Ok, so where were we.... Oh, right - we're up to the part where my flesh is melting off my neck.
So, I'm standing there in a line of 32 people standing shoulder to shoulder shooting live ammunition at targets no more than 15 feet away and I get a piece of brass down my neck. I'm not sure exactly what happened next but I know I didn't shoot anyone or anything except my target and I got the brass out from under my collar. It was a very surreal experience in the surreality I'm in now. All in all, the whole shooting phase of this training was borderline scary. A lot of the movements required extreme precision or you could point your weapon at the person next to you. Throughout the entire exercise, I could hear bullets whizzing by not knowing where they came from or where they were going. Yes, I was wearing my body armor and no, noone got hit by the dangerous end of the bullet. (I was the only "casualty".)
The other part of my training there was convoy operations. They split us up into 3 groups and gave us a mission to complete. We had 9 HMMWV's and everyone had to occupy one of the crew positions on board. I pulled the lucky straw and got to be the gunner. By "gunner", I mean I stood up in the roof hatch (gunner's turret) and got a nice breeze while we were bounding through the desert. It also meant I got a great view of a herd of camels. (AGAIN, pics to come later - ptcl)
One of the strangest sights in the whole thing was watching all the gunners (and other crew) load up. We looked like we were in arctic conditions. I had my full body armor, helmet, goggles, gloves, long sleeves down, and a neck gaiter to keep the sand out of my mouth. Surprisingly, I wasn't too hot. The whole training took about 2 days to complete with the actual convoy as the culmination of it all. When that was all done, we went back to our camp to take a nice refreshing shower and get briefed on our travel arrangements to Baghdad or wherever you were going. (We had people going to Afghanistan in our group too.) The first group had to leave that evening for the airfield. My group was to leave second - the next morning.
The next morning, we all show up for our busses only to find out that the Army, in their infinite irrationality, cancelled all our busses. SO, we went to lunch while they turned them back on. ** The ride to the airfield was pretty short and uneventful.
When we got to Ali Al Salem Air Base, we loaded our bags onto a pallet and took refuge in a nice comfortable tent to await our flight. While waiting, we found out that our flight was delayed. So, like any good sailor would do, we went to eat. When we came back, we learned that the flight was delayed again and we should just sit tight... so we did. FINALLY, we're told that they are ready for us and we need to get on the busses for the ride to the plane. **
Upon arrival at the plane, we find out that they were actually waiting for us. Obviously, there was a communications breakdown in there somewhere. Either way, they weren't mad and my Give-A-Sh!t Meter was pegged on empty (it's located on my right shoulder under my flag).
The taxi and take off was uneventful and slipped the surly bonds of earth, And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I've climbed... yada yada yada, you get the point, we're flying. We're now all thinking "Alright, we're finally going there to do our thing." What's that? We need to TURN AROUND?! WHAT THE F!@# FOR??? Oh, ok, I guess we need that...
So, we're back in Kuwait and it's VERY late and we can't get another flight that day. We unload our pallets and head back to our camp very disgruntled. The next morning, we find out that they have a flight scheduled for us late that night into the following morning and we have to leave immediately after dinner.
After dinner, we manage to break the world record for loading a truck and got on our busses for the airfield. At this point, please read the lines between the "**" above again. Yes, our flight was delayed again, but instead of being able to go back to our camp for a decent night's sleep, we had to settle for a few hours catnap in chairs. I'm not going to beat this dead horse any more. Basically, it took us 3 days to fly to Baghdad, about as long as it would've taken to drive in a convoy.
When we arrive in Baghdad, we find out that the "security measures" in Kuwait that we thought were heavy duty were minor compared to up here. Our tents here are in mini fortress mazes of concrete nearly 20ft high, buildings have mortar shields on them and EVERY vehicle here looks like it has more armor than a tank. Every time I think my present location is surreal, I go to my next location taking me farther down the rabbit hole.
Unlike where I was in Kuwait, Baghdad's sand is more like dust. Here they call it "moon dust" because it's so fine and it coats everything.
On the ride from the plane to our tents, we got all the information we could from the officer meeting us at the airport about what, when, where, and how everything is going to go while in Baghdad. He told us that schedule changes and mortar attacks happen fairly regularly here. Once we got our bags unloaded and into our tents, we grabbed something to eat from the food court and see what the exchange has to offer. After that, I was able to make a couple calls before I was too exhausted to do anything except go to bed.
This morning, I got up and met the bus for our ride to the palace to do some stuff I can't tell you about. (PTCL)
I can't believe I'm getting booted and I'm ALMOST done... Anyway, I'll finish this off later. TTFNA