Dispatch from the Arabian peninsula ~ NanoThoughts 1.0

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Dispatch from the Arabian peninsula

Here's a slice of life email I recently got from a friend of mine who just went over to the land of light crude. Check it out.


Hope this email finds you well. I have safely arrived in the theater of operations for about a week and a half now. The flight here was a rough one, about 18 hours of total flight time with two layovers. It felt like an eternity when we initially took off from the airfield. As I looked out the window, I was thinking that the plane is going to run out of runway….but thankfully the plane finally took off after about 2 miles on the ground. It was an extremely slow ascent due to the plane laden with heavy military gear. Our first landing felt almost disastrous. The pilot just dropped the plane on the runway from the sky. We were fortunate that the plane did not bust any tires. From all the flying I have done, this was the worst take off and landing sequence ever.

So far, things are going well here at the camp. Our team has been working closely with the existing team to ensure that there is a smooth transition with the outgoing rotation and our replacement team will be able to provide continuity with the new mission. There is a two week overlap for cross training before the current team leaves. We have quickly adapted to our new work environments, and making all the necessary adjustments to prepare for our missions downrange. The greater majority of our team is assigned to the Information Assurance Branch in support of the information security training initiative and performing vulnerability assessment downrange. This typically requires a lot of traveling. In the past week, they have been on the road daily. We also sent another team downrange this weekend up north. It’s been one week and some folks are already griping about the travel. Fortunately for me, I have not been tasked with any downrange missions yet. Being in the army long enough, I know that you don’t volunteer for anything. Realistically speaking, I know that I will be tasked to travel downrange in the near future and I am prepared to execute my mission as directed.

Earlier this week, a combat patch ceremony was held for outgoing team, along with catered Arabic food. We were also served non-alcoholic German beer, which was quite bland. It will be another two months before I get some real beer with alcohol content when I head over to Bahrain. I also hear that soldiers are authorized to consume three beers a day in Qatar, but not sure when I will be heading over there yet. The current team was the first group to be awarded the newly authorized 1st Information Operations patch for service in a combat zone. They were also awarded the Global War on Terrorism Service Medals. Attending the ceremony provided our team a glimpse of what to expect and things to look forward to at the end of our tour here.

The food here at the mess hall is on par with the Dietrick Hall Dining Facility (aka Die Quick) from VA Tech. My fellow Hokies alumni will know what I am talking about. For those who didn’t have the opportunity to attend such a fine college, the food is acceptable but the menu does not offer enough variety. The main difference between the Dietrick food and the mess hall here is that it doesn’t give me any heartburns. The beverage selection here is comparatively better than college. There are plenty of bottled Gatorades, Red Bull, juice, milk, tea, coffee to quench our thirst. There is also a nice dessert section that serves pies, cakes, etc. While conversing with one of the transient soldier here, I inquired if he knew of any camps in the theater that serves Asian food. To my surprise, I was told that the mess halls downrange in Iraq offer Kimchi, Mongolian style stir-fry, among other things. I guess sushi would be stretching it :) I might just have to volunteer for some missions up north when I get the craving for Asian cuisine or just tired of the food at this camp. One of the highlights of the week at the mess hall is Steak & shrimps or Lobster & shrimps nights on Wednesdays. All I can say is that it’s good effort on their part, but the meat just doesn’t taste quite right. All the soldiers here have learned to lower our standards, since we all know that it’s challenging to have fine dining in a combat zone. A problem with the taste of our food maybe attributed to the cooks that are preparing our meals, which are all Third Country Nationals (TCN) from mostly India. They don’t seem to have problems making curry dishes though :)

As far as the quality of life here, it seems to be much better than I had anticipated. Our team actually lucked out and is staying in pods for our sleeping quarters inside a huge warehouse. The pods are 16 X 6 feet connex containers for accommodating two to four soldiers each. I had a roommate for the first week, but he has since then completed his tour and gone home. Currently, I have the whole pod to myself until the housing section decides to fill it with another incoming soldier. There are AC units hooked up to all the pods and crank out cold air 24/7. It can get quite cold at night, so most of us tape up the duct vent so it doesn’t feel like a fridge at night when we sleep. Compared to most of the other troops who are staying in tents and open bays, our living arrangement is great. Since this camp is scheduled for closure within the year, a lot of our current amenities are quickly coming to an end. One of the biggest morale booster and simple enjoyment items are slated to be closed in the next few months. This includes the gym, the PX, and even the mess hall buildings are getting cleared out. So we might be eating out of tent pretty soon. We are also getting cleared out of the pods in a few months to move in tents or trailers, so life here might not be as tolerable.

The weather here has been really mild, with daytime temperature hitting about 80 degrees, and dips down to about 50 degrees at night. I hear the dreaded desert heat will be here soon enough to welcome us, in addition to the sand storm. I am just happy that we will have ample time to acclimate to the heat when it comes. As for the environment condition and air quality, our camp is about average. Though other nearby camps are not as fortunate. One of the camps that a contingent from our team visited is located in the middle of the desert, which had an abundance of dust and sand. Even their computers, monitors, and keyboards were coated with the crud. I just can’t imagine how bad that is for the lungs. So our team should really count ourselves lucky with the condition that we presently work in.

Well, this is all for now from the desert. Hope everyone is doing well back home.

1 comment:

Justin said...

Sounds like the same setup my brother has...including the Lobster on Wednesday bit. He's in a "pod" too. Wonder if they're in the same place?