Truth be told, my Ku-wait wasn’t that bad.
We arrived around 0800 and within an hour or so we were free to go about our business. The first thing we did was to get a place to put our gear and to lay down and get some sleep. But before we took a nap, we wandered around the base to refamiliarize ourselves with the place. I had just been there in October, but there had been a few minor changes.
The place is called Ali al Saleem. It is a sprawling tent city in the middle of nowhere – miles and miles of beautiful, soft sandy beaches minus the water and the beauty. The sand is extremely fine-grained, which results in it being easily picked up by the wind and blown into everything. Hard to believe, but the blowing sand of Kuwait sucks worse than the pervasive dust of Afghanistan.
The other thing that exponentially increases the suck factor is the temperature; especially for a guy like me who thinks 80 is too damn hot! The temperature, even at 0800, is pizza oven hot. Walking around feels like I am standing in front of a large pizza oven in an old, non-air conditioned pizzeria. Well except for the sand in the eyes…pizzerias rarely have blowing sand near the pizza ovens…but I think you know what I mean.
The super hot wind, coupled with the gritty, blowing sand makes it really unpleasant. In fact, the only thing Ali al Saleem has on KAF is the absence of the Poo Pond aroma. Believe it or not, I will take KAF.
There is a cluster of money wasters on the base: Pizza Hut, KFC, McDonald’s, Subway, a coffee shop and several trinket shops. I generally stay away from these places, especially since I am only a day or two away from ‘normal’ junk food establishments. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to have these little slices of home out there, but they just don’t quiet replicate their stateside siblings and they are a little high priced. We ate at the large, well stocked DFAC.
About 12 hours after arriving we went to our leave briefing. Very similar to the two we had before we left KAF and likely close to identical to the one we would receive at lock-down. It lasted about an hour and we were given a lock-down time of 1500 the next day. We had about 19 more hours of Kuwaiting to go.
Of course this being the Army, they appointed someone to be ‘in charge’ of the group and he quickly decided we needed to be there at least 15 minutes early. So our lock-down would now begin at 1445.
As we left the briefing at 2100 it was clearly apparent the wind, and hence the sand in the air, had picked up considerably. Woohoo! Everything in the tent had a fine layer of sand covering it and the tent flapped loudly in the wind. Definitely setting us up for a peaceful night of sleep…
Morning arrived with the mini sandstorm in full force. Visibility was probably no more than an 1/8th
of a mile, but the temperature was as hot as ever. How awesome is that? We kicked around the base for a few hours, did laundry and prepared to continue our westward journey.
The first thing we were told at our lock-down briefing was that our plane had been delayed several hours, so our wheels up time was now 0315. We would be in lock-down for over 12 hours. Well, I guess we didn’t have anything better to do anyway…
We had a series of uninformative briefings on what to expect and what we could and couldn’t take with us on the airplane. The US Navy has a team of Sailors dedicated to serve as Customs agents and they would be doing the Customs pre-boarding inspection.
It was about an hour before everyone was done talking to us and we began our Customs inspections. They used the same rules as the Air Force, which is the same as a civilian flight, but even more thorough. We had to completely empty our bags so the Navy could examine everything…I was at the front of the line, so I was through pretty quickly. It took about 2 hours to get everyone through.
Once through the inspection we were locked in the ironically named ‘Freedom Yard’. Think minimum security prison and you will probably be fairly close. It isn’t bad, they have several big tents with pretty much anything you may need. There is a movie tent, a computer tent, a couple of tents with chairs, games and snacks, a sleeping tent, showers and satellite vendors from the Pizza Hut, KFC and Subway. Plenty to keep us busy.
We would be held there until 2000. Which gave me a bit over 5 hours. I whiled the time away playing dice and spending quality time online (think I did 4 posts while there).
As 1930 rolled around our appointed leader started telling everyone to prepare for formation…never mind we had previously been told we would form up at 2000 to prepare to load the buses at 2100. I guess he just didn’t trust us to assemble in a mere hour, we would need at least an extra 30 minutes.
He attempted to justify his actions by giving a little pep talk; reminding us we would soon be on our way home, and to just be patient as ‘this is the part that sucks’. My immediate thought was, ‘yes, so why make it suck worse?’
Anyway, there we were, standing outside in the hot, blowing sand nearly 90 minutes before we were to get on the bus. During that 90 minutes we went through several iterations of roll call to make sure they would know if some mysteriously vaporized from the time they had entered the secured area and since the last roll call 10 minutes earlier. They must have been really concerned that someone would sneak off into the desert instead of sticking around to go home, because the counting just never seemed to stop.
Finally at 2100 we started the orderly movement to the waiting buses, but not before one more final roll call as we passed through the gate. They loaded us on to the waiting buses, shut the bus doors and you probably guesses it – they counted us again.
One overly ambitious young Captain earnestly voiced his concern that we had not stayed in alphabetical order as we boarded the bus. In all seriousness he actually suggested we get off the bus and reboard in alphabetical order so that it would be easier to keep track of us…my mind loudly yelled ‘shut up you fing idiot’ but my voice actually said ‘that really isn’t necessary, we’ll be ok’. I mean seriously, we are confined to the small interior of a bus, how much keeping track does there need to be? I pity the Soldiers that work for that guy.
It is about an hour or so to the airport, but since our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave for another 4 hours, the planned to hold us in the staging area, about 15 minutes or so away from the airport. The staging area is really nothing more than a large parking lot with porta-johns and benches. We pulled into the staging area, but yes, before they opened the bus doors they counted us again.
Seriously people, you loaded us on the bus, shut the doors and counted us. Then we immediately drove about an hour, with no stops until this one and you thought you needed to count us again? What in the world has prompted the need to count and recount people so much? How many people have been lost rolling down the highway in the past?
While at the staging area we received some pretty awesome news – our plane would be ready to roll as soon as we got to the airport! We quickly reloaded the buses and arrived at the airport a bit before midnight. Yes, of course they counted us before we left the staging area. Everyone moved efficiently from the bus into the plane and away we went; almost 3 hours ahead of schedule! Now that truly is the best news!
But I was a little nervous that they didn’t count us before we got off the bus…
So in the end, I think it brings me back to the first sentence; sure Kuwait sucked, but the ku-wait was relatively short and more importantly is over. It was infinitely better then it could’ve been.