I finally made it to Iraq yesterday. However, I’m going to talk about the week of acclimation in Kuwait, mostly because I haven’t had a chance to “discover” the magic of Iraq.
When you fly into Kuwait, it will be after roughly 17 hours of flying. When you leave Camp McCrady, you get to sit in the airport for several hours or longer, as was our case due to the nightly thunderstorms. The local Purple Heart Assocation, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and some other support groups came to the terminal and supplied gifts and refreshments. It was a nice gesture and totally unexpected.
From South Carolina, we stopped twice to refuel. The Maine stop was nice because the “Maine Greeters” were on hand to welcome us hard-working sailders (our new Narmy term) to the terminal. They stood in line and applauded as we came down the ramp. We also received refreshments and free photos for our families.
From there we went to Germany, which was actually disappointing. We weren’t able to leave the terminal and the terminal itself was almost like an afterthought. There was a small gift shop and a slightly larger mini-mart style store that sold drinks (including whiskey and Coke in a can) and souveniours. However, since my carry-on bag was already stuffed full, I plan on picking some up on the way back.
Also, you can’t use normal pre-paid phone cards at the pay phones. You can only use a credit card or make collect calls. Plus, when you pick up the phone you are automatically connected to an automated system. Unfortunately, 90% of the time the automated system was in Japanese, for some reason, and there wasn’t a way to pick you language.
After landing in Kuwait, there is still a long bus ride to Camp Virginia. Because you arrive in the dead of night, you get the next day off to sleep. Actually, you can sleep for nearly the whole week your there to adjust to the time change. But it’s better to get up and walk around so you get used to the heat and time change. If you stay indoors the whole time, the heat will hurt you when you are forced to go outside, especially at Udari.
We were scared to go to Kuwait. The admin people at Fort Jackson made it sound like you’ll be working 12-14 hour days and living in squalor. Though you do live in dusty, dirty tents there is actually a lot more to do in Kuwait than there is at Camp McCrady. There is a community center where you can play games and watch movies, the USO has free phone cards to offer and a loung to hang out in, there’s a library, a cinema, and other recreational things. Everyday local vendors set up shop to hawk their goods; you can buy the stuff there or you can wait until you get to Iraq. Most of the items are found in both places but not all.
The last three days in Kuwait are spent at the Udari Range, which is essentially a large military reservation that takes up nearly half the land area of Kuwait. You get to sleep in semi-permanent buildings, in your sleeping bags, on the floor. And it’s co-ed so you don’t even have the luxury of walking around in your underwear. It’s supposed to simulate living at a forward operationg base but I think the military is too cheap and lazy to drive the hour it takes to reach the Range from Camp Virginia.
All you have to eat is MREs. After all the MREs you eat at Camp McCrady, you’ll really learn to hate them, regardless of how good you thought they were originally. When you aren’t sleeping or sitting in a classroom, you’re either on the gun range or doing convoy operations. You’re “final exam” is a drive through the “Valley of Death”, where your convoy has to avoid being damaged (as much as possible) by simulated IEDs and hostile fire, all without killing civilians. My convoy made it through in about 2 hours, which is pretty quick, and we didn’t lose a single vehicle.
Overall, Kuwait wasn’t as bad as I thought but it’s not someplace I want to go again. It’s extremely hot (averaging 115 degrees for the time I was there) and you have sandstorms nearly every day. I just feel sorry for the permanent staff there. Even with all the recreational activities, it still got boring.