressly forbidden from taking any pictures of the Rhinos or the trip, and so I should not describe them in detail either, but suffice it to say they are big bomb proof buses designed specifically for this run back and forth from the airport to the Green Zone.

The Baghdad Airport road has the reputation as the most dangerous stretch of road on the planet (see Wikipedia), but tonight the ride was uneventful. Actually, I slept through almost the entire ride, and so I can only report second hand that nothing happened. And apparently that has been the norm for the past year or so. I am also sorry to report that I have no idea what Baghdad looks like, having slept through my tour (I promise to pay more attention in Fallujah).

After another human chain to unload all our luggage from the semi-trailer, and a lift in an SUV from some friendly Green Zone PAO (Public Affairs) soldiers we finally arrived at CPIC (the Combined Press Information Center) at 4:00 am. A good 6 hours after the general on his black hawk probably arrived in the Green Zone.

Rank has it's privileges...


dtrockman said...

Riding the RHINO with Gordon Dillow. See

Anonymous said...

I love your analogy with the legs and the zipper. We must never complain about leg room on a commercial flight again.

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: