The big base at Ali Al Salem has a reasonably good chow hall, a nice MWR and a decent, if not great place to sleep. But the whole installation is like a giant waiting room in a giant bus terminal in the Twilight Zone.
First you have to get all your papers stamped. This is a fairly efficient, if confusing process. Suffice to say, go to one tent to mill around until you figure out what to do, but do not leave until there is some kind of stamp on your travel orders. That stamp is what lets you fly or take the bus. W/o that stamp you will become a resident of the place.
Below C17 loading. People get on first and wait for the gear to be loaded.
Another tent is where you catch the flights to Iraq. You have to sign up for the place you want to go. It might take a long time or not to get out. In my case this time, I was very luck and got out the same night I came in. This is uncommon.
After sign up, you have to attend a general roll call twice a day. If you fail to show up, you lose your place. You also have to attend a specific role call for the flights going where you want to be. You are not guaranteed a space. They read off the names of people for whom they have space. If they read your name and you say “here”, you get manifested for a specific flight. That does not guarantee you will go or that the flight will fly, but it is a necessary step.
Each flight has a show time. You show up will all your gear and get ready to wait. In my recent case, we had a 2315 roll call where they told us we had a midnight show time. We got on buses at 0145; the plane took off at around 0315 and we were in Al Asad a little more than an hour later.
After show time, you go on “lockdown”, which means you cannot leave the terminal expect to go to the bathroom. Even that is risky, since they may call your flight at any time … or not. You want to be around when announcements are made. That is why you need a buddy system. Make sure that you ask someone to listen for you if you need to make a head call. In my above example, we were locked down for an hour and 45 minutes and this was three hours and fifteen minutes before the flight. Makes you appreciate air travel in the U.S., bad as that can be. For me, this was a great trip. Sometimes people get stuck for days or weeks.
C17 above – you can see the moving plates.
Our flight was a C17, which is an enormous, cavernous aircraft, like a flying warehouse. The floor has rollers and modules that make it easy to switch out cargo or seats. They just lock them into place and that is it.
I like the C17 because it is faster and marginally more comfortable than a C130. Beyond that, there are lots of seats on the C17, so you usually don’t have to worry so much about getting bumped off it. Despite my exalted civilian protocol rank, I get no priority, so I am liable to get bumped if someone or something important comes along.
An experienced traveler more than 5′ tall tries to get a seat on the side or in the very front. It is a tight fit.
Above – reading lights are not so good in flight.
Back to Al Asad
We arrived in the early morning and it was comfortably cool. I was happy to feel that weather. As soon as the sun came up, however, it started to get hot. Within about a half hour you could feel the difference. It still is nothing like it will be, but we have the harbingers of heat all over the place.
Above – the road to Camp Ripper. It reminds me of the closing scene of the old “Hulk” TV show, when David Banner has to hit the lonely road.
I decided to walk down. It is only a 25 minute walk and it was pleasant in the early morning calm. I am really glad I did that. It gave me a better impression of Al Asad as I returned and took a little of the edge off the dread I was feeling on coming back. This is an unpleasant place, but it is not that terrible. I also looked forward to getting back to the job and back to my friends and colleagues working here.
Below – a new dawn in Al Asad.