Most of the compounds around Kabul used to allow its residents to walk downtown to frequent restaurants and shops. Since the Taliban have resorted to car bombs and attacks on coalition forces, we are no longer allowed to walk outside the compounds. The local shopkeepers had become dependent upon the westerners shopping in their stalls. So, in the name of good relations and good business, the bazaar has come to us on Eggers -- but only on Fridays.
One of the "Safe Houses" where Americans live is The Alamo. This is where I currently reside, although today all of the techs that were housed with me left to go to a new and much improved Safe House, The Tillman House, named after the professional football player turned Ranger who was killed by friendly fire a few years ago. I'm now living alone in a GP Medium tent erected in the courtyard of a former mansion. I'm so lonely and confused...
Ah yes, home sweet home. I'm learning to dig tent living again. It will be much better when winter comes, dumps piles of snow onto the dirt and dust, and I get to traipse through it going to and from the showers and bathrooms.
More shots of the Alamo. It's a pretty good sized compound. The military have priority for the hard billets. Sleazy, slimy contractors like myself are relegated to the tents.
I took a couple of photos today of some odd stuff at Eggers. The first shot shows the specific place the military has deemed appropriate for cigar smoking.
Eggers is located near the old and new US Embassies. The neighborhood that existed before the Russian and Taliban occupation/destruction must have been a nice area. The houses were large and had protective walls around the courtyards. After the destruction (Russian/Taliban/US), the US moved in and created a "Green Zone" just like the one that existed in Baghdad. The US now leases all of this neighborhood (for millions of dollars) and is free to modify all of the buildings for its use. Here, an old, traditional mosaic shows the ravages of war and the US presence -- it now is positioned below a row of electrical junction boxes powering this portion of the compound. When the US leaves, most of this neighborhood will have to be razed and rebuilt by the Afghans who own the property. No big deal, I think, since they are becoming rich with US lease dollars.
We arrived in Bagram at 0215 hours. We bused from the flight line to the terminal. After processing in (every time one moves in this theater, your CAC card (Common Access Card -- your ID) is scanned. This way, the military knows where everyone is located for many reasons (feeding, medical, evacuation, notifications, etc.). I noticed that there were three flights to Kabul this morning. This is unusual I was told. Normally there is only one flight per day and one has to wait up to four days to get on it. Looking at some of the poor tired souls in the terminal who had been waiting that long, I felt more dread. I'm already tired from my trip and looking at the terminal, there was only one latrine, no beds or cots, stiff chairs, and dirty linoleum on which to lie down. The irony is that Bagram is only 50 miles from Kabul.
A few years ago, the military would bus everyone down to Kabul from Bagram AFB. Since the advent of IEDs and suicide bombers, only certain armor uplifted vehicles were allowed to make the drive. The British still made the run and I was looking for some Brit Soldiers to befriend in order to get down there.
The first two flights to Kabul were supposed to take off around 0400 and 0430. Last flight was at 1100. Our baggage had not arrived at the terminal yet and the time was now 0400. I'm thinking this was another military SNAFU that would mean that I would have to try to get onto the 1100 flight or be delayed for a day, sitting in the terminal smelling badly and wishing I was somewhere else.
Baggage finally arrived around 0500 but the two C-130 flights were delayed -- I guess to wait for us. Anyway, we eventually get manifested on these birds and waited in the terminal to board the buses to go back out to the flight line. Finally, some USAF sergeant shows up and calls out our names and everyone runs to the buses. Except for me. My name wasn't called. The sergeant had my CAC card, hadn't called me out, so I was left standing in the terminal wondering what other bullshit I had to go through in order to get to Kabul. I ran (again) to the manifest desk and spoke with the reps there and explained the situation. They told me that I was manifested and that I should be on the plane. I wasn't I told them. They now ran out to the line to resolve it for me -- I guess they saw how pitiful I looked and couldn't bear to see me in the terminal for another day or two.
Anyway, I get on, fly the 11 minute flight to Kabul International Airport, and arrive only to be confronted with a sign stating that transportation to the various compounds around Kabul only happens at 0600 and 1500. It's now 0645 hours. I coudn't imagine being stuck in another empty marble room with nowhere to go until that afternoon. Fortunately, I was speaking with a Soldier back in Bagram who had been waiting two days for a flight. He works the Army communications program that my company supports and he gave me the phone number to the Tech Control Facility at Eggers. I called, told the guy at the other end of the phone that I was a new ITT guy and asked him if he could provide transportation. Yep. 30 minutes later I was riding a Disney E-Ticket ride with my Uzbeck driver who made up his own driving laws as he went. How we didn't kill multiple bicyclists and two donkeys I'll never know. The ride woke me up and I was ready to report to work -- and find a bed to sleep.
Because I was to spend a few days in Kuwait City meeting the Program Support Team, I needed a visa. The Army runs a visa service out of Ali Al Salem LSA. It takes 24 hours to get one's passport back for both entering and leaving Kuwait. So, I spent another couple of days sitting in sandstorms and wondering if I was going to get out. Other Soldiers and contractors I spoke with told me horror stories of being stuck in Kuwait for a week or two while flights were filled by higher priority passengers or flights delayed by weather and mechanical reasons. The bummer was that I was spoiled from staying at the Courtyard and Hilton for three nights and now I was back to dusty and dirty tents holding up to 16 guys.
I got up early to pick up my passport and went over to the flight manifest tent. Put my name on the list for Bagram. There's usually no direct flights to Kabul so one has to fly either to Bagram or to Kandahar and then get manifested on another plane to Kabul. I was told to return at 1630 hours for roll call. I did, made the roll call, and made the manifest. The dispatcher told me that normally flights to Bagram are filled and folks spend days trying to get out. I was lucky. I probably would make this flight -- my first day on the list.
In typical military fashion, those who were flying to Bagram were told to standby in the tent and wait for a formation at 1800 hrs. I asked one of the dispatchers if I should go get my gear and haul it up to the line. She replied no, that I would have plenty of time to grab my gear before the buses arrived at 1930. So I waited. At 1800 hours, we all filed outside to stand in another formation, a last roll call, and then we were supposed to palletize our baggage. I ran to my tent, packed up all of my shit, and hauled it to the pallet area. One of my bags weighed 80 lbs and the other weighed 45. Plus, I have my backpack with computer gear and other documents and cables. It's no easy task hauling all of this up a gravel pathway for 150 meters.
Got to the pallet area and saw no one. No pallets either. Dropped my shit where I stood and walked over to two cargo guys and asked them where everyone was for my flight. They looked at me, looked at the road leading to the air base, and said that I was too late. Panicked, I ran to the manifest tent and spoke with the lady who told me I had plenty of time. She was starting to give me the usual bureaucratic double talk but I was in no mood for that. I resorted to my infantry officer behavior, causing another guy came round the cube to assist me. He called ahead out to the runway and spoke with the USAF. Word came back that there would be no problem for me to haul my baggage onto the flight.
I was on the phone with my wife telling her my sad stories when the buses arrived and we loaded. The sandstorm that I feared would cancel the flight subsided and we boarded a C-17 headed for Afghanistan.
I ran across the term "Bedoon" while reading the morning Kuwait Times newspaper a few days ago. I assumed that it was another term for Bedouin. I was wrong. It refers to another group of people who, while residing in Kuwait, do not share Kuwaiti citizenship even though they claim to be Kuwaitis.
The population of Kuwait is estimated anywhere from 3 to 5 million. Of these, there are only 1 million recognized Kuwaitis. The government would know that since it pays out an oil stipend to its citizens. The majority of the residents in this country are foreign workers, mainly Indians and Pakistanis, but most all countries are represented here performing jobs in the service and construction industries. Kuwait requires any foreign worker to be sponsored by one if its entities, KRH being one. These sponsorship companies recruit foreign workers, pay them, hold their passports so they cannot slip away, and repatriate them when they are terminated or their contract expires.
Bedouins and Bedoons fall into another category. Bedouins, of course, are recognized to be stateless people by all of the countries in the region. They're nomads, and they are allowed to roam across borders but stay mainly to the interior areas of the desert. Bedoons are not nomads. Depending upon whom you ask, Bedoons are either true Kuwaitis who have been nationalized by other countries and have returned home, or they're interlopers who have renounced their citizenship in other countries, have migrated to Kuwait, and have no passport from any country -- thus stateless.
Bedoons number about 100,000. It's not a terribly large number but enough to concern international committees working human rights issues. Kuwaitis generally despise and distrust them. Most of the Bedoons are southern Iraqi and Iranian, thus Shia, and are not welcome in the Sunni world of Kuwait. Bedoons are not afforded any of the privileges of Kuwaiti citizens and are discriminated against for jobs and advancement. Some, however, have managed to befriend members of Kuwait's Parliament and have been naturalized. This door, having been opened, may not be closed easily. The debate rages on in the Op Ed sections of the local newspapers.
I'm back at Ali Al Salem and residing in another tent in the middle of a sandstorm. All military flights heading to Afghanistan leave from here and you have to be signed into base in order to manifest. Also, there's passport checks and visa requirements that have to be taken care of. My passport has been turned in to stamp me out of Kuwait and get the pre-approvals to go into Afghanistan. I'm trapped here. I have to pick up my passport at 0530 hrs tomorrow, manifest, and then be present for a roll call at 0630 hrs and 2000 hrs every day until I get out.
I'm hoping to fly tomorrow but there are no guarantees. Sandstorms here or in Afghanistan will prevent flights coming and going. And there is no guarantee that I'll fly directly into Kabul. I may end up in Bagram or Kandahar and then forced to find a C-130 flight headed to Kabul. Nothing is easy.
I stayed at the Hilton Resort Hotel on the beach last night. It's a very nice hotel and I wished I had stayed here for all three nights instead of breaking up my stay between here and the Marriott Courtyard. Amenities here are far better than at the Courtyard.
The hotel sits right on the beach and there's Kuwaiti versions of cabanas along the beach for guests to relax in (complete with sofas and rugs). I had a chance this morning to walk along the water's edge and take some photos.
After suffering through a couple of restless nights at Ali Al Salem LSA, I checked into the Marriott Courtyard near downtown Kuwait City. It's a world of difference. Only thing it lacks, however, is alcohol. I'm going to have to get used to that. This has to be the nicest Courtyard in the Marriott inventory. It looks like regular Marriott and has all the amenities that regular Marriott hotels have. It's too bad I have to check out today (I could only reserve two days) and head to the Hilton. One day in the Hilton and then it's back to Ali Al Salem to spend another restless night before heading north.
My company has hundreds of employees here in Kuwait and most all of them are enjoying their stay. The Kuwaiti people are friendly and hospitable. They're also thankful for what the US had done for them.
As I was leaving the Ali Al Salem Air Base yesterday to head downtown, I noticed that the Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) on the base were all damaged. It occurred to me that the damages were the result of US precision guided munitions used during the six-week bombing campaign leading up to the ground invasion for Operation Desert Storm. All of the HASs had thick plates blown off in the curved roof section. The impact location was the same for all -- a tribute to our precision munitions.
Later on, while I was driving in Kuwait City with a driver from my company, I asked about the HASs and why no one had repaired these after nearly 20 years. He told me that there was a dispute going on between Kuwait and the French firm that built them. Kuwait is asking for damages because the HASs were knocked out in a single blow. The HAS design was supposed to protect the aircraft within it. The French firm's position is that it did not design the HAS to protect against US munitions, only Soviet and other potential enemy munitions known at the time of design.
Not all progress has stopped here in Kuwait. I didn't see any other sign of war from my drive around town yesterday. In fact, the city has grown quite a bit since 1990 and there are construction cranes working around the clock helping to build other modern high-rise office buildings and apartments. Not all is perfect in this paradise, however. Driving into town from Ali Al Salem, I noticed a beautiful enclosed sports arena complex. Another company rep told me that the facility had never been used or occupied. Its foundations weren't engineered correctly and that the complex was sinking into the sand.
Spent two days and nights at Ali Al Salem at the Army Logistical Support Activity (LSA). Sixteen guys packed into a tent and a lot of snoring. I slept about three hours the first night, none last night. I'm exhausted. The good news is that I've now checked-in at the Marriott Courtyard Kuwait City and the hotel is great -- better than any other Courtyard I've ever seen or stayed in. It's my first time downtown too and I'll explore it tomorrow night when I'm rested.
Entering the tent.
We finally arrived in Kuwait twenty hours after we were supposed to. The World Airways charter broke in Leipzig, Germany after we landed. We lined up to reboard the plane at 1100 hrs Saturday, but were told the plane required maintenance. Delay after delay occurred. The word was passed that the plane was ready around 1600 hrs and that we should get ready to go. We lined up again -- and waited. The flight commander (an O-6 stuckee) announced that the original time was bogus and that parts needed to be ordered, shipped, installed, and inspected. We returned to our bunks and our books, tried to sleep in the bunk room, but the lights and noise were too great.
Another time was announced. The plane would be ready to go at 0430 and we needed to transport at 0400. To add insult to injury, Daylight Savings ended in Germany at 0300 Sunday and we had to relive another lost hour. Lined up at 0400 ready to go. And waited. Another announcement. There was water leaking out from the galley. Another delay and an uncertain future.
By this time, we were enjoying the hospitality of the Eastern Germans. We were all in this together, except they were not deploying to the Sandbox.
An announcement that the plane was ready came at 0500. We lined up yet again, this time to be surprised that the shuttle buses actually arrived, the line moved, and we were transported to our POS plane. At 0600 we took off for our delayed adventure.
We landed at Kuwait International Airport four and a half hours later. We waited an hour and a half for the baggage to be unloaded, then drove in a caravan of buses for an hour to the Ali Al Salem Air Base out in the desert. Ali Al Salem is the transition point for US Forces and contractors entering and exiting Kuwait. After waiting an hour for a briefing, we received a scaled-down briefing that lasted 10 minutes, and then were directed outside to unload four trucks holding our baggage. By this time, it was dark, a few external lights were available, and we were faced with a daunting task of finding our two green duffle bags amongst five hundred others. The wise ones who had been through this before had their flashlights available. It took two hours to recover everyone's baggage, load them into ITT vans, and then unload them near our camp tent. Pictures of the compound will be included in the next post.
We got oriented to our new surroundings, walked around a little, found the latrine and the showers, and took long hot showers and put on clean clothes. We all felt better.
Tried to sleep, but we have sixteen guys racked out in eight bunk beds, a few of whom snore. I didn't get to sleep until around 0300 Monday morning and stayed asleep until 0730 when I was awoken by flashlights and activity as everyone arose and began our new workday. I'll be glad to move to my final destination -- if I have one.
I've been finishing the book, The Places in Between (by Rory Stewart), as I cool my heels here in Leipzig. Two quotes stand out for comment:
"They were religious questions. Islam, much more than Christianity, is a political and social religion. Clear rules govern who and how you can marry. In this region most people married their first cousins."
And then: "Everyone in Rezak was descended from a single grandfather. There were six houses and seventy people in the village..."
The river valley Stewart walked through in the winter was inhabited by small clans and tribes. The two quotes above describe the lineages from which all these tribesman descended. What I haven't quoted is Stewart's discovery that these tribes constantly warred with each other and most of the tribesmen (certainly not the chattel (women and dogs)) never moved further than 40 kilometers each way down the valley in his lifetime.
I keep thinking back to the images of the "imams" we see in the news. Am I wrong that these guys all look f...ing crazy, have one eye, and are toothless? I attribute most of it to inbreeding! I'm serious! How does a western power civilize groups like these and restore central government? When you consider all that Karzai has accomplished since 2003 (read nothing), the answer is -- you can't. All we can do is kill our share (or more than our share since we're nearly alone in doing it), call it good, and move on.
This book has reinforced my worst fears about the potential end states resulting from our occupation. Vietnam never looked so good.
We left the gate at Bangor, got out to run-up area, and sat. The captain announced that an "indicator" was malfunctioning and that we had to return to the gate to get it fixed. We spent another hour on the plane while the "indicator" was repaired and inspected, then took off. Our next stop was Leipzig, Germany. I'm one of the few guys on board who remember that East Germany was a rogue, enemy state while I was in the Army. I was in Grafenwoehr in 1989 when the wall came down and I have stories to tell about the East Germans coming to the west for the first time in their lives. Now, we were landing at an airport that we (NATO) had targeted for attack should war have broken out previously.
Twenty years has changed everything for Leipzig. The US Military has built a facility here where AMC (Air Mobility Command) flights can stop over. There are shops and food courts for us to use.
Unbeknown to us, there was a scheduled stop in Bangor, Maine before the plane continued on to Leipzig, Germany. I had been there before on a military flight coming back from Reforger 82 when I was with the 7th ID out of Fort Ord. As we were walking through the jetway, I heard the sound of clapping and cheering. As I entered the terminal, there was a gauntlet of military retirees, former military, and their wives welcoming us to Bangor, thanking us for our service, and wishing us well on our upcoming mission overseas. I was overwhelmed. Very, very touching and I was very appreciative.
These guys are not with the USO. They staff a separate welcoming office in the terminal where they talk with the Soldiers and Marines passing through. Good Americans all. You'd never see this in Los Angeles. The dry erase board reflects the number of planes and military personnel these guys have welcomed since 2003.
Because Fort Benning now has a couple of brigade combat teams (from different divisions), the Army built a new deployment center at Lawson Army Airfield. It's quite a nice facility and I think this is what Fort Carson wants to build at Peterson AFB for its Soldiers.
It was good to leave Fort Benning again, for the third time in my life, and 25 years since the last time.
The CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) actually was not a bad experience. I just didn't need to be sleeping in the barracks again. Once I get overseas, the CRC experience will just be another old memory that I choose not to recall very often.
Went through medical and dental screening today. The process is streamlined and pretty effective, especially when the cadre has to process 500 folks through it in one day. The good news is that I'm PQ'd (physically qualified) for deployment. The bad news is that they shot me up with Anthrax (which I asked to be excluded from -- didn't work) and Smallpox. I remember the Army giving me another dose of this crap but I couldn't prove it. So, both arms need exercising. Oh, and someday I can get a job as a mail clerk in the local post office (Anthrax distribution center).
Then came CIF (Central Issue Facility). When I retired, I swore off CIFs forever. That oath has held for 14 years. Until today. What a pain-in-the-ass. Understaffed and undersupervised, the line of Soldiers and civilians drawing their gear and equipment snaked out the doors. To make matters worse, everyone is issued IBA (individual body armor) now. This stuff is heavy, uncomfortable, bulky, hot, and confining. Depending upon one's location, you'll wear it all the time, or not at all. I'm hoping for the latter, but I suspect the former. And it's not over yet. We have another formation at 1700 hrs to be instructed on how to piece all this stuff together (there are 14 separate components that have to be stitched together).
Lastly, because of all the delays, we ate MREs for lunch, and I know we're getting more tomorrow when we have the Death by PowerPoint briefings (from 0700 - 1900 hrs).
I'll be glad to get to the war zones. It's got to be easier than this.
The CRC is where Soldiers and civilians process through before deployment overseas. The Soldiers who go through the CRC at Fort Benning are going without their units. All divisional units have their own deployment centers at forts across the country. I'm seeing a lot of reserve and USANG guys going through. Also, there's a small platoon of DoD civilians who are here going through too. Contractors like me make up the bulk of the population here. The CRC processes 500 folks a week for deployment.
Here's my barracks room. There's two bunk beds in the room with four wall lockers. It's fine unless someone snores. There is someone next door snoring so loudly that I hear him through a brick wall. Thank god he's not in my room. Actually, I'm lucky. I've only got the one roommate and he's a good guy.
I've been stuck in the old Ranger barracks out at Harmony Church at Fort Benning, feeling like a Private. But, tonight, a friend from my Germany days came south from Atlanta to fetch me and go to dinner. John Troxel was my boss when I was the Range Modernization Officer for 7th Army Training Center at Grafenwoehr. We became friends but we lost touch sine I last saw him in 95 when I had a TDY in Atlanta from Korea. Anyway, this is a plug for LinkedIn, the social media site for business contacts. I found John again through LinkedIn and, while I mostly use Facebook, LinkedIn does offer some advantages in the business realm.
We ate at Country's BBQ off of Exit 5, the original location and one where I used to eat when I was here at Benning back in 77/78 and 84.
I'm reading Rory Stewart's The Places in Between. It's about his walk across Afghanistan in 2002. Very interesting. I found the passage from which he derives the title: "I told him Afghanistan was the missing section of the walk, the place in between the deserts and the Himalayas, between Persian, Hellenic, and Hindu culture, between Islam and Buddhism, between mystical and militant Islam."
I'm also reminded of the description of Afghanistan given to me by my friend, Keith Conrey, who traveled in Afghanistan back in the mid-70s. He was entranced by the sights and the smells, much of which remains with him today.
This book is one of 34 I downloaded onto my Kindle before departing home. While overseas, I won't have a chance to acquire more books on the Kindle; that will have to wait until I get back home in March 2010 for a couple of weeks.
I'm looking forward to visiting and working there. But first, it's off to Iraq.