Balad Redux
Back to the Desert

Feb
04

we’ve been in oahu the last several days (flew over on 1/30).  pictures to be uploaded when we get back (i have limited time on this computer at hickam air force base’s library).my replacement has been writing sometimes here, in case there’s continued interest in the goings on at the balad aeot:  http://www.wunderground.com/blog/Alphie/

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 inside a lava tube 

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lava flow from late 1980s 

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on the 10-hour flight

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U.S.S. Utah,  Pearl Harbor Naval Base 

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view from our hotel balcony–diamond head and waikiki beach 

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Jan
28

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the transient tent in which we stayed

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housing for those deployed to al-udeid 

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door to the pool

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the gathering area–the “bra” (formerly called “wagon wheel” but the tents changed shape)

Jan
28

after learning a bit after 2am that i needed to be at the rally point at 5 am the night of 21 january, i got to watch a seaman wearing rubber gloves empty the bags i’d just meticulously packed in a quest to find secret documents and porn, the top 2 objects normally giving a “eureka!” moment to customs.  this was disheartening.  every piece of paper was examined; every pocket on every item of packed clothing received a patdown.  a table was covered with all i’d just assembled and the enlisted navy man had just disassembled; i passed the “test” and was able to pack it all up again.  i lay on the floor of the terminal for an hour or so waiting on our C-130 ride to qatar.  we boarded; we took off; we turned around and landed in balad.  “wait 10 minutes on maintenance” we were told.  then, “it’ll be another 10 minutes for repairs.”  two hours later, we buckled out seat belts and took off again.  this time, we landed in qatar.  

qatar is purgatory.  yes, the thousands of us air force members who have left iraq after a 4-month rotation are glad to be on another stepping stone towards the states.  however, the experience there is hardly fun.  i was relieved to turn in my kevlar helmet, flak vest, and chemical bag at al-udeid, which meant only one bag to drag home (plus the backpack i wore).  after that, however, we were treated as untouchables in a temporary caste system.  our designation:  transients.  transients live in transient tents with 40+ bunkbeds for the day or two they’re in qatar.  transients are not expected to sleep.  transients are given limited access to phones and computers (and when they do get them, a “transient” pass is given the user).  transients have their own bus and aren’t permitted to ride the buses for those deployed to al-udeid air base.  we learned this during the 1.5 hrs we stood by a gravel road at a bus stop to get a ride to the pax terminal; five buses stopped to pick up other troops and refused to give a ride to us.  each driver would snivel, “this bus doesn’t carry transients” and then pull away.  

we used our transient ration card to have our maximum allotment of three beers and then tried to sleep.  at midnight, i awoke to a flashlight in my face.  i was told i was needed outside immediately.  since i was the designated “chalk leader” (“chalk” being the name for the flights carrying us from balad to qatar), i assumed our flight out had been delayed.  instead, a couple of my friends from my nashville guard unit who were deployed to qatar had learned where i was sleeping and wanted to visit before i left.  

the next morning, i realized that for the first time in months, i had an entire day with nothing to do.  i had a long breakfast with some of the folks from nashville, used the computer lab, walked around the base with my camera to get some pictures, watched “juno” for the second time at the base theater, had a beer, ate a late lunch/dinner, had the other two beers, and then tried to sleep for a couple hours.  we met at 11:30pm to catch the bus to the pax terminal.  after the 1.5hr wait described above, we were able to get to the terminal, emigrate out of qatar, get some food, and begin the several-hour-wait for our 6am flight (meaning this was the third night with little to no sleep).  

the plane stopped in italy for a couple hours, and we were surprised to find a hangar full of food and drinks waiting on us.  i believe some of the enlisted airmen’s wives organized the event.  we were grateful for their generosity.  next stop was germany, where i was able to find a phone and give an update to mrs moe as she woke up on 23 january.  unfortunately, we picked up several “space available” travelers in germany including several unhappy kids.  the girl sitting behind me, sofia, was particularly fond of her screaming voice and of kicking the back of my seat.  

after 8.5 hrs, we landed at BWI airport (2 hrs late).  one of my friends for >20 years was there to meet me, so the two of us went out to dinner before i retired to the holiday inn express.  my flight to nashville left about 2pm on 24 january.  after a stop in philadelphia, we got to nashville about 5pm.  during the flight to nashville, my heart was beating so quickly, that i was afraid i was going to pass out, so i’d periodically have to pick up something to read or find something detached to think about in order to calm down.  my seat was in the first row, so as soon as the flight attendant indicated we could get off, i bolted at a pace between fast walk and jog.  if there was anyone behind me, he/she was a good 45 seconds back.  our first sergeant had arranged with the airport to allow any spouses to go into the concourse, so after pulling away from my gate, i saw mrs moe, who ran towards me and gave me an extended and teary hug.  several seconds later, we walked towards baggage claim and saw my parents and the girls, who were also very excited, of course.  the baby was heavier than she was when i picked her up on 10 september, and she wore her “stranger face” for the first half hour or so i was around her.  she did warm up later that night, however.  my new squadron commander and several other members of our nashville guard unit were there to greet us, too, which i appreciated, and they took our weapons for us, so we wouldn’t have to worry about securing them.

the next day (friday), we inprocessed at the guard unit, and i was able to have a nice dinner with my parents and family before coming to atlanta saturday morning.  saturday night, several of the neighbors came over for a surprise party.  everyone brought food, drinks, presents, or a combination of all three.  i was recognized and applauded sunday morning after church, and on sunday night, our smallgroup from church had another welcome home party for me and then asked questions about the deployment for >2 hours.  i actually enjoyed explaining several of my experiences to them, and they had many good questions.  

this redeployment process has been much more enjoyable than the last one.  my parents and friends were very supportive when i got home in ’03, but having a wife whom i adore has made the last few days wonderful.  my parents were kind enough to get a room in our hotel in nashville and let the girls stay with them the two nights we were there, and they’re coming to atlanta in a few days so that deb and i can take a long vacation.  i have about 4 weeks of reconstitution time and leave before i need to go back to my guard unit for a couple weeks, so we’re going to try to enjoy the time before i finish up with the military and then return to practicing law as a civilian.  after my other two deployments, i returned to my civilian work almost immediately and regretted doing so.  not this time.

Jan
21

plane broke 10 min after takeoff…we turned around and came back, sat on the ground 2 hrs, and then took off again and made it here!  have had dinner (first meal since last night’s dinner) and my rationed 3 beers.  going to bed now after a shower.  headed out tomorrow, hopefully.

Jan
21

was awakened 1 hr ago (it’s 0335 now) and told we’re to assemble at the basketball court for a flight in a couple hours.  don’t know if it’ll go through qatar or kuwait or even if we have a rotator arranged once we’re there, but i suppose this is step 1. 

Jan
21

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these are painted inside our squadron operations building

Jan
19

i’m sure everyone knows this is an acronym of military origin. 

i thought i knew when i was scheduled to fly out of qatar and into nashville, but my mission has disappeared.  several of us were grouped together on the same mission…the others seem more concerned about it than i am, but since i was the flight commander last rotation, of course, they expect me to “fix it.”  so, the last couple of days have entailed many phonecalls and much frustration as i try to get people who work in other organizations on this base to find a plane with some empty seats on it.  since the air force generally deploys its troops in 4-month increments on a set cycle, my group of 4 heading to nashville is one of thousands of groups of airmen supposed to leave on a few “rotators” this month.  so, despite my shipping my electronics home and dropping down to 2 uniforms (and 1 PT uniform), i may be here a while.  my apologies to those whom i told i’d see in baltimore, nashville, and atlanta along the way.  hopefully, the schedule will only be pushed back a few days and not a couple weeks.  the next time i’m told by someone behind a desk to “be patient,” however, i may see if 120-something days of dust has rendered my sidearm inoperable. 

Jan
19

on our way to the fitness center the other night, i stopped into “troy’s place” with ltc sanders to show it to him–it’s a trailer with books, coffee, a couple of home theater setups, DVDs, etc. run by the chaplains.  it’s open 24/7 and is a good place to play cards, read, etc. without the crowds typically seen at the much larger recreation center.  in one of the rooms with a flatscreen and surround speakers in it, i saw a couple of airmen watching a service from my church in atlanta (http://www.buckheadchurch.com/).  louie giglio was talking on stage with some paintings in the background.  one of the guys watching lived in washington, dc; the other was the weather flight commander…he’s from  wright-patterson air force base in ohio.  both were interested in the fact that i attended there; the person from ohio even said his church there models its youth program after the “kid stuff” program at buckhead church.  i donated some more DVDs i’ve received from the church for future such visitors on future deployments. 

Jan
19

the track

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the outdoor pool

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the platform diving boards

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 memorial showing the stadium’s new namesake

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 inside a bunker by the track

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my understanding is that these facilities were used for training iraqi olympic athletes at one time.

Jan
17

i mailed home my second 50#+ trunk today.  i love the gradual finality sending away my trailer’s contents brings.  and i love that i should be able to get out of here with only one bag plus my backpack.  widespread panic had it right:  traveling light is the only way to fly.