Day 1: School of Fish

The day I left Norfolk Naval Station to start my journey here I really felt really out of my element. It was the first day I was wearing my uniform “in public” (I wore it one day at Hanscom but…that’s a familiar environment. The lodging front desk lobby was really crowded with men and women in uniform. I knew “my mission” (the flight I was departing on) was large so and show-time was 10:45. I checked out and went out front to wait for the shuttle. There was lots of folks waiting. So I decided it to go into “school of fish mode”‘ … follow the group and I”ll get to the terminal. Of course, I’m the strange looking fish. My uniform has no rank which confuses the hell out of the military. Some wore ABUs like me and others going to Afganistan wore the desert battle uniform. We were a mix of AF and Army…and then there was me, the “DOD Civilian”. A van pulled up but it wasn’t a shuttle. It was a taxi seeing who needed a ride. A bunch of folks took it; I waited with the rest of “the school”. It was getting late, another taxi pulled up, the one (female) Airman who called for it stepped out. I jumped up, asked if I could join her and off we went. Sometimes the school doesn’t know what to do.

I’m sure glad we split the taxi, the line to get into the AMC (Air Mobility Command) terminal was 50 yards long. Again, the looks. Was it my lack of rank? Was I out of uniform? (I was, my boots are sand and they are only authorize when I get into Southwest Asia but I wasn’t going to get another pair of sage boots just to wear there and back. Heck, I’m a civilian…I hoped that that would work!). Mac and I wondered if tying my donut travel pillow to the outside of my pack would be authorized. I felt good when I found that there were all sorts of colored ones…at least mine was black.

The terminal entry had baggage screening, just like any airport and then…what school of fish do I swim with? There was a stunning amount of people, several waiting areas and a dining hall (cafeteria). I picked the one that had a smaller crowd. I logged into the wi-if but that was a bust…100s of people doing the same. My phone was working so I got out a few text messages out to family, Lt Holler and Mr Hayes. Maj Green (my commander at my deployed base) sent a text wishing me safe travels and letting me know that I would see him tomorrow. Tomorrow? I was expecting the trip from hell. Brian (my co-worker who left for our deployment 10 days before me) followed the same itinerary as Mr Hayes: Norfolk to Bangor Maine to Iceland or Ireland, Ramstein Germany and then then Qatar. Then he had a 3-day layover at the base there. I was ready and packed for it but…”tomorrow”meant I likely had a different itinerary. I was shocked that this massive group of people were fitting into one plane flying to Kuwait with a few hour layover/transfer and right into my base. Really? Cool! But what kind of plane takes so many people….a Delta Chartered 777 and being an officer rank equivalent, I road in the business class seat. Amazing! My own seat; a pod-like area with a seat that had ever position you would need to include a lower back massage and horizontal/prone position. We got hot towels to freshen up with, three meals (airplane food that wasn’t so bad) on this 12 hour flight. How’s that for a contrast to four stops and at least 24 hours of travel!

At the end of the flight, one of the guys across the aisle from me finally said “DOD Civilian, I’ve never seen that before.” The guys in the other surround seats chimed in to the inquiry and finally the ice was broken.

I was the second person to walk out of the plane, down the stairs, into the Tarmac at Kuwait international Airport…on the Kuwait Air Force and USAF portion of the runways. The sun was warm and shining brightly and it was pretty hot but not as bad as I expected. Then again, it was only 8:30 in the morning. We walked a ways to a holding room where I sat and started this journal entry. A first the room was full of energy and chatter, people plugging in their phones, some texting, but most crashed…those donut pillows came in handy.

I sat in a sea of Airmen and Soldiers, about half heading to bases that wear my uniform, the other half to bases and places that require combat uniforms. I’m still a fish, blending in, ready to follow instructions and the school when it’s time to board our next flight…I said to myself “I bet it’s not the 777 but…I’d find out soon enough.

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