Editor’s note: As a special service for our readers, WND has been running a series of dispatches from Allan Wall chronicling his transition from civilian life as he prepared to fight with his National Guard unit in Iraq. Allan is now over in Iraq and will write for us as often as he is able to let our readers vicariously experience what people in his position are going through. We hope you will check regularly for Allan’s dispatches and encourage your friends and family to do likewise.
The flight across
The day before we flew out of Fort XYZ, we were still in lockdown status and we were issued our rifles, which we were to carry with us on the flight to the Middle East.
On the morning of our departure, we awoke about 12:30 a.m. By daybreak, we were at the Fort XYZ airfield boarding our plane for the Middle East.
The aircraft was a commercial jet chartered by the military. It belonged to a major airline we’ll call Airline X. The crew – both pilots and flight attendants – were erstwhile employees of Airline X who had volunteered for this flight. It’s their way of helping the troops, and their concern and consideration for us was obvious. As one flight attendant told us, she was there because our mothers couldn’t be.
After not too long a wait, we took off on our flight.
It was my first transatlantic flight, my first trip across the pond to the Old Continent. That may seem a little routine to some of you jet-set types, but to me it was exciting. I even grabbed myself a window seat.
First we had to cross U.S. airspace and landed at the airport of a big, famous city on the East Coast. We had a layover there for a few hours.
This was followed by the transatlantic part of the flight. I was looking forward to gazing down upon the Atlantic, but we soon headed above the clouds and the ocean was invisible. Eventually I fell asleep, which was good because I needed it.
Since we were flying east, night came faster for us than it would have if we had we remained at Fort XYZ. After I awoke, I looked down through the darkness, and it sure looked to me like I was looking at water below. I even spied some kind of vessel. Must have been the other end of the Atlantic.
We were soon flying over Europe in the darkness, and I went to the cockpit. The plane was running on automatic pilot, and the human pilots explained some things about flying.
That night we touched down in the airport of a famous and historical city in Europe. Here again, we had a layover of a few hours. But, unlike the East Coast city, in the European airport we weren’t allowed to set foot on the tarmac. They were kind enough to roll the stairs up to the aircraft, and let us stand on the stairs. It was my first time in Europe. Here I was, in the airport of this famous and historical city. But guess what? Despite the fact that it’s a famous and historical city, its airport looked like – well, like an airport.
The next leg of the flight took us across a famous sea and over the Middle East. By this time, I had a very clear view out my window. It was fascinating, viewing geographic features of the Middle East, including several bodies of water famous in biblical history. We also crossed a whole lot of desert.
Finally, we landed in an airport somewhere in the Middle East. The Airline X volunteer crew had gotten us there, and had treated us very well. As the flight attendants bid us goodbye, at least one of the ladies working on the plane began to weep … to weep for us.
We deplaned and boarded the buses waiting for us, which took us to a military camp. It was dark when we arrived. Kuwait is a small country at the head of the Persian Gulf. In 1990, Saddam Hussein conquered Kuwait, provoking the Gulf War of 1991.
Now, Kuwait is bristling with American military bases. It’s the staging area for U.S. Army troops entering Iraq. And Kuwait is where we stayed for two weeks, making final preparations to go into Iraq and start our mission.
It wasn’t too difficult to adjust to life in the camp in Kuwait. The tents we stayed in were similar to tents we used during training. We were there together as a unit – the same unit we had been with for several months. And we did things we had been doing since we were called up.
In short, Army life was the same as it was on an Army base in the United States. Because of this, for me, it was sometimes hard for it to sink in that, yes, we were in the Middle East, preparing to go to Iraq.
This installation was a transit camp, with a constant movement of military personnel moving in (on their way to Iraq) and out (on their way stateside). My comrades and I encountered and talked with National Guardsmen who had just completed their tours of duty in Iraq, who are preparing to return home. That must be a great feeling. For us, it’s something to look forward to.
Four times, I went out in the desert to shooting ranges. I was able to see more of Kuwait. It was sand as far as the eye could see. Within sight of one of the shooting ranges were Bedouin tents, one with a pickup parked beside it. The Bedouin seemed to co-exist well with the shooting at the range, as did their flocks of sheep and herds of camels.
There were various services and attractions at the camp – an Internet cafe, a gym, a PX and various shops. Camel rides were offered one day, but I arrived too late.
I wanted to practice my Arabic there . But there were very few Arabic speakers employed at the camp, most of them were from the Indian subcontinent. But I did find a few Arabic speakers for a little practice.
We were only at the camp for two weeks. That’s an interesting coincidence because it’s the same timeframe as the regular National Guard Annual Training period we generally have each summer. But this wasn’t Annual Training. This was our launching pad to Iraq.
Shooting rifles and watching camels
I’ve written about Army shooting ranges in several earlier columns. Now that we were finally in the Middle East, we still needed to do some range shooting . So we went out to some ranges that the Army has in the desert. Besides an opportunity to shoot, it was an opportunity for me to get out of the camp we were confined to and see some scenery.
One shooting range we were firing at was near a Bedouin camp. That enabled me to observe these people and their livestock. The Bedouin had several tents pitched in sight of the range , and there was a red pickup in front of one of them. I could also see their flocks of sheep from a distance, though even with my binoculars, it was hard to tell if they were sheep or goats until I saw them from a closer vantage point. (Some Middle Eastern sheep look very different from the British and European sheep breeds raised in the United States).
Then there were the camels. The Bedouin were managing a large number of camels, ranging across the sparsely vegetated desert. Some were brown, some were white, but they are all curious-looking animals. Yet, as I watched the camels stride across the desert, I had to admire them. Because in their own habitat, they exhibit a certain grace and charm.
Our brigade was to be dispersed throughout Iraq, to perform missions in different parts of the country. But the members of my company were still unsure as to what our mission would be. We were told one thing and then heard another. Finally, we discovered what our mission would be, and where we would be located in Iraq.
We finally got the word that we were to leave. The morning we left, we stacked our duffel bags in front of our tent and vacated it. As we waited for our departure, the guys started up an impromptu game of football and had a good time playing until we were ordered to depart.
After all the training, waiting, processing and speculation, it was finally time to leave for Iraq. Some of us had volunteered to go to Iraq. Others hadn’t, but were called up and answered the call. At this point in time ,though, it didn’t matter. We were all going to Iraq. There was no turning back, and nothing else to do but go.
Some traveled by convoy. But most of us flew to Iraq in a C-130 transport plane. We landed, disembarked, and were received by members of our unit who were already there. We were shown to our temporary quarters and then walked to the cafeteria for supper.
I was looking around at my surroundings, it was all new to me. We were finally in Iraq. Our real mission was about to begin. We were finally In Country.