Tuesday, May 18

7 May 04
continued from 6 May entry.

An Air Force Sergeant boarded the plan shortly after landing at Charleston to take the First Sergeant and myself to the terminal while the rest of the unit got their gear and boarded a bus. He really rolled out the red carpet for us. He put us in the Special Category Lounge -- a VIP waiting area.

When the bus arrived my soldiers were escorted into the normal passenger waiting area. 1SG and I went to get the other officers and bring them to the VIP lounge. We all sprawled out on the nice couches and were very giddy at the accommodations. Did I mention before that you gotta love the Air Force?!

Then the Sergeant came back and chased my officers out of the lounge saying it was only open to the 1SG and I! We all thought it was funny, but I felt awkward about it so I mostly hung out in the terminal.

After finally learning at about 2 a.m. that the plane couldn't be fixed, we decided to get billets for the night. We went to the billeting office, which had no rooms but gave us contracts to stay at a local hotel. Then we went to the base armory to check in our weapons, GPS systems, and night vision goggles.

It was 4 a.m. by the time my head hit the pillow in my hotel room. I woke up at 10 a.m. Six hours of good sleep after a shower was plenty to recharge us. Several people just wanted to sleep in the terminal and were PO'd that I wanted everyone to sleep in a hotel. They figured the they would have rather slept the two hours spent getting to and settled into the hotel. I stuck to my philosophy that quality sleep is more important than quantity of sleep... and I'm glad I did.

They couldn't fix our plane in time so moved our equipment to another plane which they later determined also to have a problem. The next afternoon we finally departed Charleston for Germany. We went straight up the coast to Rhode Island where we did air refueling before cutting across the Atlantic. We had one of my guys in the cockpit with a video camera taping the whole operation. It was pretty cool.

We got to Germany in the early morning and were supposed to stay only long enough to refuel and change crews. However, apparently they had a sensor malfunction over the Atlantic and needed to fix it. Our third plane to have a mechanical problem!

We stayed in Germany 10 hours. I tried calling several of my German and American friends. Unfortunately none were home except one. It was nice to talk to Tony. Sorry to have missed everyone else :-(

I ate a curry wurst at the base exchange, mit pommes frits, and bought some fresh gummi bears for the rest of the trip.

We picked up about twenty extra passengers for the final leg into Bagram, including several civilians. Some are private security guys like Blackwater-- former special forces, going to make big bucks in Afghanistan. One was going to Bagram to fix a broken Predator drone reconnaissance plane. There were also two women going to Bagram to run an extension of the University of Maryland on the base. Imagine having time to go to college in a combat zone!

When we entered Afghan airspace, the air crew donned their combat gear and turned off the plane's navigational lights. Passengers were told to put on our combat gear if they had any.

When we came over the mountains that surround the "bowl" that the air base is in, the C-17 dove/descended sharply... like nothing I've ever experienced before. Then it leveled out as if we were about to land. I could see the ground through the small port hole in the door on the opposite side of the plane. We were pretty close to the ground. However, the plane continued on swerving back and forth for what seemed like five minutes until we finally landed. Whew!

The crew opened the side doors as we taxied to the tarmac. Through the door I saw my first glimpses of the beautiful snow-capped mountains that surround the base. I could also see base infrastructure, tents and equipment-- all protected by sand bags and Hesco barriers. Hesco barriers are like sandbags as big as washing machines that are reinforced/contained by a wire basket. They pile them two and sometimes three high to form a wall to protect tents, buildings, and aircraft. Nearby was a row of A-10 'Wart Hog' airplanes. Yes... we were in a combat zone now.

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