After much waiting and worrying, I went on leave. The Army sends all Soldiers away from Iraq for 15-18 days, depending on the length of their tour in Iraq. We can go just about anywhere, so long as we have a passport.
I left my lovely patrol base and waited at Baghdad International Air Port for a flight to Kuwait. There was a great deal of ‘manifesting,’ which means showing up for a roll call, and then learning that we have to show up for another roll call in three hours. I had numerous formations into the wee hours of the morning, ending with an early morning C-17 flight to Kuwait.
Kuwait is as I remember it. There’s nothing there but sand and prefabricated buildings. We’ve heard fairy tales about “Kuwaitis,” natives to the sandy country. I’ve seen plenty of Pakistanis and Americans, but never a “Kuwaiti.” The entire country is a giant sand dune with oil pipelines.
We landed in Kuwait and the Soldiers stationed there gave us many customs briefings, asked where we wanted to go for leave and cut us loose for a few hours. I decided to take a shower, and walked out into the brisk 120 degree Fahrenheit Kuwaiti morning. 120 degrees! That’s like turning a hair dryer up to eleven and blasting it an inch from your face. I took a shower, and needed a new shower after walking back to the holding tent.
The customs briefings were long and repetitive. It is NOT OK to bring hand grenades, smoke grenades, bullets, dead animals, Swedish porn, hashish, etc. back to the US of A. They wouldn’t tell us this unless Someone had tried to bring those sort of things onto the airplane. Yes really, they have pictures to prove it.
After the litany of things we couldn’t bring, our bags were searched and then we were sent to the terminal…or so we thought. On the way to the terminal, the walkway is fenced in on all sides, was another inspection station! This place was complete with x-ray machines and rubber gloves. Criminy.
Me and my fellow travelers sat in another holding area, scrambled to get our tickets, and slowly lost confidence as some Air Force person would pop into the tent, tease us with a flight time then come back minutes later and tell us the flight was cancelled. Tee hee!
Eventually we got on a civilian airliner and we were off. This wasn’t Delta or something fancy like ATA, this was World Airways. No, you’ve probably never flown on World Airways. Apparently, they’re chartered only by the United States Government to bring Soldiers to and from Iraq. In all honesty, it wasn’t that bad.
We first landed in Leipzig, Germany. Leipzig’s claim to fame is that it’s the home of the German metal band Rammstein. Don’t Google that, you won’t like what you find. The little Rammstein shrine won’t draw many tourist families, I’ll tell you that much. While in Kuwait, the Soldiers there told us over and over again that alcohol is strictly forbidden until we reach our final destination. But in Leipzig, there was alcohol for sale everywhere. We’re not talking about Spaten beer, we’re talking Absinthe. The green stuff that’ll drive you out of your mind! Can’t buy any for later consumption, they’ll send you right back to Iraq, no leave for you!
I sense the Germans are still a little bitter about the bombings in WWII, and this is some sort of subtle vengeance. Torturing Soldiers with good booze.
Apparently, people used to drink on the way back from Iraq. No doubt, some jack ass got drunk in Germany and woke up in Ukraine missing a kidney and that ruined the fun for everyone.
We stopped in Atlanta and then off to Dallas. We stopped in Dallas on Memorial Day, of all days. There was a long and thick line of civilians there to greet Soldiers as we got off the plane. People shook our hands, thanked us for our service, and Girl Scouts passed out their signature cookies. Score! I was very impressed by the people in Dallas, nice to know folks care about us and are aware that there’s still a war going on.
The USO in Dallas is top notch. There’s free internet, free snacks, comfy chairs, showers, phones, cable, etc. Anyone in the military would do well to run by that USO and take a load off.
The power that be in Dallas passed out a paper informing us that if we get arrested by the Dallas Airport PD because of drunken stupidity, the time spent in jail will count against your leave dates. They wouldn’t tell us this unless Someone had gotten drunk and hijacked one of those terminal bus thingies.
I got on a flight to LAX, and spent the next 18 days with family and friends.