Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Pass In Time: Exile In Guyville

Landing in Iraq
Originally uploaded by currtdawg.
We left Utah on September 4th--Labour Day, as luck would have it. We reported to our squadron early in the morning, waited around all day, and didn't board the plane until the late-afternoon. The plane was a commercial aircraft contracted by the military. They'd already picked up troops from three other bases, so we didn't get very good choices of seats on the flight. I was stuck in the middle, but at least I sat next to my friend Scott Hobbs. We had short refueling stops in Maine and Germany, and finally arrived in Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar early Wednesday morning. We were supposed to stay there for a couple days, but luckily, airflow got switched around to accommodate us. We flew into Balad on the morning of the 7th and immediately began our in-processing.
For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of visiting Iraq, it looks pretty much like it looks on the evening news. It's a desert--brown and dry and sunny, spotted with occasional bushes and trees that look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. It also has a very peculiar smell. Is it dust? Is it burning garbage? Is it diesel fumes? Is it raw sewage? Is it body odor? The answer is...All of the above!

Originally uploaded by currtdawg.
When we first arrived, it was crazy hot. Every day was over 110 degrees, and the nights offered little relief. But by mid-October, things had started to cool off slowly. Also in October, we had a couple of storms, which would seem like a welcome break from the dryness, but it wasn't. The soil was very hard and rocky, and the rain didn't soak in very well. It just sat there, forming huge puddles in very inconvenient spots (i.e. between my room and the shower, or right in front of the entrance to the gym). The thin layer of dust that coated everything became a thin layer of mud that was tracked everywhere.

Double Rainbow
Originally uploaded by currtdawg.
November and December were completely dry, but in January, the official rainy season began. It only rained every two or three days, and, unlike the storms back in October, it was never a hard rain, just a consistent drizzle that lasted all day. The only really good thing about the rain was the rainbows. I've never seen so many in my life, often two or three at a time. And such vivid colours. The climate progressively got cooler as the weeks went by. By December, I was wearing thermals beneath my DCUs to keep warm in the morning, but the afternoons were usually pleasant and mild.

My Pod
Originally uploaded by currtdawg.
The base is probably one of the largest in south-west Asia. It's run mainly by the Army, and supported by the Air Force and Kellog, Brown, & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton. To drive completely around the perimeter would take at least 30 minutes, partly due to bad roads and low speed limits. The main housing area for the Air Force, known as H-6, was pretty big and well-equipped. Besides the living quarters, H-6 had shower and latrine trailers, a gym, rec centre, laundry facilities, Chapel (complete with mortar casings hanging as bells in the steeple), mini-B/X, barber shop, and even a nine-hole miniature golf course inside a tent. The nearest dining facility was a quarter-mile walk out the main gate of H-6. The ground is covered in gravel, and every building has huge 14-foot tall concrete barriers around it. It's almost maze-like.
Our individual living areas were 12' x 15' rooms called "pods." Each housed two troops, except during transition periods where four people were crammed in. My pod-mate was another CE guy from Hill named Cody Rasband. For some reason, when I arrived in Utah two years ago, Cody decided he didn't like me. I don't know why, but I soon got the point, and, after trying to exchange pleasantries with him a few times, just let him be. Since I never really gave him any reason to dislike me, I thought it was a kind of poetic justice for him to get stuck with me. I managed to break down the barrier and actually had a few decent conversations with him. I doubt we'll be tossing back beers together anytime soon, but at least I gave him a reason to not despise me. We had our wall lockers situated in the middle of the room to create another wall, so it was more like having my own little room and sharing our doorway. Overall, the pods were actually pretty nice. I ordered a few posters online to give mine a nice ambience. And since I had my computer with me, I could turn on a little bootie-shakin' music anytime I was feeling down. About two weeks before we left, several people in my squadron were told we had to move, Cody and I among them. A new section of pods was built, and it's a force protection measure to spread out people from the same squadron as much as possible. That just means that if a mortar were to hit a certain area of housing, we wouldn't lose everyone in the same area of expertise. The new pods were pretty much the same as the older ones, but much farther away. We all thought it was ridiculous to have us move across H-6 when we had such a short time left. The upside was that, since we were so far away, hardly anyone used the shower and latrine trailers near us.
For a deployment, the facilities really weren't too bad. Of course, when you're used to your own bathroom attached to your bedroom, well, it's just not the same, especially since we had to be in uniform or PT gear every time we left our pod. There was a set of trailers (two for latrines, one for showers) a short walk from my pod. The latrine trailers had a few sinks with a row of toilet stalls. Plus, there were potra-potties speckled all over the place.

Bathroom Artwork
Originally uploaded by currtdawg.
(And let me just say, nothing says "classy" like a very detailed personal ad written on the wall of a porta-potty, especially when it's right next to a really bad drawing of what appears to be a naked Neanderthal woman sketched by several different artists.) The shower trailers had twelve sinks and twelve shower stalls. I really dreaded showering. Back home, I shower two or three times daily; but in the desert, we're prohibited from taking more than one per day. And there's something about having to hike to the shower carrying your toiletries, towel, shower shoes, and a change of clothing that's just not cool. Plus, before I moved pods, I always seemed to shower the same time as fat, ugly, old guys who insisted on walking around naked. That's why God invented the bath towel, man.
The Air Force has recently implemented a new dress code for deployed airmen. While at work, we wear the desert camouflage uniform (DCU). Until recently, you could wear whatever you wanted (within reason) when not on duty. But now, we're required to wear the official Air Force PT gear. This consists of any combination of grey t-shirt, blue nylon shorts, nylon pants, and/or nylon jacket. At first, this seems like just another way to take away our individuality; but really, it made things much easier. There was less worry about what to pack, and the PT gear was comfortable, albeit noisy. And it was kinda fun to look like a navy blue power ranger.

1 comment:

Jess said...

I liked your first journal installment. I am glad that the weather cooled down later in the year, although I didn't realize it rained so much during the cool season. The pod looks alright but I have to agree with you on the bathrooms. It's better to have it attached to your room and not in another building.