Monday, December 30, 2013

An Epilogue & Reflection

When you complete any task in life, it is impossible for any contemplative person not to look back and see what was really accomplished and what difference the task ultimately means in the bigger scheme of things.  So, having finished my time in Kuwait, I paused for a moment to figure out what it really means if anything.

It would be easy to trivialize my time there by saying anyone of similar skills could do the same, but I find a small bit of ego comfort in the fact that “anyone” did not volunteer to travel to and live in that part of the world to take on the challenge – I did.  Even though I know I was replaceable, no replacement had volunteered to take it on. 

Ultimately, the people I did my job for were those I never met or saw -- that soldier at the far end of the supply line who was waiting or needing something that my organization was transporting to them.  What I did made the cogs of bigger machine run smooth so that the huge logistics operation that was designed to support those guys at the front could get what they needed in time.  I find a great deal of satisfaction in the fact that I kept the cogs working flawlessly.  Various projects I created will exist long after my departure and I did my best to insure they made sense and were sustainable.  Some of the work I accomplished while there will have an impact for years into the future.  

There is also the personal impact that I will carry with me.  I lived and worked in a different culture and learned to appreciate the people there as well as their lifestyle.  It was not always smooth, easy or understandable – but I survived it and learned from it.  I guess my ability to learn lessons like that makes it possible for me to live the nomadic life I have lived – or maybe my own wanderlust makes me adaptable.   Either way it works.

Finally, I had may have had direct impact to the folks who I worked with who may have learned something from me (good or bad) as well as the local folks I came into contact with who, I hope, had a more positive impression of Americans in my wake. Then there was the life altering impact I had on a small dog who found himself trying to survive on the streets of Kuwait City.  He now has a forever home and does not have to worry about how he will survive each day while he brings joy to those he lives with.


All in all, I feel good about my time in the desert and it is something I will never forget.  Now, on to what comes next.



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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

That Dog Is Not Getting On This Airplane

Iraqi Tank?  No problem
The US military builds an enormous amount of flex time into any travel. Therefore, it was not a big surprise when I found out that I was going to be required to report in at 0945 for a flight that did not leave until the following day at 0230. While there was a great deal of effort made to keep us comfortable and occupied during this lockdown period, it was not the easy on anyone I was anxious to get going. When I reported in, I turned over Falkor's crate and my one suitcase so that I would not have to carry it around all day. For the duration of lockdown I only had Falkor on a leash and my backpack to worry about. 

Falkor passed a lot of time snoozing
 Many of the troops that I was in lockdown with had been deployed to Afghanistan. Most, if not all, had not had contact with a domestic animal during their entire tour so those who were "dog people" kept coming over to pet Falkor.  I did not mind it because the puppy occupied and it also seemed to calm him. At one point a huge Army Sergeant (the kind of guy who blocks out all light when he walks through a doorway) was looking around the room when Falkor caught his eye, at this point his tough Army soldier façade broke down as he walked towards the dog asking in a childlike voice  "Who's a good boy?".  Good to know our Army is full of decent human beings who are not above letting their inner tenderness show. 

At about midnight we boarded buses and headed for the airfield. We were going to be traveling on board a chartered commercial Boeing 747.  The ride to the plane was uneventful, but there were several times when we were stopped at various checkpoints and required to wait as headcounts were accomplished, then re-accomplished, then re-accomplished one last time before we were allowed to proceed to the terminal. We exited the bus, and walked into military or terminal. At this point I put Falkor down and let him walk alongside me. As we entered the building one of the clerks working there pointed at Falkor and then looked up at me and said "That dog is not getting on this airplane".

Falkor & I after getting our paperwork from Karen
To back up a bit, 45 days prior to this I had started making arrangements for Falkor to leave with me.  I had clearance paperwork from the Kuwaiti government (which had really cool hologram stickers on it – many thanks to Karen Orobey of Pets Passage who took care of that), health certificates, and his arrangements to get on this plane were also approved by several people in the command hierarchy. There was no way in hell this dog was not getting on the airplane. 

I really don't recall how colorful my language got at that point, but I made my point about how serious this was, the work that had been done on this ahead of time.  When I realized this was going nowhere, I requested he call his Commander so that I could discuss the situation with him. At that point, the clerk backed off a bit but said I needed to stand aside while he checked on things.  By the way, it is completely within all the rules for a pet to fly on a military chartered aircraft,  it just has to be paid for by the owner and I was prepared to do so having been given the price 45 days prior.

Dog Rule: When in doubt nap
At this point, several discussions took place between this particular clerk and several people behind the counters. I basically stood by silently because if I had said anything at this point, I might have given them other reasons not to put me on the airplane because my language would've become more and more colorful as the situation proceeded. Falkor maintained his cool.  

Eventually, the airline liaison came over to see what was going on. The clerk explained situation, the liaison 
took out his radio and made a quick call and then came back to say that the crew had no problem taking the dog on the plane. The clerk then raised an issue with the fact that I did not have a crate for the dog. I explained that I did have the crate, and that it was being loaded right now into the plane’s baggage compartment.  If they would escort me out there I would gladly get the crate. Of course, there was no way the clerk would allow that because it might delay the aircraft’s takeoff – – at which point the airline representative said not to worry about it, that I could take the dog in the cabin. The clerk was visibly pissed and stormed off. 

A few minutes later the clerk reappeared to tell me the price for getting the dog on the plane and demanding immediate payment in cash. I think it was the final straw when I handed him exact change. With that part done, Falkor and I headed to the plane with the contract liaison as an escort. He explained on the way that he was a fellow traveler from the East.  We got to the plane and walked up the steps, me with my dog on a leash and not in any kind of carrier. 

When we got to the top of the stairs we were met by a flight crew that was completely staffed with "dog people".  Upon seeing the dog they all cooed and gushed over him and then offered us a seat upstairs, in what was normally business-class, as it would be easier to handle the dog in that area. I had no problem with that and we quickly went upstairs, found a seat, and buckled in for takeoff.

I am not an evil person by nature, but as I gazed out the window back towards the terminal I let look out the window so Falkor could wave goodbye to the clerk who said that there was no way he was getting on this plane.

The flight from Kuwait to Germany was very smooth and uneventful. Falkor sat in the empty seat next to me, he enjoyed that because every time a flight attendant walked by they had to stop and pet him.  I smiled when occurred to me how far he had come from being a cast-off dog that was dehydrated and starving on the streets of Kuwait City in July 2012 to where he was now.

When we got to Ramstein AB, Germany we said goodbye to a really great crew and I immediately took Falkor outside so he could do his business. Then, when I tried to get back in the building I was told Falkor could not come in because he was not in a crate.  I explained that the crate was on the plane and I needed to get in to get the crate.  Not good enough no crate – no admission.  I asked to speak to the NCOIC.

After a few minutes an Air Force Tech Sergeant came up and I explained the situation.  She said they would loan me a crate and make the necessary arrangements for me to get Falkor on the plane.  She returned with a crate and put Falkor in it and then went back through security.  

Making puppy eyes at a flight attendant
The lay over lasted another hour before we were re-boarded.  About this time I was told Falkor would again be going on the plane versus under it.  Good for him, but he was now in a hard sided crate that needed its own seat.  I went to my assigned seat and one of the flight attendants noticed him and asked if he was the dog that had come out of Kuwait. I told her yes and she said she had heard how well behaved he was.  Then, noticing the seating issue, she got on the intercom and after a brief conversation I was told we had been reassigned to the seats upstairs that we had been in for our last flight.  Worked for me and once we took off the flight attendants let me take Falkor out of the crate so he could snooze on my lap.

Leaving Ramstein AB, Germany
The flight was quiet and 8 hours or so later we arrived in Baltimore, our first stateside stop.

Clearing Falkor into the US was probably one of the fastest most efficient processes I hit during the entire trip home.  Gave them the paperwork and 2 minutes later Falkor was a legal immigrant.

Baltimore Airport has a nice pet break area, but the USO in the airport would not allow him to enter, even in a crate, so we spent 8 hours waiting in the open terminal area.  At least they had free internet access.  I was kind of surprised at the USO considering the number of military families who travel through there going to/from Europe.

We finally boarded our last flight and found we were in the last section of a packed plane; at least I had an aisle seat.  I sat Falkor, in his carrier, on my seat and stepped to the back to make boarding easier for others.  A passenger stopped at my row and after much grumbling and complaining to the flight attendant about needing a seat change, took his place in the middle seat.  He sat there for a few minutes, and then pushed the call button.

When the flight attendant showed up, he proceeded into a long diatribe about his severe allergy to dogs and demanded he be moved to a different seat at the front of the plane.  The flight attendant said she would call and check but it might be impossible since the flight was full.  I was okay with this, the empty seat in the middle would give me a little more room and I really didn’t want anyone with an attitude sitting next to me for 3 hours.

The flight attendant returned and told him she had as solution as there was an open seat in the Elite Class section at the front of the plane.  She waited a moment which gave him time to grin ear to ear and begin to gather his stuff; then she explained that Falkor and I would be moving to that seat so we would not be close to him and cause him allergic distress.  

As I gathered my bags and began to move to the front of the plane, I could hear him arguing with her that his allergies would still be a problem because the dog had been in this vicinity and that he needed to be the one to go to the Elite seat.   The last I heard was her telling him that during the inbound flight a dog had been in the seat I was going to and that would present the same problem.  She did offer him the option of deplaning and waiting for the next flight.  

Once again, Falkor had gotten us a nice upgrade and we were able to catch a quick nap on the way to Detroit and home.  The lesson: Travel with a small, cute dog.

Postscript:  Falkor had one final move before getting to his forever home in the US.  Due to the passing of her in-house dog prior to my return, my daughter took Falkor to live with her family in Kansas.  She says he quickly made himself a part of the family. The pup has 3 young boys to chase, two bigger dogs and a cat to play with and a guinea pig to growl at through the cage bars.  Falkor also has lots of these funny looking things he had never seen before to chase all over the yard – squirrels.  

That to me is a Happy Ending.



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Saturday, November 23, 2013

What Next? Things Get Biblical


Last night I am busy starting my packing,  when the whole building began to shake.  A lamp fell off the table and some other things on the table fell over.  Earthquake. 

Checked out the news and found it was a 4.3,  big for Kuwait.

First floods and now an earthquake, I half expect a messenger to show up at the door and tell me that the Pharaoh says it is OK for me to leave. 

I am trying,  just 1 day left – hopefully I will be out of here before the frogs or locusts show up.


















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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Rain, Rain, Rain Came Down, Down, Down


Kuwait, in an average November, gets ½ inch of rain.  My best guess was that on the 18th we got 3”-5” of rain.  The desert is just not built to absorb it,  the infrastructure is not built to handle it and it sends people into a semi-appropriate panic.   Imagine 6” of snow and ice falling on Miami.

Here are few pictures I took and some from tertiary sources on the internet (who did not credit them).  It was something to see – best from a distance.



There is a road there.  Really.






















This lake is the section of desert where I run Falkor.  


Humor in Chaos



































Rain is in the forecast for the next 3 days, I leave in 5.


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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Chasing An Urban Legend

 

Within a week of arriving here in March 2012, I was told about a large vehicle graveyard of wrecked and burned out Iraqi armor and other military vehicles that existed out in the desert. I was a little incredulous because so many years had passed, but I was assured that the yard did exist. When you went to the yard, you were not supposed to go alone because if you wanted to get out and explore the vehicles, you needed someone with a baseball bat to watch your back due to the wild dogs. I tucked all this away in my psyche and hadn't given it any further thought until I took the trip down Highway 80. That made me decide it was time for me to try to find this vehicle graveyard

So, yesterday I jumped in my vehicle and headed off to find this place.  I went alone, because I didn't plan on getting out and rummaging through the wreckage.  In case you're wondering: Falkor has been staying with a coworker son for the last few days, because the coworker wants to see if he is responsible enough to maybe get his own dog in the near future.

I had been given additional directions on how to get to this place by several people so I took them to be the best information available  even though none of them had ever personally been there.  I drove off with exploration in mind.  An explanation;   For a long time none of the US military locations in Kuwait were marked at all. The way you found them was to be taken there by someone else and memorizing the landmarks along the way or getting directions from at least two people who agreed on the route.  The reason they weren't marked was for security, but when you consider most of them are visible on Google Earth I'm not sure how much good it actually did.

The rock at the turn off for The Rock

One of the places I passed on my journey was the midway stopping point for most American military on their way to/from Afghanistan from/to the United States; Ali Al-Salem, a joint Kuwaiti and American base. It is also known to many U.S. troops as The Rock.  This is where my son stopped while on his way to and returning from his tour in Afghanistan.  The reason it is called The Rock, is because of a rather large rock that marks the turnoff to get to the base entrance. Now, there are actually signs that point you to the base and even one that says farewell as you leave.





















I spent several hours, searching through the desert looking for this mysterious vehicle graveyard that was supposed to be out there. In the end what I saw was a lot of deserted desert. It is so austere out there that my camera’s panorama function would not work because it could not find any features to use as reference to segment the image.  Occasionally, off in the distance, I would see Bedouin tents and herds of camels but aside from that there were miles of nothing except for me in the road. Overall, the driver was kind of relaxing but I was disappointed that I never found this mysterious vehicle boneyard that was the last remnants of the Iraqi invasion. 

I am now at less than a week to go. Things appear to be moving faster as I pack, mail, and generally prepare to get out of here. I am getting a little hyped up.


It's A Simpson's Thing

As I walked out of the restaurant I said to the Indian waiter, “See you tomorrow Ragesh."

Shaking his head, he responded "No Sir,   it is my weekend but my coworker Saed will take good care of you."

I smiled and nodded my understanding and said "Well, then enjoy your weekend."

With a broad smile Ragesh said "I will Sir, I enjoy weekends. I am not an Apu."



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Monday, November 11, 2013

God Bless U.S. Troops

 

The official name of the road is Highway 80 and it runs from Kuwait City north to the Iraqi border. Because of the events of 26 & 27 February 1991 it became known as the Highway of Death.  The Highway was the main route for Iraqi forces when it invaded Kuwait and it became the main route of retreat once American and coalition forces began the liberation of Kuwait. Aerial pictures of the route showed hundreds of vehicles that were burned out, obviously strafed by aircraft, and otherwise destroyed – – hence the nick name.

The counts of vehicles destroyed ranged from hundreds to thousands. Based on the pictures from the site, the wreckage consisted of at least 28 tanks and other armored vehicles with many more stolen civilian cars and buses filled with looted Kuwaiti property.   An investigation after the war proved that many of the vehicles had been abandoned prior to their being destroyed.  Many of the occupants of the vehicles escaped into the desert before the bombing even started and were later captured.  Claims that tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed on the Highway does not agree with the fact that only 200-300 bodies were recovered.

This battle was lopsided as was evidenced by the eventual victory, but in war there are times when you are the favored, that does not mean you pull back -- it means you succeed while bleeding and dying less.  Propaganda claims that Americans attacked surrendering Iraqi's were never found have any basis. The American military does not do that - ever.  Once the aggression by the invading force ceased, so did American neutralization of the aggressors.


Since Veteran's Day found me still in Kuwait, I decided to make the trek along Highway 80 up to the Iraqi border. Once I got beyond the outskirts of Al Jahra, there was very little remarkable about the route which consisted  primarily of a few small pit stops and some oil drilling operations.  I did come across a Kuwaiti army base which had a large observation blimp tied to his mooring; I saw two other smaller Kuwaiti bases along the way whose primary function is probably guarding this route.




  










At no time did I ever see any traces of the vehicles that had been destroyed along the route, my guess is that enterprising bedouin had probably sold them for scrap over intervening decades. I did however see a small settlement that had obviously been destroyed by explosives (above, the two pictures on the bottom row).


I was surprised when I came across this sign, it was one of several that pointed to this ranch all of which had the same message across the top. The road leading to the ranch was a sandy trail so I decided not to pursue it further rather than risking getting lost in the desert. I guess it was appropriate that I found this sign on Veterans Day – – it is nice to know that what we did here was appreciated.






Eventually, I came to the checkpoint at the end of the road which was also the entry point into Iraq. Rather than cruising right up to the checkpoint, I opted to be a bit more discreet and simply turned around and headed back.



I did get caught in a minor sandstorm on the way back, but that's okay – – 12 days.



























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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tetris In Real Life


With only 14 days left I have reached that point when I needed to ship my stuff home.  I really didn't have a whole lot of stuff here because the government provided most of the furniture that I've been using during my tour. However, there were a few things that I picked up along the way as well as a few things that I brought with me to make my life a little more comfortable – – La-Z-Boy recliner – – never leave the United States without one.
At the end of the packing part of this exercise, comes what I refer to as the Tetris part of the day. All of the boxes that had been created are taken outside of the house and put in a stack next to a truck that has large wooden crates on it.  When we traveled from Germany we had an entire 40 foot tractor-trailer full of crates. This time, I have one and about a quarter.


As you can tell from the pictures, the actual loading is done by one or two people with everyone else standing around lending advice on what box should go where inside the crate. As with any job that has a team working on it, there are more people providing advice than doing the actual labor.


Check out the little glasses  they drew to augment the "Fragile"
Since most of my boxes were just square boxes, it was not as difficult as some of my prior moves when I had odd shaped furniture, grandfather clocks, and wall units. I think they did a much better job with a small box them with the big one – – but in the end both boxes were full and nailed shut. I will see them again in about three or four months when they complete their sea journey back home.

At this point, I am living out of a suitcase and a couple of cardboard boxes. Most of the comforts I chose to keep are the electronics that provide some entertainment as well as connectivity to family and friends.

Just two weeks to go. I still have a few things on my Kuwaiti Bucket List, but at this point I'm not sure if I will get to finish any of them. One of the things that I did keep out was my dishadasha and gutra in case they are needed for some reason. I think even if I don't have a reason to put them on to complete a bucket list item, I may go out dressed in them one evening. There is a shisha bar (hookah) nearby that might be an appropriate place to spend a few hours one evening dressed as a local and people watching.



For the record, I am down to four items on my Kuwait Bucket List  and, as it would be expected, they are the most difficult to complete. 

* Tour the oil refinery at Shuaiba.  I would like to be able to take pictures, but I am more interested in learning how all of that stuff works.  I have been driving by it twice daily for the last 18 months and I am curious.

* Attend a traditional Diwaniya (or Dewaniya).  This is supposed to be a big part of a Kuwaiti man’s social life.  Willing to wear a dishadasha if needed.

* Take a ride on a Dhow.  It is the traditional watercraft of Arabia.

* See the inside of a real Kuwaiti home.  



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