Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Reporters Notebook: Killing time in Kuwait

NAMELESS AIRBASE, KUWAIT - KLM flight 459 from Amsterdam descends into a thick brown haze as we approach Kuwait City International Airport (KCIA in military parlance). We are arriving in Kuwait in a sand storm, and as we get closer to the ground it gets darker and darker.

We are supposed to meet Captain Richardson and Sergeant Guffey from the US 3rd Army Public Affairs Office's Kuwait Media Relations Team at the Starbucks outside baggage claim. When we arrive at Starbucks we can't find them and I spend 15 minutes walking around the arrivals area looking for them. There are quite a few obvious Americans waiting to meet arriving military personal and civilian contractors in-route to Iraq, but none of them know the soldiers I'm looking for.

After an hour I strike up a conversation with an American in civilian clothes who has been sitting in Starbucks holding up a sign that says "GIRAFFE" in block letters since before we arrived. He doesn't know CPT Richardson or SGT Guffey, but he's heard that the military has closed the roads because of the sand storm. He lets me use his cell phone to call SGT Guffey. It turns out that our ride is on the way, despite the driving conditions and they should be here shortly.

We have an extra passenger on the van ride out into the desert. SSG "Andy" Dillon, from Fayettville North Carolina, is visiting in Kuwait for a few days from her regular duty assignment running the golf course at the Baghdad International Airport (known here as BIAP). With time to kill waiting for a flight "home" to Baghdad she decided it would be "fun" to take a three hour van ride through a sandstorm to get a real cup of Starbucks coffee.

When we finally arrive at the base CPT Richardson briefs us on what we'll be going through over the next few days as we make our way north to Baghdad, and then on to Balad, our final destination where well be joining the Minnesota National Guard unit we are here to cover. We turn in our passports to get stamped out of the country by Kuwaiti customs (a 24 hour process that will delay our hoped for departure time by about a day). And we get our names on the endless list for a flight to BIAP.

At 8:00pm we get assigned a bunk for the night, and CPT Richardson turns us loose for the evening to try to get some sleep. But the time zone here is 9 hours ahead of Minnesota and our bodies are convinced that it's 11:00am, and so I take John on a walking tour of our temporary home in the desert (I was here several times last year, and so I know my way around).

We walk down dark gravel "streets" through a sea of tents toward a bright oasis of light ahead. The "food court" has a McDonalds, a Pizza Hut, and a KFC. The street lights provide an other worldly light in the remnants of the day's sand storm, and the free standing McDonalds golden arches sign with arabic script is incongruous out here standing above the tents and trailers that make up this temporary city in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert.

There are only a few people waiting outside the walk up windows at McDonalds, which is really a couple of temporary steel buildings with picnic tables spread outside on the sand. The scene reminds me of the Edward Hopper painting of a few lonely people sitting in a late night dinner (http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/citi/object?id=111628). It's a different world, but the color pallet and the emotion are the same.

At 3:00am John can't sleep, and he reports that there almost a hundred people in line at McDonalds. War is a 24 hour a day business, and groups of soldiers pass through this little city in the desert at all hours of the day and night.

Note: Out of deference to political and security sensitivities with our hosts the Kuwaiti government we are not authorized to report on details of where we are in Kuwait or details of the American military presence here.

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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