Thursday, January 18, 2007

No, It’s Duck Season!

17 January 2007

I had a late call-time for my flight this time around. Didn’t have to report in till after 2130. In some ways that is good, but it is bad in that you know you won’t get into Kuwait until the wee hours of the morning. That meant that I’d probably just stay in Ali As Salem until I catch the bus to Kuwait Intl Wednesday night for my early Thursday morning.

It has been unseasonably cold in Baghdad and Kuwait this winter. It was a cold wait, but the C130 came in and we boarded. Not a completely full flight and only half a pallet of luggage. Another guy who was leaving out of Slayer and I were fortunate enough to be on the end of the row, meaning we’d have some leg room to the side and not be knee to knee for the 1-1/2 hour flight to Kuwait.

Take off went smoothly enough. Nothing too noteworthy considering the firefights we heard before we left BIAP. After getting out of the general Baghdad area you kind of breathe a sigh of relief and drift off into a cat-nap dream state. We’re already thirty minutes into our flight and soon we’ll be in Kuwait.

Bam! Flash! Bam! I saw sparks out of the small round window on the rear starboard side and then more of the same noise and flash reflecting on the inside starboard wall of the plane across from the port side window about ten feet down from where I was sitting. I’ve made this flight so many times before, my initial thought and reaction is that it is just the plane releasing flares as a decoy against possible enemy rockets.

But this time is different…very different. We’re being rocketed from the insurgents on the ground! Another bam, flashes and sparks! Bam, more flashes and more sparks. I look at the guy across from me and his eyes are big as dinner plates. Those of us that don’t have our helmets on are scurrying to get them on. Holding on as the plane rocks to the left and then to the right and drops altitude. One of the flight airmen eyeing the rockets coming at us through the little round window at the rear of the plane is shouting into his mike, “Left!! Left!!” Then yet another bam and once again, bam! More flashes and sparks.

The pilot’s fast responses cause the plane to rock yet again and then we lose altitude again. Like a roller coaster, we drop suddenly, level out and then another surprise drop until the pilot levels us out again. Before you can think about the events that just happened, you’re trying to pop your ears to relieve the pressure from the drastic drops in altitude. Then you get your inner composure together, sit and wonder if there will be another attack launched at you in the air. There are no windows for us passengers, so we can’t see if anything is launched at us until it explodes in the sky.

In all the three years I’ve been in the Middle East, this is the first time I can admit that I was scared. I’ve been through rocket and mortar attacks, but you’re on the ground and there are places to take cover. Having the plane you’re flying in attacked with rockets is completely different. There is no cover. As Daffy Duck and Bugs might say it, “It’s Duck season!” And you’re how many thousands of feet up in the sky?!

At that point, all you can ask yourself is how long will it take for help to arrive? Will the plane make it to a safe airbase? Will we survive a crash? Am I in a good part of the plane to survive a crash? My only solace is to pray. Now staring reality in the eye, I realize that from the moment I boarded the C130 I had no control over the situation. Control is completely in the hands of the skilled pilots and crew and in His hands.

After ten minutes or so, the flight crew in the rear of the plane asks us if we’re alright. It looks like we didn’t take any damage at this point. All indications are that we are good to go and won’t need to go back or head to Al Asad for any kind of an emergency landing. We all nod and I ask him if he’s okay. He was pretty surprised and commented that the rockets exploded way too close to the plane for his comfort. This was the closest call this airman had ever seen and he isn’t soon to forget it either. If you hadn’t guessed, I have paraphrased his comments!

As I ponder the experience from last night, I’m thinking that fear is an awful lot like loss and grieving. The overwhelming intensity grabs you and seems to pull at every emotion and nerve you think is hidden and locked safely away inside you. Then in a flash it is like some survival mechanism is triggered. After the “event” is over, you realize you’ve made it through, but as much as you might want to forget the rawness of the experience, you won’t and can’t forget.

But the up side is that time has a way of wearing down the sharpness and the impact of that memory. I don’t think it is intended for us to forget what has happened, only to make us appreciate what is right and good in life and maybe what we still need to achieve in our short time here on earth. In my case, reminding me that I haven’t yet accomplished what I’ve been sent here to accomplish.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Nesting

06 January 2007

Poor TSgt Hunter who had bathroom cleanup yesterday. She came breathless into the shop to announce to everyone that “it” was thoroughly disgusting. I thought we were going to have to break out the smelling salts! The experience completely straightened out the braids she had in her hair and today her hair was completely straight.

“Attention everyone on the floor! We have a “ male nester” here! If you are the culprit, you need to take your nesting habits out to the porta john. That is all!”

And we ain’t talking about Less Nester from WKRP, either.

Today we thought that the above-said “nester” was captured. A slide slipped into the shift change slideshow today had a picture of Big Bird coming out of the men’s bathroom trailer. Alas, this diabolical and evil nester is still on the loose. This nester pads his nest with a half a roll of toilet paper hanging off all ends of the round opening to keep his dainty hiney from touching the seat, clogging up the toilets in the trailers (which have weak plumbing systems as is) and not allowing it to flush because the toilet can’t take the load of paper he has used to nest.

So there; the term should be fairly well explained to you now. I had seen the practice before, but hadn’t realized that it had a name. I got the evil eye from several, but had to reassure them that it wasn’t me. I’m just not the nesting kind. I’ve been here too long to even think about being so sterile and dainty about taking a dump! And I have plenty of “blue water” stories to back me up on that one. So there!

I guess if you put it into perspective, it would be better to have a nester on the loose than to have the hoverer on the loose. We have plenty of them around here too. A hoverer lifts both seats up and stands on the porta pottie and squats over the hole. Not unusual in the Middle East since most of the restrooms I’ve been in over here in Kuwait, Iraq and Qatar will have at least one stall with no porcelain toilet and just a hole in the floor with two raised things to stand on for each foot.

The nasty thing about hoverers is that they don’t always have the control or aim that they think they do. Then it requires a very skilled sanitation expert (porta potty cleaner) with a skilled high pressure sprayer to remove the work of that culprit!

I’ll keep you up to date as news of our loose nester breaks…but we could end up laying an egg on this story. Sorry, couldn’t help myself on that one.

*Not* A Happy Camper

04 January 2007

On our tent door and on each bunk was a Dear Occupant letter today basically saying GET OUT!!!

Love,
Major Malfunction
OIC of KBR Housing

Betcha thought you could never get booted out of a tent! I was never much for camping to start with, but tent #2, at least for the time I’ve been here, was made into something of a “tent sweet tent.” My home away from home. The saying around here is always, “What are they going to do, send me to Iraq and make me live in a tent?” Well, I guess we only got it partially correct. Send me to Iraq, take my good tent away and find out how to screw with you by making your accommodations even less comfortable…as if that was going to be possible.

ITT Management (in all their officialness) responds to our request for their assistance in making this situation less uncomfortable by sending out an email essentially stating “you signed the contract for three “hots” and a cot, stop bitching!” Gotta love responsive, sensitive, people-focused management. This is why they went to the freekin flippin Flip Flippin Management training! (No, really. The guy’s name really *IS* Flip Flippin! Google it, I wouldn’t kid you)

Eventually, management managed to arrange with KBR to have two dedicated tents to ITT employees. Now how could we think that the sun would never shine again! Getting moved from 8 men tents with wall lockers, beds with mattresses and some privacy to a big open 30 man tent with rows of cots and ill-fitting foam mattresses sitting on top, no wall lockers and two feet between each cot. Boy, I am feeling warm and tingly already. I’m sure they will sleep good in their heated trailers with big mattresses and AFN on cable TV tonight.

I guess it isn’t that different from what goes on at your job back in the States, is it? The only difference is that you don’t have rows of porta-potties in your front yard. Nothing as decorative as your pink flamingos and gnomes.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Year’s Resolutions

01 January 2007

The arm is doing better, so maybe it isn't as bad as I first thought. Certain extensions of the arm hurt when turned or extended, but overall, not too bad. Still hurts and is swollen and tender in the center opposite the elbow, but I have pretty good movement so I’ll stop belly-aching, okay? Counting my blessings has got to be one of my new resolutions. Still think that it’s a miracle that I didn't break any bones the way I landed. Poor guardian angels I landed on must have taken a real beating though!

The group had their normal Sunday gathering at Ba Ba’s to ring in the New Year. I didn't stay but an hour after work and was in bed well before midnight. I have just been worn out lately. Then, just as I was dropping off to sleep at around 2350, I got woke up by the "Big Voice" early warning system. "Incoming, Incoming, Incoming! Incoming, Incoming, Incoming!"

Helluva way to start the New Year, wouldn’t you say? Turned out to be a false alarm, but it takes another few minutes to fall back to sleep after it bellows two sets of, "Incoming, Incoming, Incoming!" and then a couple of minutes later, "All Clear, All Clear, All Clear". Bet you don't hear that in your neighborhood at New Years!

Speaking of resolutions, I have a joke for the diet resolution group. I know you've read this before, as have I, but it just seems appropriate to start the new year off with a diet thing.....

I was in Wal-Mart buying a large bag of Science Diet for my dog Cayenne - and
was in line to check out. A woman behind me asked if I had a
dog........Duh!

I was feeling a bit crabby so on impulse, I told her no, I was starting The
Science Diet diet again. Although I probably shouldn't because I'd ended up in the
hospital last time, but that I'd lost 50 pounds before I awakened in an
intensive care unit with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IV's in
both arms.

Her eyes about bugged out of her head. I went on and on with the
bogus diet story and she was totally buying it. I told her that it was an
easy, inexpensive diet and that the way it works is to load your pockets or
purse with Science Diet nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel
hungry. The package said the food is nutritionally complete so I was going
to try it again.

I have to mention here that practically everyone in the line was by now enthralled with my story, particularly a tall guy behind her. Horrified, she asked if something in the dog food had poisoned me and was that why I ended up in the hospital?

I said no.....I'd been sitting in the street licking my privates when a car hit me.

I thought the tall guy was going to have to be carried out the door.

Merry Christmas from the TMC!

26 December 2006

Things here were alright until about 6pm last night. I ended up face first in the asphalt tripped up by a cable stretched between two barriers on the way to the chow hall for Christmas Dinner. I cross this cable every day, but last night they'd tied a red plastic band which hung just below the cable and I caught my shin on the cable and went face first down. My left hand broke part of the fall, but couldn't get my hand out of my jacket pocket and my right shoulder ended up taking the hit along with tearing my right bicep.

That’s right I celebrated Christmas night in the medical clinic. Alright, it doesn’t suck as much as it could have cuz I didn’t break any bones. Good thing I’m a milk fanatic, I’m pretty sure that I should have broken SOMETHING the way I fell and the impact my shoulder and arm took. How’s the saying go? If it wasn’t for crap luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all!

Got taken to the clinic, still in shock from the fall and the doc looked at me, but there isn't much they can do for a muscle tear. Let it heal and see how it goes. Doc says that normally you lose 10-15% strength in a tear like this, but to wait and see. I have to tell you though, Captain McKeon is tops in my book. He ended up being the Doc on call for Christmas and is also the doc that saw me two weeks ago for my back. No white coat syndrome since I already felt comfortable around him!

In the mean time, he prescribed 800 mg of Motrin every 8 hours and a handful of Vitamin V....nope, not Viagra (although that might be fun)! Vicodin. After the back pain that I have been having here, this pain wasn't bad. Only hurts when I turn my arm in certain directions. He did say that it should heal up or at least feel better in 7 to 10 days. So I slept pretty good last night. The bruises have just started to surface as I type this, so I know that they are going to be colorful.

I'm feeling okay overall, just some pain when I try to tie shoes, zip a zipper and put on socks. Basically, anything that stretches the arm out. This morning the first question out of everyone’s mouth is “How do you feel?” Well, the only response I can come up with is, “Well I’m actually feeling pretty good for the fall I took. Really, it only hurts when I pee! (I know, TMI)…meaning it only hurts when I have to pull my zipper down because I have to straighten out my arm. It got a laugh out of them.

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