It was a rough night trying to sleep in the tent. Around 3 am, the tent filled up with new tent mates. They turned on the bright fluorescent lights and made a racket trying to unpack their gear. It was about 5 am until they finished taking their showers, got a bite to eat and then settled in for some shut-eye. I tossed and turned and got about 2 hours of sleep. All I could think about was getting on the next plane and flying out of here.
The next morning I went over to the warehouse to retrieve my IBA vest and helmet. Previously we turned in these items and they were tagged and assigned a location. The clerk promptly took me to the location where my vest was stored. My name was typed on an inventory sheet and attached to a large tri-wall container. We started pulling out the vests and he could not locate mine. My vest is an older model and is easily distinguishable from the new pullover ones. I was escorted to another location and repeated the same process to no avail. Then the clerk took me to the back of the warehouse and all of the vests with helmets attached were lined up neatly and placed in alphabetical sequence. Naturally we went to the T section and still could not locate my vest. Then we tried the R section thinking they might have filed it under my first name. Still no vest could be found. Now I was starting to worry. The clerk assured me we would find my vest. So I helped him sort through several hundred vests with the hope it was misplaced or misfiled. Neither of us could locate my vest.
I explained to the clerk that I needed my vest so I could fly out today. This is when he became accusatory and shifted the blame to me. He accused me of putting my vest and helmet in the wrong container. Now my emotions turned from worry to anger. I followed their precise instructions, labeled my vest and placed it in the right container. The container number then was annotated on my retrieval form. The tri-wall had my name typed on the outside package list but my vest was not there. I was in no mood to argue. I gave him and the other clerks who gathered around an ultimatum. I would return in a few hours and either they find my vest or provide me another one. It was now 2:30 pm and my next roll call was at 4:30 pm.
I returned to my tent to unpack my duffel bag and then repack it. There was a peculiar smell emitting from my bag and it smelled like mildew. I removed some of my stored items and discovered some of my uniforms and other items were completely soaked. So not only was my duffel bag lost for a few days, it must have sat in the rain or snow. I looked at my watch and precious time was ticking away. I would have to wash my clothes, dry them and still make the formation. But first, I would have to walk to the PX and buy some laundry detergent.
According to the timer on the washing machine, it would take 57 minutes to wash my clothes. It’s now 3:10 pm. If I timed it right, I could still get my uniforms dry in time for the formation. At 4:07 pm I put the clothes in the dryer. At 4:16 pm a voice announced on the loudspeaker to immediately report to formation. My uniforms were still wet, so I would have to show up in civilian clothes and hope they would accept my rationale.
The Army Sgt providing the briefing recognized me and couldn’t believe I was still here. He had no problem with my attire. He gave us the briefing and we had 2 hours before reporting back for the accountability roll call. I returned to the laundry room, gathered my dry clothing and went back to my tent to change. My next stop was the warehouse to retrieve my vest and helmet.
It’s a rather long walk to the warehouse, but I was determined to leave there with a vest and a helmet one way or another. As soon as I stepped through the door, one of the workers exclaimed, “We found your vest and helmet” and they had it up front waiting for me. I inquired where they found it, but they were unable to give me a straight answer. I didn’t care, because at least now I had my gear. I returned to my tent, packed my gear, checked out of billeting and sat at the terminal waiting for the next roll call.
At 6:30 pm, roll call was conducted and in another 3 hours our plane would take off. At 8:30 pm, we were loaded on a bus and driven to Ali Asaleem terminal. On the tarmac a C-17 Globemaster was being loaded with cargo. This was our ride out of here.
The cargo filled the entire aircraft and we would have to sit on the side in the jump seats. These jump seats are a great improvement over the web strapping of a C-130. Each seat is somewhat cushioned and folds down. There is sufficient leg room and you don’t have to worry so much about interfering with the person next to you.
We had a small 40 minute delay because of how the cargo was palletized. A sharp young AF SSgt wasn’t satisfied with the configuration, even though the computer generated a printout showing the center balance was sufficient. If the center balance is off, it could cause the plane to crash or drag on landing and take-off. You could tell by his demeanor he took pride in his aircraft. As a result, the pallets were shifted forward several feet and all of our personal baggage that was on a pallet was moved by hand to the center of the aircraft.
Finally, I felt the wheels leave the ground and we were airborne. It would be 3 ½ -4 hours until we would land in Afghanistan. I used my night headlamp attachment to continue reading Mortenson’s “Stones into Schools”.