Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Days and Nights and Long, Long Flights

I had a meeting with some night shift personnel and asked them what benefits there were for working on night shift. Along with the usual "There are no big wigs roaming around" and "It is much cooler" were some really good comments. There was one guy though who really put where we are in perspective when he stated that he did not have any jet lag flying to and from the states. By working night shift here he was on an ordinary schedule with the US.
That is a bigger benefit than most folks realize. Most people don't know just how exhausting it is to travel from this part of the world to CONUS. Imagine this and follow me.
You work a 12 hour shift and report to leave. You leave for the flight line at 21:00 for a 22:00 flight. It is a 15 minute ride to the flight line. You do this because the helicopter may be early. It does not show up until 01:30. You get in line and walk through the hot exhaust. You are wearing a full rifle protection vest, a kevlar helmet, long sleeves, ear plugs, safety glasses, and carrying two bags. It is 110 degrees ambient temperature and about 140 in the exhaust area. You work your way past the Machine Gun post and sit sideways along with up to 50 other people. The bird lifts off and you are lulled to sleep in 2 minutes by the hum and vibration of the ride. A minute later you are woken into a semi panic state as the automatic flare system is popping off because they got to close to a burning garbage pile. You don't sleep after that.
The Chinook sets at a pad at the airfield. You get out and have to walk about 1/2 mile to the transient center. You find out that no one sent a bus for you. You go into the center and no one there has commo with your company. You go back out to the parking lot and sleep on your bags.
About 06:00 a bus rolls up and you finally get a ride to the BTC. This is the place where you process out for travel. You get there and they assign you a space in a room designed for 4 people. There are two bunk beds in each room. The staff apologizes that there are no sleeping bags or pillows but you are OK with this because you have traveled this route enough to know to bring a pillow, towel, and space blanket with you. You get to your room and discover that the bunks are all full and there are two cots for you and some one else. You don't care because you are tired and just want some more sleep before the 10:00 roll call. You settle in the bunk fully clothed and nod off. This is interrupted 20 minutes later by your new room mates coming in and talking about subjects you have no interest in. They are oblivious to the fact that you want to sleep so you give up and go to catch the bus for breakfast.
At breakfast you run into several people you really don't want to talk to but they sit down and you force a congenial conversation. You return via bus for the roll call. You have a 2 day lay over planned in Dubai and have hotel reservations so you make sure you are on time so you can catch the afternoon charter flight out.
At roll call they announce a sand storm has settled in and all flights are cancelled. You have the joy of staying at the BTC another day. Whoopee. You suffer it but retain your composure as there are a lot of others in the same boat. The personnel handling the BTC announce that there will be roll calls at odd times and that you will have to use your psychic powers to figure out when. If you miss one of them you get bumped from the flight. because of this no one strays away very far.
You get back to the room and find that while you were gone two people moved out so you now get a top bunk. That's OK until you look on the bunk and see the old piss stains. You decide the cot is better.
You spend a boring day eating, attending roll calls, and trying to sleep and check in for the briefing the next day. The sand storm not only has not abated, it is almost a sand hurricane. Needless to say, they don't want any flaming wrecks from the sky so no flight. Another 100 people arrive who are trying to leave and now some serious crowding issues begin. You have now lost 2 nights at your hotel that were pre paid. You have one night left. Yippy Skippy.
Low and behold, the flight leaves the next day. You are bussed to the terminal and sit for almost 5 hours until they are ready to board you. During this time you are forced to form a line at all times. The security personnel handling this have zero people skills and attempt to make up for that by constantly scowling and looking fierce. After standing in line three seperate times and making a forced march to the holding pen the fierce looking security folks announce that the snack bar has been judged to offer the worst food this side of Tijuana. Having been to TJ and never gotten sick I am at best, cynical about this. However, the prospect of being on your well deserved R&R while taking the Saddam Two Step is not very appealing so you opt for a can of Pringles and twco cokes. Some of the others have also bought Pringles that are different flavors so you all sit around and share. It is sort of a meze type lunch.
They finally announce that you will board and once again the fierce looking security guards have you line up. You now go through a pat down from some Iraqi security personnel. It is not a good idea to wink at thses guys or be a smart ass of any kind. You just suffer through another indignity so you can get the hell out of here.
You load up in an old rickety bus that reeks of diesel fuel and has stained seats. The crappy stereo is playing the Offspring wailing 90's tunes at full cracking volume. The driver grins and gooses the accelerator. Several people almost fall but he just keeps on grinning.
You get aboard and find that your seat adjustments do not work at all. You start to look around and notice that the charter company has changed again. This one is called Phoenix Air. You are not very comfortable with the fact that they have named the airline after a bird that rises from the ashes. The Russian crew can barely speak English. You notice that the backs of the tray tables are all labeled in Spanish and English. The lit signs above the seats have been painted over and English scratched out of the paint for instructions. You wonder which language they painted over.
The plane takes off and makes several hard banks to the left as they corkscrew out of the airport. This maneuver is supposed to make you think they are avoiding missiles but it does no good at all for that. The bad guys can set up two miles away and hit you with a stinger. This vomit inducing move is for random gunfire. You feel like you are in the airline version of a NASCAR race.
You then start to notice that your knees and ass are numb from being squeezed into the smallest seat ever put in a commercial airplane. You wonder if this thing used to belong to Willy Wonka and the plane was used to transport Oompah Loopahs.
2 1/2 hours later you land in Dubai. It is 20:00 two days after you left your camp. The first thing you wonder upon landing is if you really packed enough underwear this time.


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