The Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) Flight Line in 2004.
May 1st, 2003. "Mission Accomplished" read the sign above the President, as he made the speech on the deck of an aircraft carrier, declaring that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended". We'd anxiously been anticipating that we'd be going to war since September 11th, 2001. The Homeland Security Mission which we were mobilized for in the immediate wake of the attacks, we thought, was just the warm-up. Hearing that speech and seeing that sign in the run-up to our rumored future deployment, was a relief and a let-down, at the same time. Crazy.
I think some of us thought it'd be a piece of cake after hearing that news. But it was still a pretty hot topic of conversation, how we should prepare, and all. Then one day at drill, me and Ed were in our home station's chow hall for lunch. We were sitting at a table with an Aircrew guy in a 'desert' colored flight suit. We didn't know him and he had a somewhat grizzled demeanor. The flight suit and his demeanor, tell-tale signs he just got back from the 'sandbox'. But he didn't seem unapproachable, so naturally one of us asked him "What's it like?". "We heard it's pretty quiet in Baghdad now". Personally, I was probably looking for some reassurance that the war was actually winding-down. Between bites he answered, without missing a beat, in a matter of fact tone, "The flight line at Baghdad airport gets hit everyday with rockets". We countered, "still?". He just kind of shrugged, and said, "Yeah". My gut feeling was this guy wasn't 'pulling our legs'. I think we walked away muttering to each other, "was that guy fucking with us?". Turned out he wasn't.
It was the military, and more specifically episodes like this, that instilled in me the notion that "The news... ain't the news". In this world you gotta figure that shit out for yourself. Keep your eyes, and especially your ears, open. I think that's the takeaway for a lot of G.I.'s. Pay attention to the 'official word' that comes down. But fact check everything with the folks around you on the ground. Reviewing my journal entry's now I can see I was constantly engaged in this activity.
After we were mobilized for OIF, and up at Travis AFB, we got word that we weren't needed and we'd be sent home. This was after it was confirmed that we'd drew Baghdad as our duty station for our rotation. For an excruciating couple of weeks the issue was in doubt. But then all of a sudden the trip was on again. Then, after we got there and were on the ground at BIAP, the same thing kept happening. "The mission is gonna be scraped. Y'all aren't needed, we're sending you somewhere else". Made you feel like a yo-yo. I spent a lot of time worrying about stuff that never happened. Story of my life.
Wed 6-23-2004 12:34am
Did my usual routine today. Got up. Put on my P.T. shorts and tank top, and my flak jacket (minus the plates), and my Kevlar helmet (k-pot). Went to the stinky latrine. Headed off to the gym tent. Rode the bike and stretched. Went next door to the Post Office tent and mailed a scarf to Debbie, one to my Mom, and a genie lamp I bought for Shaylin. The Post Office is going to close June 30th.
June 30th is the day the Iraqi's are supposed to start their new government. Based on that, the Air Mobility Command will shut down the operation here at BIAP. Flight operations will cease July 15th. We should be gone by August 15th. There's talk that our group (the 24 folks from Travis AFB, and the 24 from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station) will be broken up and sent off to Al Udied, Balad, and a small group will stay at BIAP. I guess much depends on how the government turn-over goes.
The first week I was here we were constantly listening to explosion's and gunfire. Plus there were the four Alarm Reds. Attacks directly on our base. This week, by contrast, has been really quiet. Way too quiet. I hope it stays like this. Most of us expect we will get hit hard around the 30th. The base is in Condition Yellow (wear of flak vest, and carry of helmet at all times, on and off duty- I wear my helmet). ...When I was over on the commercial side of BIAP the other day, the Air Force guy from the CPA told me that all their flights are canceled between June 27th and July 5th. This doesn't look good. Hope for the best
0133 24 June 04 Thurs
My camera malfunctioned about an hour ago, and I lost all the pictures I've taken since I left. I'm bummed. Oh well.
We just finished downloading 2.4 billion dollars cash off a C-17. 12 pallets stacked with money. The Korean civilian who was beheaded by terrorists the other day was also loaded up on a C-130 in an H.R. container. I didn't see him get loaded up, but was on the flight line, working the download/upload on the plane next to his. I did see the Honor Guard detail lined up, ready to pay his respects.
I thought that was an interesting little mission. A Marine Lt Col came into the ramp tent in the middle of the night and asked, "Can you guys give us a hand with a mission? We need a forklift to unload some cash off the plane when it gets here". A bunch of gun trucks showed up with a duece and a half truck. When the C-17 with the cash onboard showed up, the gun trucks set up a perimeter around it. The deuce drove in. Two Chinook helicopters then landed with-in the perimeter. We drove out with the 10K All Terrain Forklift and dropped the twelve 7000 lb. pallets on the ground by the helicopters. An Iraqi chain gang then broke the pallets down, loading the boxes of cash into the two Chinook's and the deuce and a half truck. When they were done the two Chinooks flew off into the darkness and the deuce left with the full convoy of gun trucks escorting it.
I learned that on the TV news when they'd report "Twenty Billion Dollars is being sent to Iraq for reconstruction", that meant that 20 Billion in actual cash is sent over. Physically. Dollar bills or what have you, packed into carboard boxes and palletized, is actually put on a plane and sent over. American dollars. At the time the Saddam money was absolutely worthless. And the new Iraqi Dinars weren't worth much more.
That poor Korean Guy. Kim Sun-il. He was a contractor who was kidnapped and beheaded by Zarqawi's guys. I recall walking thru the chow hall over at Camp Striker and seeing the terrorist-filmed footage on cable news, showing the absolutely terrified Mr. Kim pleading for his life. That footage made an impression on me, it was pretty disturbing. Three days later the Army found his remains. Representatives from his Korean employer, the Gana General Trading Company, were to escort his body out of Iraq on a US Air Force C-130. I heard later from some Lieutenant, the grisly details of what happened on the plane after Mr. Kim was loaded up. This happened right in front of all the G.I. passengers onboard, going on R&R or whatever, who were seated in the cargo bay (H.R. containers sometimes being tied to the floor between the rows of seats). Once the airplane doors were closed up, but before the aircraft could depart, the Gana Company folks demanded that the Aircraft Loadmaster open the H.R. container right in front of the passengers, to be certain the body in the H.R. container was Mr. Kim. They wanted to make sure that they wouldn't have to return to Mortaritaville (If they left with the wrong body, they feared having to return, to get the right one). To my way of reckoning, Mr Kim was a hell of a lot more courageous, than his employers could ever hope to be.
The next couple days would see things heat up a little more, in the run-up to the government handover. We'll look at that in Iraq Journal #7.
Peace to you and yours, till then.
Salty Rose, 2020
Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
That's 7000 lbs. cash money on that pallet behind me and Mike Cantu right after we dropped it off a C-17. The Chinook that it's going into, is in the background.
Man On A Mission.