Filtering by Tag: kuwait

Back to Kuwait

Normally I try to avoid meetings.  When I found out that a series of meetings were being scheduled with management, I was less than enthusiastic.  When I found out that the meetings were to be held in Kuwait and that they would get me out of Afghanistan for a week, I signed up quickly.

One of the toughest parts of traveling military air in theater is the waiting.  Civilians get bumped for uniformed personnel or hazardous cargo.  It sometimes takes days to get out of Bagram or days to get to Bagram.  From Kabul, we drive to the Kabul International Airport -- the military side -- and attempt to sign-up for flights to Bagram Air Base.  I arrived at the airport around 0900 and my flight wasn't going to depart until 1430 hrs.  That was a bit of a problem because there was a 1500 hrs showtime in Bagram for the flight to Kuwait.  If I missed that flight, I'd have to spend a night in an 80-man tent in Bagram, waiting to get to Kuwait.

A stroke of luck.  Flying on a Casa 212 puddle jumper.

The workmate I was traveling with is one of those guys who knows everyone and everyone knows him.  Waleed found a woman who he knew who worked at the pax terminal.  She knew that this small, 12-pax plane leaving around 1130 for Bagram.  She manifested both Waleed and I on it and we were in Bagram fifteen minutes later.  More importantly, we were in Bagram in plenty of time to manifest for the Kuwait flight at 1500 hrs.  We made that flight but waited for three additional hours before the plane arrived in Bagram for us to board.

The other tough part of military travel to Kuwait is having to pass through Ali Al Salem again -- the Life Support Area (LSA) adjacent to the air base where one waits to get out or waits for Kuwaiti visas.  Since I was going to stay in Kuwait to attend meetings, I had to get another Kuwaiti visa.  It's never a problem, although our flight didn't get in to Ali Al Salem Air Base until 2330 hrs and didn't get over to the LSA until after midnight.  That meant that my passport wouldn't be transported to the commercial airport until morning and that I wouldn't see my passport and visa until around 1800 hrs.  So, I settled in another 20-man tent and lost another day.

Our quarters here in Kuwait City are fairly upscale.  In any event, they're better than crowded tent living.  Here are some pictures from our penthouse windows.  We are on the 13th floor.  That sounds bad, but here like in Europe, there's Ground Level, then 1st floor....  So, we are actually on the 14th floor.  Waleed was quick to point out that there are cracks throughout the walls from the settling (into the sand).  I have no doubts that this building will crumble to the "Ground Level" if an earthquake happens here.  I just don't want to be in the penthouse when that happens.  Anyway, some pictures:

As I mentioned in a previous post, there's all kinds of construction occurring in Kuwait City, especially along the beach.  All of this view was sand and desert during the original Gulf War.


Right behind the facade of construction lies desert, more desert, and then just sand as far as one can see.

The sewer.  In the three months that I've been In Afghanistan, Kuwait has failed to repair the sewage treatment system and continues to pump tons of raw sewage into the Gulf every day.

My company's support folks who live here in Kuwait tell me the goings on within Kuwait when I pass through.  Saudi Arabia is suing Kuwait over the sewage issue since the raw sewage has made its way down to Saudi.  Besides polluting the beaches and killing sea life along the coast, it's affecting tourism.

Tourism.  Who in their right mind would spend their own money to come to Kuwait or Saudi, stay in a poorly constructed hotel near a polluted beach and not have any alcohol?  The answer is -- no one.  That explains why the Kuwaiti Tourism Director just resigned.  I read this today in the Kuwaiti Times.  Some lady was appointed to the post of Tourism Director and she didn't last.  Numbers are down and she wasn't able to attract any takers.  No wonder; Dubai is bankrupt and Kuwait can't fix its own infrastructure.  Here's a business tip, Kuwaitis:  Everything goes better with beer.  Yes, even in your shit-hole country.

Leaving Kuwait

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.

  Traveling with Soldiers and 120mm mortar rounds.

I don't know how many Taliban we've killed with 120mm mortars, but I guess we've been expending some ammo on them.

First glimpse of Afghanistan out the cargo ramp of a C-17.

We arrived at Bagram AFB at 0215 hours on Sunday.  Afghanistan is 2.5 timezones east of Kuwait.  I am 11.5 hours ahead of Colorado Springs. 

Of Bedouins and Bedoons: Stateless People in Kuwait

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.

All Good Things End In Time

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.

The Persian Gulf

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.

Looking back at the Hilton.

One view of the water with a tanker in the background.

Another view.

I walked to the water's edge and reached in to touch the water -- mostly to say that I've been in the Persian Gulf.  And then, it dawned on me that I had made a terrible mistake.  Three days ago when I was driving through the city, I smelled the odors of open sewage.  My driver told me that the Kuwaiti sanitation system had failed two months ago and they have not been able to fix it.  As a result, tons of unprocessed sewage is dumped into the Gulf daily.  The water has been off limits to swimmers.  And now, my hand was dripping with gawd knows what filth. 

I ran to the swimming pool to conduct a quick wash before running to my room to complete the cleansing.  Thoughts of typhoid, dysentery, and other unpleasant ailments came to mind.   Anyway, I'm back in the room typing this and finishing my packing, so I'm not dead yet.  Thank gawd I'm not OCD.  But I do have to finish this so I can flick the light swith on and off 12 times...

Kuwait City

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.

A shot of Kuwait City through my dirty and tinted hotel room window.

Another shot through the hotel window.  There's construction cranes everywhere helping to build new buildings downtown.  Unlike Dubai, Kuwait isn't broke and is spending its money on new infrastructure.

Inside the lobby atrium of the Courtyard.  Looks more like a Hyatt Regency than a Courtyard.  It's too bad that I won't be able live in one in Kabul.

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.

Lingering Gulf War Effects

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. 

Ali Al Salem, Part II

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.

 One of the "streets" of tent city in the LSA.  Troops coming and going from the theater pass through here.  I stayed in N5.

Entering the tent.

My bunk.

Probably the only location in the Army that has a McDonalds on post.  Not only that, but one that stays open 24/7 everyday. I wasn't motivated enough to eat a Big Mac at 0300 hrs.

Ali Al Salem, Part I

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.

A week at Fort Benning

Bunking in the barracks at Fort Benning's Harmony Church area brings back too many memories of my early days in the Army. And I mean "early." This is like a major flashback to when I was in my early twenties. It makes me wonder what I've done wrong that would have caused me to have to relive my old experiences.

Thinking about getting a rental car in order to be free of this barrack's life. I'll be able to hit most of my old haunts around the city.