Friday, October 13, 2006

In Country

Friday 10/13/06
1300

I am now officially "In Country", at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.

It's been a pretty full couple of days. I'm currently in the "CeeZee", for Cyberzone, a commercial internet access facility that I noticed while going to lunch just now. I haven't even started to work on getting my own PC hooked in, but I wanted at least to make a "safe arrival" entry here as soon as possible. The rate for internet access at this facility is $5 per hour, so I won't be spending a lot of time here, but it's worth it for the convenience right now.

We took off around 2000 Wednesday from Atlanta. It was a pretty easy flight, although long. It was a commercial airliner (Omani Air), chartered by the military. We boarded last, due to our passenger status (most of the soldiers there were returning form R&R leave, and only about 20 of us were actually going over for the first time. I thought this might mean I'd get wedged into a center seat, but they had it pretty well organized and as I got on they guided me left into what would have been first class, and I got a nice wide aisle seat with plenty of leg room. RHIP, again.

They had movies, etc, but I mostly read and dozed for the entire flight. They fed us several times, and it went by pretty quickly. We had a layover in Hahn, Germany at what used to be Hahn Airbase near Frankfurt. We waited around for about two hours while they serviced the plane and changed crews, then flew the second leg to Kuwait. I lost track of elapsed time, because I switched to Kuwait time as soon as we were on the plane, but I know the flight time from Germany was just over five hours. The time here is seven hours ahead, because they are not on daylight savings time.

We landed in Kuwait around 1930. It was dark already, and they loaded us right on buses and took us to a marshalling area. There they had giant coolers full of bottled water and Gatorade, as well as latrines. We were there about 30 minutes while they consolidated the passengers from several flights, and then we all loaded on buses again for the ride to another base. It was hot, but not really unpleasant. The ground surface was all sand and gravel, without a growing thing in sight (of course it was dark). The entire area was bathed in a dim light from giant lightpoles spaced very far apart, like a huge parking lot. The effect was about like the light of a full moon. There were supplemental lights placed around at key positions, so I was alternately blinded by light or peering into the darkness, depending upon which direction I looked. I took a few photos which I'll post later.

At this base we were sorted out by where we were going and processed through the appropriate briefings. Among the briefings for new arrivals was an OPSEC (Operational Security) briefing which specifically cautioned us about being too specific about locations, TTP's (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures), etc. in weblogs. Apparently blogs have been a source of intelligence for the bad guys, particularly photographs with captions (e.g. "This is the headquarters facility where I work - the General sits in the corner office" etc.). I'll want to post some photos, etc, but when I do get set up to do that they'll be less specific than the ones I posted while I was still in the U.S.

Once they were through with us there, I found my baggage and got on a bus back to Camp Arifjan. There we got a ride to the temporary billeting area, where I'll stay until I get permanent quarters assigned. I got assigned to a tent almost exactly like the one I stayed in the last night we were in Korea, except this one has metal bunks and wall lockers.

There were two other officers in this tent, and it was clear they had been here for some time. They have the place arranged as though it is their regular quarters, which it may well be. A TV and a large Persian rug between their bunks made it look less temporary. It seems that where you stay on this base is partly a function of what unit you're in, and partly of how long you'll be staying here. So they may be transients here for only a few months, or this may just be where their unit stays. In any case I don't expect to be here more than a couple of days or a week at most, before moving into a more permanent facility.

I had packed my clothing bag so my bedding was on top, and was able quickly to put sheets and a poncho liner on the bed, and my own little rug on the floor. :-) The showers and latrine are also the same as Korea - in trailer-like facilities outside the tents. I took a shower and brushed my teeth, which made me feel much better. Then I came back and put my iPod on Handel, put on my eyeshade (from the Korea flight), and lay down to sleep around 0330.

I awoke at about 1000. My roomates were gone, so I was obviously "out of it". I still felt tired (or at least lethargic) but I knew I should get up, so I did. The first thing I noticed was a temperature gradient in the tent. It's air conditioned, but when I sat up it was warmer by my head than my feet. The effect was even more pronounced when I stood up. that was my first indication of the battle with the heat. I had to go use the latrine, so I put on flipflops to go outside, and was completely blinded by the light and hit by the heat as I stepped outside. I couldn't even open my eyes for at least 30 seconds, and sort of squinted my way over there and back. It was a relief to get back in the tent.

I had some water, got dressed, and put my things away so they'd be secure while I took care of business. I kept out my Camelbak (also loaded on top of my field gear) and switched to my boonie cap for sun protection. I noticed a later of dust on everything (including my teeth!) It's very fine, slightly gritty, and coats everything like a powder. My roommates had plastic bags over their pillows, and I followed suit, arranging my bed so none of the surfaces I sleep on are exposed. I found myself strangely reluctant to actually get up and out of the tent, almost as though inside was a kind of "safe zone". When I stepped outside, in uniform, I would be "really here". Or maybe I'm just jet lagged and tired.

Finally, armed with sunglasses, boonie hat, and CamelBak, I stepped outside. The sunglasses made all the difference and I was able to head for the dining facility almost immediately. The heat and light are both intense but manageable. I think I am very lucky to be coming here at this time of year, when the worst of the heat is over. (Last night sitting and waiting for our ride at about 0130 was really very pleasant, like a nice summer night with a cool breeze).

My first stop was a mailbox to mail the envelopes I couldn't send from the Atlanta airport. Then I went to the DFAC for lunch. I'd like to describe that experience, but the hour I paid for is nearly up, and I really ought to get to a phone and call my unit. They don't expect me to do much over the next couple of days, but I need to contact them and do some inprocessing.

So this is a good place to stop my first entry from "In Country". More later, as soon as I can get to it.

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