Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Reporters Notebook: Transportation pain, and the massive scale of the war effort in Iraq

CAMP STRYKER, BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, IRAQ - Days aren't a meaningful measure of time while traveling in Iraq. The schedule of movement and sleep is totally random, and entirely unrelated to the Earth's rotation and orbit around the Sun. I have been traveling for just about exactly 72 hours since leaving my home in Minneapolis and in that time I've attempted to sleep on 3 airplanes, assorted chairs, a couch, a top bunk in a GP Medium Army tent in Kuwait, and most recently a cot in a different Army tent in Iraq.

Last "night" I got up at 8:00pm local time to go pickup my passport from being "stamped out" of the country by Kuwaiti customs in preparation for departing for Iraq. I spent the next 8 hours wandering back and forth between the internet cafe and the passenger (PAX) terminal, as we waited through the night on standby for a series of flights from Kuwait to Iraq that came a went without us. Finally, at 4:00am John got manifested on the last seat on an embassy flight to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), and an hour later I got on the next flight out call sign "Chrome 30".

The flight to Baghdad was uneventful, but there were a few interesting characters on the aircraft. Two Colonels sitting next to me had a conversation about procurement issues that they probably wouldn't have chosen have if they had taken the time to realize they were sitting next to a reporter. A female civilian contractor sitting across from us was wearing designer jeans and suede boots with 4 inch platform heels, not exactly combat boots. And then there was a large teddy bear that came out of a soldiers rucksack as soon as we boarded the aircraft and was clutched nervously for the duration of the flight.

At 12:15pm in Baghdad we got listed on a helicopter flight from BIAP to the Greenzone, which is the next stop on our complicated itinerary to get from Minneapolis to Balad, and the Minnesota National Guard soldiers we are coming here to visit. Unfortunately, at the last minute I got pulled off the helicopter after a Colonel convinced the ground crew that he should have higher priority for the scarce seats. On the one hand I recognize that my mission here is (probably rightly so) relatively low on the priority scale for the military. But it was still frustrating to get bumped off the last available flight of the day, and potentially loose 24 hours of news gathering time from our already short trip.

The one positive aspect of getting bumped off the helicopter flight was that it meant that we have 12 hours of downtime at Camp Stryker while we wait for the Rhino, an armored bus that will take us to the Greenzone sometime in the wee hours of the morning. We found a couple of cots in an empty tent, and got the first 4 or 5 hours of good quality sleep we've had since leaving Minnesota. But that sleep was interrupted as we were awakened early by the desert evening cold at 7pm, and decided to go looking for some warm food.

The chow hall (aka the DEFAC) at Camp Stryker is the largest I've ever eaten at in my years serving in the military, and now covering the military as a journalist. Hundreds of tables fill a brightly light cavernous building that is literally almost the size of a football field. The sheer size of this room, and the number of soldiers that must eat here each day is the best visual indicator I can share of the raw size of the logistical effort to support the war here.

The size and complexity of the US presence in Iraq is staggering, and everywhere I go I am struck my the massive amount of labor and material that has gone into building US bases here. I would be curious to know how the cost of construction of US installations in Iraq compares to the amount we have spent on civilian reconstruction efforts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post Eric. Keep safe!

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