Sunday, August 16, 2009

More Random Photos

Baghdad from the air.

Me, finally flying in a blackhawk helicopter in Iraq!

1SG Martinez getting beat in arm wrestling by PFC Ward. It happens alot. :)

1LT Sarratt practicing his piloting skills with the remote control helicopter.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Surrey With the Fringe on the Top

No, I haven't gone out and bought a surrey with fringe on the top and we're not reviving "Oklahoma!" on any stage in Baghdad. Going with the theme of most of my posts that fall under the name of a song, I wanted to write about what's happening here in Iraq that has something to do with...well...a surrey with the fringe on the top.
That surrey, from the play, also has "isinglass curtains you can roll right down, in case there's a change in the weather..."
That's it...we've had a change in the weather. It's only mid-August (is that the "midsummer" from a "midsummer's night dream?") and we've had...a change in the weather. Almost imperceptable, but a change nonetheless. The mornings and evenings are cooler than they have been. I walked into to the work last week at 5:30 a.m. and it was only 88 degrees! A few days later I walked to work at 8 a.m. and it was only 99 degrees! And today, the high was only 113! Now, you might be thinking...are you nuts? It was only 113? Yes...and that's a break in the weather when we have been dealing with highs of 122 - 125. It's nice to walk to work in the morning now and not be blinded by the sweat dripping into my eyes. And the evenings...I can walk back from the shower at 8 p.m. and not be covered with sweat by the time I reach my front porch.
It's all perspective, I guess. When I lived in Minnesota I would be bundled up to the eyeballs in November when it was 30 degrees. By February I was going to the mailbox in -10 degree blizzards in jeans and a sweatshirt!
A lot has been going on since I last posted. The biggest event was a visit from LTG Jack Stultz, the Chief of the Army Reserve, and his Command Sergeant Major, CSM Caffie. They were here in Iraq for 5 days, starting out here at Victory Base Complex, doing two town halls for the Reserve Soldiers here. It was a lot of fun and nice to get "a little love" from "one of our own". The sneaky person that I am, I put myself on the itinerary to go with the group over the next few days. What fun! I finally got to ride in a blackhawk helicopter in Iraq. First we flew to Camp Speicher to visit the troops there. The flight was long and hot and we flew over a whole lot of nothing. You don't realize how much NOTHING there is outside of Baghdad proper until you fly over it. After a nice lunch and questions-and-answers, we flew on to Al-Asad to repeat the meal and Qs and As. This is where the fun began, as our travel plans began to unravel. We had two helicopters arrive around 9 pm but apparently one couldn't handle passengers. After an hour or so of planning, it was decided that everyone but 5 of us (me, the print journalist, the broadcast journalist, COL P, and one of the security detail) would fly to Taji and then the helicopters would turn around, come back, and fly the rest of us to Taji. Our flight wasn't supposed to return until 2 a.m. so we camped out in the VIP lounge and ate pop-tarts and watched a surfer movie. (The one with Kate Bosworth, forget the name.) Thankfully our flight arrived at 12:30 so we actually got into bed at a decent hour: 2 a.m.
Back up at 6 a.m. the next morning for breakfast and another town hall. Then we flew to Balad. I heard later on it was a close call...a dust storm was on it's way in and they almost cancelled the flight. We had the last town hall in Balad and that's where we split off from the group of VIPS. The four of us (the same group, minus the security) were supposed to fly back to Baghdad that night but by then the sandstorm was in full swing and nothing was flying. Thankfully we got rooms at the BOQ but had to be back at the terminal at 4 a.m. We got on the plane at 9 a.m. but took off at noon (after being removed from the plane and sat in the bus until we could reboard...engine problems). We were going to flight 30 minutes to Kirkuk, then 30 minutes to Baghdad. We landed and took off from Kirkuk, and 45 minutes into our 30-minute flight the pilot informed his passengers that, because of yet another dust storm, we were being diverted to Kuwait.
Okay, so not only am I getting back to the office 24 hours late, but I left the country! :)
We spent the afternoon and night at Ali al-Salem airbase, on standby, waiting for a flight to Baghdad. Flights were getting diverted all over the plane made it halfway to Camp Speicher before turning around and returning to Ali al-Salem. I tell you, when the dust kicks up, it chokes everything. Our time in Kuwait was spent swallowing large amounts of dust! I am grateful that I was given the chance to wash my was on sweaty, dusty, Day 3 and needed to be washed.
I arrived back in Baghdad a day late, but safe and sound!