Three or four or five hours later, I can’t keep track anymore, we finally reached Al Udeid, Qatar!
All I know is I looked at my watch, and it was two days after we left Norfolk, VA. We were officially in theater (CENTCOM). We dragged our sorry asses off the plane, picked up some extra gear—body armor and sleeping bags—then dumped all our crap in a holding area next to the terminal. Finally, we were herded like cattle through a succession of rooms to fill out paperwork and get briefings on terrorism and where the chow halls were, two extremely important things (“This is where the food is, and this is who might shoot you on your way to the food.”).
We were also counseled on things that weren’t allowed into the country, like pornography (had to throw away my German nudie playing cards, sadly), and “women’s strength” periodicals.
I leaned over to the guy next to me and asked, “What’s women’s strength?” while imagining a Qatari man reading Oprah’s magazine and recoiling from the image of the iconic talk show host pointing at him from within its glossy pages while the caption reads, “You go, girl!”
“Muscle and fitness stuff,” he said, which makes only slightly more sense.
Finally—FINALLY—we got some linens and were shown to the temporary living quarters, which consisted of big metal boxes packed with twenty bunk beds. Next to those metal boxes were more metal boxes with showers and toilets, affectionately called Cadillacs. Sleep! Bathing! It never felt so good.
After collapsing on my bunk and being dead to the world for a while, I wandered around Al Udeid and found the food (without being shot—yay) and a POOL. Suffice it to say I spent nearly all my time at the desert pool, because the pool is totally my jam.
Turns out cats are a thing in Al Udeid, though they look scrawnier than the typical US fat cat, and I mean that literally, not like, “Screw you, Wall Street fat cats!” People feed them sometimes, but they look only slightly more domesticated than feral.
One guy I talked to speculated that the local Qataris ate the cats, and I was like, “Oh come on…Really?…No…Really?…Gross.” I’m pretty sure they don’t actually eat the cats.
The base also has these concrete barriers everywhere with morale paintings on them, which is a pretty cool use of a naturally ugly thing. One of these paintings gave me pause:
I can’t decide if this particular illustration is lewd or not. It’s a snake riding a plane, a sadistically gratified snarl on its face, something about “The Deid”… I’m thinking too hard about this.
Anyway, spent four days in Al Udeid, enjoying my three beers per day, before we flew out on an actual military plane to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. We were instructed to wear our body armor flying into the country. “Why?” I asked one of the baby airmen working in the Al Udeid terminal.
With wide eyes, he told me, “Because it’s dangerous. It’s Iraq.”
His buddy elbowed him. “Afghanistan, dude.”
“Oh, yeah.” Trying again with wide eyes, “It’s Afghanistan.”
And now I’m in-country! Only stayed for a few hours in Bagram, though. Got some food, some coffee…
Then I hopped onto a freaking awesome helicopter and felt like a total badass flying over the “danger zone” and into Kabul.
The chopper dropped us down into a soccer field, where my new coworkers ran up to meet me and help me drag my six bags of crap to my new living quarters.
And now I’m in Kabul! Whew. Total travel time: 8 goddamn days.