Going on R&R


I've had this ready for awhile now.. it's long but describes my transition from deployed Soldier in Afghanistan to Soldier going on R&R in Europe. I apoligize for the length.

Going on R&R

So, the day finally came….the day I departed for R&R vacation. This should be something everyone looks forward to – vacation, but it’s a colossal pain in the ass for us. For the longest time I was on the fence, whether or not I should leave at all. I mean, my R&R was scheduled for early June – the prime season for attacks. I wanted to be around for all the excitement and to help with the fight. I know the rest of the team would do a great job w/o me, and Chip is a very able and competent stand-in, but I didn’t want to leave. However, EVERYONE kept reminding me of my departure date and that I should go. Woody, that bastard, would announce at breakfast how many days until my leave – with a huge smile on his face! I don’t know whether he was excited to get me outta there or he figured it would bother me – which it did. If I didn’t go on leave I could save money for the down payment on the house I want to buy. But I’d probably lose my mind which is not a fair trade-off, so I left.

The days leading up to R&R and my departure were normal enough. I only stopped in the office a few times the day before departing because I wanted to give Chip the chance of leading the team, yet be there for any emergencies. None came up. So, I packed. Usually I’m a quick, efficient packer – but I lollygagged around that day and stayed up til almost midnight getting my one bag packed. My flight was early in the morning so I slept lightly, waking early to shower and get ready. Turns out the early flight was cancelled so I was rescheduled to a later flight that same day. But first, the process….

When someone goes on R&R, our HQ must make a flight arrangement for him. If the flight is cancelled for any reason (weather, attacks, equipment issues, outdated inspections, etc) the Soldier sometimes is rolled over to the next flight, sometimes he isn’t. I was lucky to get rolled over. The departure process is similar to the states – show up 2 hrs before the flight actually departs. I think this is because of the variations in flight times. In a war zone, one should never expect people/things to be on time. So, I was there 2 hrs early. At 1 hr pre departure they weigh you and your baggage. Yeah, gotta ensure the plane has enough fuel ya know. I only had my “flack vest” (now called an IOTV) my kevlar (formerly a helmet) my laptop, and my large backpack. I didn’t want to schlep alotta crap around.

The flight was great. I was on a small mail plane run by civilian contractors. There were only 4 of us yet 8 seats, so no one was crunched in like sardines. That was the way we flew into country – like sardines. The co-pilot briefed us on normal stuff and we were off.

Wow, I had never been in the air over the base or area before. It was cool. The cloudless sky afforded nearly unlimited visibility (there is relatively no pollution or particulate matter in the air where I’m based). Mini-mountains surround us so we quickly crept to an altitude to get over them. God, what a dry, yet fertile land. There is enough mountain spring drainage to allow for all kinds of crops, which I saw growing in abundance around us. Trees are sparse, but that’s probably because of the need for firewood – the destitute really don’t care about conservation, it’s all about survival.

One thing that immediately caught my attention was the vast difference between what one sees in the air while flying in the states versus here. Back home you see cars, people, various sized buildings, road networks like spider webs, the occasional lake, swimming pools, sometimes other planes, etc. In the air above my base it seemed as if I was an intruder from another world, catching glimpses of some Bronze Age civilization.

There were nothing but mud colored buildings and retaining walls – no metallic structures or glass to reflect the sun and temporarily blind me. I don’t remember seeing a motorized vehicle of any kind until we approached Bagram. Now, I’m sure they existed, but I didn’t see them. Instead I saw goats, donkeys, a few cows, sheep, kids playing, women working (in burkhas of course), and the occasional smoke trail from a burn pit. Mostly it was mud huts, green fields, dry, mountainous land, trees here and there, wadis (that’s the Afghan version of a wash in the south/southwest – dry or semi dry creek beds). It was other-worldly. The flight was about 30 minutes (Afghanistan is roughly the size of Texas) and I counted only 4 buildings with metal roofs. Nowhere else did I see any reflection at all of the sun’s rays.

The ride was abit bumpy because of our altitude, but they had warned us. The pilots were nice, treating us like actual humans. That’s so unlike the typical military disposition. A lot of military people in charge of something can be assholes, but ya can’t blame them – everyone gets shit on all the time.

We crest the mountains surrounding Bagram – this area truly is like Denver, sitting in a bowl surrounded by snow capped mountains even now in early June. There was no wait to land, we landed. There was no wait to taxi, we taxied to the terminal. An Air Force dude met us on the tarmac as we deplaned. “Welcome to BAF!” he said. BAF = Bagram Air Field. I call it BARF = Bagram Anal Retentive F**khole, a moniker quite appropriate, just ask any Bagramanian – one who works on BARF.

BARF is a mini city all unto itself, about 33,000 people strong, populated by military reps from all nations (Coalition of the Money Hungry – who do you really think is paying the salaries of troops from Albania, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, etc? It ain’t them!), civilian contractors, and local nationals working on base. It’s always smelly, overcrowded, kinda polluted and full of angry, repressed people. Seems the higher the rank, the more uptight the Soldier. There are Sergeants Major running around here with the sole function of catching people breaking the rules, then yelling at them. Let me tell ya their some of their focus….

On BARF there is always a Sergeant Major lurking about, like some creepy B movie villain ready to pounce and chew some ass. What rules are they looking to strictly enforce? Soldiers in uniform must wear a reflective belt at dusk/night. If you don’t have one, you can’t go outside – not even to the bathroom. No one is allowed to walk and talk on a cell phone or smoke at the same time. Army Soldiers – don’t get caught with your hands in your pockets, you better have a good haircut within regs, you better not walk on the main road during morning PT hours and never, ever get caught wearing your headphones outside – EVER, unless you want some rabid pit bull spitting at you, spinning around like the Tasmanian devil, shouting obscenities and belittling you. Yeah, that really happens, so much for the “professional Army,” seems the higher the rank the more infantile you can act. I’m surprised there isn’t more Soldier on Soldier shooting at BARF, this isn’t exactly the easiest place to keep one’s sanity.

So, I get to BARF and check in with my Battalion HQ. It was great to see the friends I’ve not seen since moving to out to my base. I went straight to Mark’s office, burst in the door and started yelling at him. So what that he outranks me a lot and was in a meeting! He started yelling back and laughing, then he ended the powwow, kicked out the others and we shared some laughs, complaints, wishes, etc for about an hour. Mark is one of my best friends, we had worked together before and pick on each other like brothers. I’d do anything for the man and the feeling is mutual. Mark suggested I go see Maya, his immediate supervisor and someone with whom I had also worked.

Magda is a blast – one of the most professional and efficient officers I had ever worked for and a total riot to be around. We used to joke around in her office when I worked with her, so I figured she was ripe for some Chief “fun” time. Maya has a loft in her office – for storage. Mark helped me climb up there (he had to remove then replace the bric-a-brac she displays on her steps/shelves). It was late, approximately 1:30pm when I ascended the steps and we both expected Maya to return from lunch soon. Well, I woke up around 3pm to the sound of her voice in the hallway outside. Just in time to sit up and be ready to pounce. Well, “Einstein” was in the hallway talking to her as she entered her office. Seeing the footprint on the chair – dumbass had forgotten to wipe it off – Maya cranes her neck around, looks up and asks, “Who’s up there?”

“CHIEF! Uh-huh, I figured.” as both me and Mark started laughing. I said something stupid, we laughed and they helped me climb down. She knew something was up – Magda’s a sharp one ya see. I must’ve spent an hour in her office catching up before moving on to the main offices and checking in. I won’t bore you with more detail, because even I am bored with them. Let me just tell you this – HQ insisted I fly to BARF FIVE DAYS BEFORE MY DEPARTURE FROM COUNTRY! FIVE friggin days! Does this make any sense? Of course not! Why – because our Battalion is run by a stay-at-home mom with a Pollyanna complex who is a control freak.

Part of getting outta here is sitting thru some briefings, two of which are by Dizzy & Wheezy – the affectionate pet names someone bestowed on the Battalion Commander and her Command Sergeant Major (CSM). Both women are completely “out of their leagues” over here, with the Cdr thinking this is a year-long Girl Scout camping jamboree. But let me get back on point – I could write chapters on those two, but will spare you my insight, at least for now.

Even though I told the CSM I don’t drink and will be taking trains or public transportation in Europe, she insisted on reading me the alcohol policy and driving safety regulations. Bless her heart – she doesn’t know any better and is incapable of self-thought. Uh, honey, I’ve been drinking for over half my lifetime and driving longer than that. I’ve never had a DUI or moving violation. I’m older than you and have been in the military longer than you – yet you’re preaching to me about being a responsible adult during my vacation? Sweetheart, you can’t even qualify with your 9mm pistol and have some ridiculously unprofessional ghetto “up-doo” hair style that is beyond regulation. You really need to look in the mirror, come to grips with your glaring shortcomings, go back home to your husband and leave the adult Army games to the adults.

Finishing that nonsense I was ushered into the Cdr’s office where I sat through an equally painful briefing. I won’t bother going into that discussion, but it wasn’t as long, thankfully. I think she’s still scared of me because of my email to “the King” and his visit. Oh well. I left the office for good and have been sitting on my ass since then. So, I get here 29 May and won’t actually depart until the morning of 2 Jun. Can you imagine this happening in the civilian world? You schedule your vacation to begin on Friday, but you must sit on your ass in HR come Monday so you can go to briefings which last an hour on Wednesday. Absurd I tell ya. I’d rather be with my team – who are experiencing a unique version of crazy in my absence – than hanging with friends I’ve not seen in 7 months, seriously.

Tomorrow I report to HQ at 830am to be escorted to the terminal at 9am (no, this grown man is not allowed to go by himself). I’ll wait around all day in the terminal because the flight will most likely be at midnight or later. This process is managed by the mentally retarded – or so it seems. Then I’m finally crammed into a plane bound for Kuwait where I’ll catch another flight to my final destination. Well, that’s what I’m hoping for. Is it really worth all the hassle? I’ll let ya know how it pans out.

Kuwait – retarded hot, as Woody might say.

Not only that, but it seems there is nothing redeeming about this place. By 9am it’s too hot to walk outside, a short trek 50 meters to the latrine produces rivulets of sweat pouring from every part of your body. Although the A/C helps, even inside one does sweat abnormally more than one should.

I got here around noon, it was probably already 105 degrees and must’ve reached 118 that day. Although I finished all the inprocessing/outprocessing for vacation and could’ve departed for Europe, I was forced to spend the night and return to more briefings the next day at 3pm. Because my plans included non-US travel I was ushered into the Customs office with the other non-US Soldiers. About two weeks ago, some genius tried taking a grenade with him to Europe so now everyone must go thru Customs before leaving the Kuwaiti air base. Thankfully it didn’t take long and we were on the bus headed to KIA – Kuwait International Airport.

I started hanging out with Kale – an Army Lieutenant stat

ioned near me in Afghanistan who was headed home to his wife and kid in Vincenza (Kale was stationed in Italy). He’s a cool guy and not annoying so we bummed around together. It’s always good to have someone to watch your stuff when you need to use the bathroom, walk around, etc. The KIA…woah, what a huge cultural difference from any airport in the states.

It seems that Kuwaitis go to the airport to hangout, eat at the food court, and occasionally wait for friends/family arriving from more pleasant destinations. I can’t tell you how many kids – I’m talking from stroller to late teens – I saw at the airport. Entire families were there, an inordinate amount of people. From all that humanity I guess you can extrapolate one thing – those Kuwaitis know nothing of birth control! There were more kids than adults. It was ridiculous. So for you Christians afraid of losing the religious population race on earth my suggestion to you is – BREED!

The flight to Frankfurt was at 1250am – or 0050 in military time. That’s where Kale and I parted company, him bound for Venice, me for Munich. My buddy Ryan was there at the Munich arrival section to pick me up – something I never expected. It was great to see him. We’ve been friends for nearly 20 years and no matter how much time in between our visits, we always fall right back into the antagonistically brotherly friendship we share. Ryan lives and works in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany – a quaint resort village in the Tyrolean mountains on the border with Austria. I’ve been in this idyllic place for 4 days now – and will tell you all about it in another update. In short – it’s pure bliss.

I'll be sure to let you know what it's like back in the civilized world in a future update.

All the best,

Todd


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