Sunday, April 01, 2007

Note: Wanna know what the camp outside of Baghdad where I am now billeted looks like? Go to Burning Man, out in the Nevada desert, and you'll pretty much get the look of this place -- only Burning Man is a lot more fun!

Letters from Iraq: The Charge of the Light Brigade, Part 1

March 30 -- we finally received our orders to fly out of Kuwait and into Baghdad. Hurray! Now all I have to do is get my passport back from the Kuwait visa inspectors and I'm good to go.

"Stillwater? Here's your passport." Whew. "Now line up here and wait." I did. This is exciting. And perhaps a little too real. Two hours later, we boarded a plane. It was a big one, a real work of art. It was as big as a football field inside, no windows, no frills -- just one big warehouse. The pallets with our gear on them were stored in back of us and troops lined the walls and took up seats in the center.

This plane is spooky. Forget everything you ever experienced on Continental, United or Delta. This plane is weird. Exposed pipes run along the 20-foot-high ceiling. Wires hang loose. There's a plywood floor. There's NOTHING decorative about this plane at all -- except that they gave us nicely-colored earplugs to baffle the sound.

While waiting in some tent or other for the plane to take off, the soldiers I sat next to took turns telling stories. I love these guys. Anyone who can tell a good story is all right by me. And these guys tell stories with flash and charm. Each one has an attention-grabbing introduction, an exciting and suspenseful plot, a gripping climax and a really great hook at the end. Guys, I salute you. Now don't go out there and blow yourselves up. You have too many stories to tell.

This plane holds a hecka lot of men. I'm not allowed to say how many but it's a lot -- more than the amount of people who live in my neighborhood, less than the amount of people at a Pussycat Dolls concert. There were a lot of women soldiers back on the base in Kuwait but I'm probably the only woman on this plane now besides some sort of stewardess wannabe in khaki fatigues whose main job appears to be handing out earplugs.

1:15 am: This whole freaking embed experience is so weird, so bizarre. It's like nothing I can equate it with inside my realm of experience back home. It's bizarre. It's going to take me YEARS to digest all of this. Just going to the freaking toilet on a troop transport plane is bizarre.

Once the plane takes off, all the lights go out except for a handful of red ones lining the walls, giving the interior the look and feel of Hell -- Hell and the Battlestar Galactica, with a little bit of Road Warrior thrown in. The soldiers are all wearing helmets and flack jackets. To a man, all of them are asleep -- in awkward, unnatural positions. Only I am awake. And on the way to the toilet, I glide down the aisle like that Greek goddess of old who was kidnapped by Hades -- Persephone?

Once inside the restroom, there's no light, only a red glow. I do my business by touch and get out as soon as I can, back to the jaws of death, back to the mouth of Hell. And the troops sleep on, in exhausted, exaggerated positions, looking for all the world like they were dead.

These men are my boys. Hurt them and you have to go through me. Hear that, George Bush? These men aren't just action figure toys for you to play with. These are real, living human beings. Sincere. Serious about doing their jobs -- and doing them well. They deserve better than the blunders of GWB. They deserve respect. They've got mine.

"Prepare for landing. Thank you." Obviously there's gonna be no in-flight movie and no in-flight meal. And I don't think we are going to have a spiffy arrival area and baggage carousel either.

"This is BIAP". Baghdad International Airport. "BIAP" must be short for "biopsy". That's what I think. The descent into BIAP is so swift and sudden, it feels like they cut out a piece of us. Yep, it's a good thing this plane doesn't have windows! But did all that decompression wake up the troops? Nope. I'm still the only one awake.

Then "BOOM!" The plane touches down with a sonic thud. We've landed in Baghdad.