Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Baghdad at last

The trip to Baghdad proved to be a very arduous journey once leaving the Air force Hotel in Germany. We didn’t have all the papers we needed for next leg of journey, something the Colonel expressed worry about before leaving Jackson MI. We were missing our orders-showing up at the airport without them is like showing up without a plane ticket.
In the nick of time, we were able to reach one of the PO officers in Balad who emailed over documents we needed-after a very tense couple of hours. The plane was held up on our behalf. (Same C-17 we came over on-though this time filled with cargo and military) We made a run through customs skipping the x-ray of our luggage and other formalities. Making the flight felt like a small miracle.

After settling in, I got to visit the cockpit and photograph as the sun went down. Before landing in Balad, things got serious-all the passengers strapped on their weapons and vest and helmets. Me too. My first time wearing the Kevlar protective gear which proved to be heavier and more restrictive I imagined. Hard to move in It, to say the least, but I still got off a few shots.

In Ballad we found out our onward flight to Baghdad had been canceled due to weather conditions-we were meant to leave later that night. After eating a large meal at a mess hall that had limitless food one could gorge themselves we were taken to the Catfish Air Terminal to get an early flight out, opting to sleep on cots rather then checking in to sleep at a transient hotel. The Helicopter ride never materialized and sleep proved to be impossible. The cots in the terminal were fine, but the two large screen TVs were blaring making sleep impossible. One with a football game that either never ended or was playing in a loop, the other, Fox news. Our morning flight was cancelled and the next one was over full so were advised to take the fixed wing plane, which turned out to be another c-17, though with it came a bust ride into Bagdad.
We were taken to a different terminal on the other side of the base-giving me a sense of how big the operation in Ballad is.

Next stop was the terminal in BIAP, at Camp Victory. Upon landing at 1:30 in the afternoon, we found the next leg of the route via a “Rhino” bus wouldn’t leave till sometime between midnight-4am, leaving a nice chunk of time to wait and take things in.

The Rhino bus goes leaves from Camp Stryker part of the Victory base. The bus travels on a route that was deadly in the early days of the war, but now relative safe. We traveled in a convoy or armored buses equip with Blackwater security guards and an armored escorts.

All I have seen from Iraq so far is airfields and concrete pylons lining different bases. Miles and miles of the American war machine in Iraq. I write from the media room in Baghdad where Iraqi journalist watch Batman on a large TV screen while eating lunch.

Getting the holiday shoot organized is the next task at hand, No easy one at that as our visit and project was buried in someone’s paperwork. Impressions to follow but I need to ready myself for an impromptu tour of the green zone

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