Wanna cookie?

I left Baghdad for a short trip to Al Asad, which appears to be only a short distance North-West as the crow flies. As the military flies, I had to travel all the way down to Kuwait and then back up again, which I was not too excited about. The good news is that I was in a C-17, which I find to be way more comfortable than a C-130 (no leaning back on someone else's back!).

The first leg of the trip was packed, and the entire cargo plane was filled with seats, which I had never seen before. I was relatively close to the front, and this was the view from my seat. Notice the little bubble shaped window up near the flight deck.

After we landed in Kuwait, they announced that anyone traveling to Al Asad should stay on the plane, and of all 1 million passengers, I was the only one. This worked out in my favor because as I waited, one of the crew members asked if I wanted to sit up with them in the flight deck. Of course I said yes, and they were great. I acted all shy and excited, and they asked if I wanted pictures of myself in the Captain's chair. They were really getting into it and took about 10 pics. Here's me and my mustachioed co-pilot.

I got to sit there for take-off and pretty much the entire flight. I wore headphones and could communicate with the crew. They let me wear night vision goggles and the amount of stars I saw was incredible!

They had to do a 'combat landing,' so they asked me to go sit in their little rest area right behind the cockpit. I sheepishly glanced through the porthole at the silly passengers that hide to ride in the cabin. Suckers! For those who don't know, a 'combat landing' is when the plane comes in quite high and then dives suddenly and quickly down to the runway. It's supposed to minimize the amount of time the plane is a target, so to speak. I've been through a couple that have felt dead up like that plane was crashing, but this one was quite mild in comparison.

Plus, while we were taxiing, one of the guys put some cookies in the oven, and as I was getting off the plane, he offered me a warm chocolate chip cookie. Seriously. Life's too good sometimes!

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Baghdad – Day 1

The morning I after I arrived in Baghdad, the world seemed all fresh and new. The sun was shining and everywhere I looked there were palm trees and sidewalks!!! I couldn’t believe it. Stacey arranged a tour for me, and after 2 quick hours in the office, I was whisked away on a special tour of Camp Slayer, with absolutely no idea what to expect.

Our first stop was Uday’s house – Sadaam’s son. It had obviously been quite lovely at one time, but is now a pile of rubble. We got to wander around, climb on things, and take pictures at our leisure. A tour guide told us a few stories, but she was difficult to hear, and someone was translating her words loudly into Arabic for the small group of Iraqi military that were on the tour with us.

The next stop was the Victory over Iran palace. Sadaam built this palace and it was his main residence when in Baghdad. The archway was very ornately decorated, and framed in a ‘smiley face’ over the front door are helmets from Iranian soldiers. We did not get to go inside, as the palace is actually inhabited by US troops lucky enough to be billeted there.

Adjacent to the “Victory over Iran,” stands the “Victory over America” palace. Sadaam had not quite finished building this beauty when we decided to drop a couple of enormous bombs on it. Wrong name, perhaps?

The tour was quite interesting, and culminated with a treacherous hike up many unfinished staircases leading to a rooftop view overlooking the camp and city. The panorama was stunning, and my quick video only covers about a quarter of it, due to MEMORY CARD FULL ☹

All the palaces are completely surrounded by water, for which Sadaam apparently used 8 of the city’s 9 water pumps, leaving his people in desperate want. The water is spotted with little houses where his friends and relatives lived, or that were used for pleasure. Sadaam’s brothel is right next door to his palace, and a brothel for his friends is a stone’s throw across the lake. According to our tour guide, they believed there was ‘no sin on water.’

After viewing the impressive wreckage, we made a quick photo stop and the very last mural of Sadaam in Iraq, and then went to the Baath party house, which was bombed after George Bush gave his 24 hour to evacuate ultimatum. Apparently we almost got Sadaam there, but missed him by less than an hour. Instead, the remains of 250 people were found in the rubble of the theater room, and “Pretty Woman” was found inside of the projector.

Most of the building was rubble, but it’s loveliness could easily be imagined. The pool room was still intact, although the pool was apparently never filled. An old, dried blood stain suggested an alternate and more sinister purpose.

Overall, the tour was very interesting, and completely surreal. I just kept thinking, “how did I end up here!?” and feeling very, very grateful to be me!

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