It's Not Easy Getting Into Iraq

Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.

March 10, 2006
0520 hours
Ali Al Salem Air Base

First, a couple things about my bio.

When I was stationed in Kuwait I was the deputy provost marshal (DPM) for Army Central Command Kuwait (ARCENT-KU), not for Army Central Command. Big difference, as the DPM for Central Command outranks the heck out of me, not to mention has more responsibility and a much larger paycheck.

And while the introduction talked about soldiers in my command, I am not a commander, though as a brigade staff officer I am responsible for soldiers. To many readers this might seem like semantics, but here in the military there’s a big difference.

The lesson: I need to be as specific as possible in these entries.

Getting on airplanes that do not make it to their destination is becoming a habit. At 0800 hours yesterday, we went to the airfield and boarded a C-17 to fly to Baghdad. The weather in Kuwait was clear, but once the aircraft was above Baghdad a sandstorm made landing impossible. I am for any safety precaution a pilot wants to take, so no complaints from my end. We circled Baghdad for about an hour before heading back to Kuwait.

The huge sandstorm engulfed Baghdad, moved south and saturated the Kuwaiti air with dust and was gone by about 2300 hours. Other flights to different parts of Iraq were able to fly out, but nothing to Baghdad. It’s funny; I think it’s easier for a soldier to get out of Iraq than get back in.

While sitting around waiting for the flight north, soldiers do a number of things to pass the time. Most of us find a couple hours sleep here and there, some read, others watch DVDs on their laptops. Since Monday I have finished the two books I took with me, “The Long Walk,” by
Stephen King, and “Vengeance,” whose author I cannot recall. [The author is George Jonas — ed]

“Vengeance” is the book that the movie “Munich” is based on. The movie was fantastic, but as in most cases the book is more enjoyable. I have also watched “Better Off Dead” and “Zoolander” for about the 30th time each on my laptop. I can watch “Better Off Dead” anytime. As far as movies about high school ski teams with a bully named after one of the worst tyrants of the 20th century go, this ranks No. 1 on my list. [The bully’s name is Roy Stalin – ed]

Another way to kill time is playing cards. Among soldiers, Spades always seems to be the game of choice. I learned to play only after joining the Army. If there is ever a World Series of Spades, two soldiers would walk away with the top prize.

There is an Internet café for soldiers to use while they wait for their flight here, along with a number of other facilities. The Internet café and AT&T phone center are open 24 hours a day. There is also a gym, a KFC, McDonald’s, a donut stand and 24-hour coffee shop. Other small things that make life here not so bad are shower and latrine trailers and laundry points. The tents we are crashing in have eight sets of bunk beds each, so staying here for 24-72 hours can be comfortable.

March 11, 2006
2200 hours
FOB Striker PMO Office

I finally made it back to Baghdad last night at about 1830 hours. The flight was rather comfortable, only about an hour-and-a-half long with most of us sleeping through it. After arriving at Striker the first thing I do is head to my tent, drop off my bags, then head to the dining facility (DIFAC) to grab dinner. At dinner I meet up with some fellow staff officers and exchange stories about leave. Next I head to the office, download more gear, then head back to my tent to catch some sleep.

Two thoughts on getting back: At times it was frustrating, with all the flight delays and such, but when looked at from the macro level, the process is very efficient. Considering the sheer number of soldiers and equipment that is moved in and out of the combat zone on a daily basis, getting soldiers back within a day is definitely a success.

Second, there are all the soldiers and service members who work hard to make the trip as comfortable as possible: from Atlanta to the Kuwait processing areas to the airmen who flew us up to Baghdad. It is not a high-visibility mission, but everything they did to get us home and back is greatly appreciated — from the noncommissioned officer (NCO) who waited with us in Atlanta and coordinated with the hotels when the flight was canceled, to the NCOs and soldiers in Kuwait ensuring we all had a bunk to crash on and a flight to take us to Baghdad. They really do great work and sacrifice their personal lives for the year deployment.

E-mail Dan at Click here to read his bio.