So last week I began again traveling back to the states. The last few months have been an absolute blur. So much has happened, and yet, so little has been written. If it wasn't written down, did it happen? Some would argue it did not. The system to travel home on Rest and Recuperation leave is broken. There are ideal signs up that say from the time you land in Kuwait you'll be at the airport waiting on your flight in 6 hours. The reality is that six hours after landing we had only gotten to the second step of the process. But I've skipped ahead.
Before you can leave Kandahar, you have to show up for a 0900 brief. Except this happens at 0930, not that it was late, just that I had the time wrong. So I started trying at 9 on Saturday morning (about 7:30 pm Friday night in Alabama). By the time the 0930 brief rolled around I had done everything I needed to do before I left and was present with my bags in hand. You have to start at the Inbound Terminal, then travel to the Outbound, where you wait. Kind of like when you go to turn off your Windows based computer by clicking on Start. I waited about two hours before we got called in to be screened, after which we were told to go upstairs to the holding area until 1515.
At 1510 we were told to go back down to the check in point. This can't be good news, and it wasn't. The flight was canceled, but the show time for the next one was 5 minutes. So, we shuffled back upstairs and waited. Another 2 hours. Finally, we boarded, and waited. At 1815 we took off headed to Bagram. Flight crew said it was a 45 minute flight, so promptly at 1920, we landed. And waited.
There was a tanker truck on board with us which they unloaded, then proceeded to reload pallets for two hours. Promptly at 2130 we took off, twelve hours in and I'm finally off Afghanistan soil, still in the air space, but off the ground.
We leanded in Kuwait at straight up midnight.By this point I realize I haven't had anything to eat or drink since breakfast about 0700. After checking in at Ali Al Saleem, we headed for the dining facility. I've managed to run into a fellow travelling to just north of Eglin Air Force Base, practically LA like me. At 0530, only a half hour late, we start off for Camp Arifjan, an hour away. There they proceed to check us in and give us a brief that basically says come back at 1400.
So, browse the PX, get a great big cup of caramel macchiato from Starbucks, read the Stars and Stripes, peruse the makeshift bazaar set up, and then took a shower. Returning to the place we'd get our tickets, we've now killed 4 hours with 5 left to kill. A success.
So, at 1400 we get our itineraries and are told to show up at 1915 to sign up for a bus ride to the airport. Not sure why we couldn't sign up right then, but oh well. With nothing else to do, we went back to the PX. One of the Kuwaitis at the bazaar complemented my facial hair, "Nice beard," he said, "Now, show me the money!"
Finally, 1915 rolls around and we go through a quick briefing then a customs check. Not sure why, because we're an hour from the airport and this is US Customs. Promptly at 2040 they call us to load the bus that leaves at 2030 headed to the airport. Another hour away and finally we're done with Americans who just ask to check our CAC. The Common Access Card replaced the simple ID card and serves many purposes. One of which is to aggravate the stew out of me when people call it a CAC Card. This is made worse when they tell me to use my PIN Number for my CAC Card. From this point on, someone other than an American will look at my CAC, but it's a lot less frequent.
I'm not sure what it is about this airport, and I'm pretty sure it's a different kid, but every time I've been here there has been a five-year old kid wearing a skull costume.
On a different note, the security here is just plain weird. We walked in, passed a few stores, wove through a crowd then walked back outside to enter the first Screening Zone. Our bags go through a scanner and we a metal detector. A few bags get examined, but very few. Then on the other side we exit--into the crowd and stores we walked by at first. Turns out I was in the wrong zone, so I had to go through another screening. My bags went on the conveyor and I went through the scanner. It went off, I forgot to take out my cell phones. No one stops me. At the belt, the guy who's running it is on his cell phone loudly. I pick up my bags, no problem, so I leave after setting off the alarm for bags and personal detection, and went to get a bite to eat.
Next comes the Departure screening, where the guy looks at your Boarding Pass and ID. This seems right, then I go to the next fellow who's giving some lady a hard time with her baby bags. While he weighs her bags and talks to her in an aggravated tone, his buddy waves me through with my oversized backpack and laptop bag. No weighing, no reviewing of my ticket, nothing. On to Passport Control.
At Passport Control I show a Kuwaiti lady my CAC and boarding pass and she stamps it and waves me on. So I do some duty-free shopping without buying anything. Mostly because I have no idea what a Kuwaiti Dollar fetches against American, but I know I paid 1.65 for a burger and fries. Must be strong. The first time I went to a foreign country (what am I talking aboot? I'm calling our 51st State a foreign country, a bit of a stretch, eh?) they gave me some Monopoly money for change. They even thought it was Monopoly money because they called the big coins Loonies. Now, in the age of electronic everything it's even stranger because they just run your debit card and you have no idea what you paid unless you know the exchange rate and are good with math.
Finally, after eating and finding my gate, which has another security checkpoint in it, I take off my shoes and get comfortable. I still have two hours until I can go through the gate.
One thing you may have missed in all of this, when did I sleep? There's a good reason I didn't mention it--I didn't do much of it.