Saturday 25th April
The rain battering against the window and the loud roar of a departing aircraft roused me from my pleasant slumber. I showered in the shower room along the corridor before venturing down for breakfast. In these days of healthy eating the only fruit I could find were a couple of thin slices of melon wrapped in cellophane and some very bitter little oranges. There was plenty of fried eggs and bacon etc’. I didn’t fancy any of that. I thought that toast would be a good idea. The choice at the toasting machine was between medium or thick sliced bright white bread.
I had to be out of the room by 9 am. The flight was not due to leave until 1:30 pm. There was a lot of hanging around to be done. The time warp that surrounds the hotel seems to extend to technology. A good mobile phone signal was about as frequent as a pleasurable trip to the dentist. I was in time and communication limbo. Richard tried to call a few times when he was on his way to the base but all I was able to hear before the call dropped out was a vague hello and various electronic crackles and hisses.
A tanoy announcement informed me that there was a bus outside waiting to take the Basra bound passengers to the terminal. It was a big bus. There were only three of us on it, my room mate John and a lady soldier who said that she was a lawyer.
At the terminal Richard was waiting along with a number of my colleagues from ITN, Sky, The BBC and some newspapers. The TV crews were as usual laden down with many trolleys of kit. I was travelling very light by comparison.
Last night I had been designated to be on the second flight out of Kuwait to Basra, known as Blue Chalk. All the other media were to be on the first flight, Red Chalk. When Richard checked in he was given the same designation. This would mean that the pair of us would be hanging around on the ground in Kuwait for 4 hours or so after the rest had gone. This was because of the change in flight, because we had our flight changed at the last minute the Red Chalk flight had already been filled.
We had to wait in the departure lounge after going through the same security screening that you go through at any airport prior to boarding. The flight was delayed by well over and hour. We amused ourselves by amongst other things playing a table football game. Richard and I were the broadcast representatives against the print media. Sadly we were well cuffed.
Richard not doing it for the broadcasters.
When at last we were able to board the 767 it was a strange sight. A load of desert camouflaged soldiers climbing up the steps to a charter aircraft that had probably just disgorged happy holiday makers in Tenerife. I think the cabin crew found it amusing to be dishing out diluting orange juice to slightly glum soldiers off to work instead of Bacardi and Coke to excited folk off on their holidays.
When we landed at the airport in Kuwait there was nothing unusual to look at until we got a fleeting sight long convoy of big black American station wagons waiting at the steps of a big grey aircraft. It was like a scene form a hollywood blockbuster. Then we were reminded we were about to enter what is still designated a War Zone.
The good news for Richard and I was that the coloured chalk was all mixed up and we would all be on the same C 130 from Kuwait to Basra. The guys like me with big cameras were boarded last. We sat right at the end of the dark cavernous aircraft. The Load Masters then started to get the pallet with all the cargo loaded on to the ramp beside us. There was a huge pile of boxes, bags and rucksacks under a thick webbing net. I was not surprised that was unable to see any of my kit, even my bright orange box. However the guys from ITN, Sky and the BBC thought that they should have been able to see at least one of there many many boxes.
The kit, (or not) is heaved aboard the Herc'.
We got ready for the shortish but noisy flight to Basra. Caroline the BBC Defence Correspondent an old hand on these trips was quick to settle down complete with eye mask and pillow.
The seasoned traveller!
To lessen the chance of being attacked the aircraft only fly at night and make a variety of interesting and exciting approaches coming into land. All this done in complete darkness. We all sat in our canvas seats wearing body armour and helmets as the pilot took us on a little roller coaster ride ending with a very tight turn just before a perfect landing.
In the heat of the Iraqi night we crammed aboard a little bus to take us to the big echoing hanger that is the arrival and departure lounge. The pallet was brought to us and the bits and pieces off loaded. Faces of the chaps told the tale. My orange baby and other two bags were there as was Richard’s but none of the other guys’ stuff was there.
There was a lot of discussion about where the kit was and when it might arrive. There were several unhappy guys and girls because not only was it equipment that was not there. Their personal kit had not turned up either. There was going to be a few smelly unshaved folk for a day or so. Not to mention the missing sleeping bags.
What little kit there was got tossed on to a flatbed truck. We squeezed back on to a bus take us to our accommodation.
Inside a large canvas covered building there were lots of concrete block square enclosures with half a metal roof which was covered with sand bags. It was the perfect “gang hut”. When I was a kid in the days when it was possible to play on building sites I have vivid memories of building such little structures. My mates and I would do many illicit things inside like some would have a go at smoking, someone would somehow get hold of a few pages of Playboy and we would giggle at the bare lady bits. Then of course the workmen would turn up the nest day very pissed of with us and use our private space for building proper houses.
Home Sweet Temporary Home.
I was dog tired and quickly got under my protective roof and fell asleep in my sleeping bags. I have to say in a selfish way I was not thinking too much about my sleeping bagless colleagues who were trying to get some kip under some fleecy blankets that had been rummaged up by the army.