Since last I wrote I have been to Salerno, back to BAF and then off to Qatar, in search of the ever elusive rest and relaxation (aka R&R). In Salerno all of my hopes and dreams were crushed by the lack of any mail at all. It is not that no mail was available, but rather that due to the change of my HQ unit, any and all mail that said the prior unit's name was returned to sender. The week was made better by the departing of many of my friends (civilians) back home for Christmas leave. Now they are home, and enjoying their time with family (I hope).
The decision to go to Qatar was made rather quickly and was based on free time due to
helicopter schedules. I must say that it is unlike any port call that I have ever made. Enroute to Qatar the plane that we were in took us to Kuwait. I almost dreaded going back there, but was pleasantly surprised by the total climate shift since last I was there. Even during the day the temperature was quite bearable and nice. The evening brought on a good chill and even a slight to moderate breeze.
Kuwait was quite the same as I had left it. The sleeping arrangements were as cozy as before, but this time I had the added benefit of not having to carry a weapon. I have been weaponless for almost seven full days, and loving every minute of it. I turned them in to the armory and offered the guy $25 to give them back to me clean. I hope that he took me up on that. While in Kuwait I met two other Navy guys headed to Qatar, I didn't know them previously, but now consider them to be pretty good friends.
The numerous fliers that were posted around Kuwait spoke of various activities that the MWR and USO had to offer for the coming days. That included a guest appearance by Bill O'Reilly. Initially I thought that the flier was to watch the show with everyone, but sure enough there in MWR tent 2 was Bill O'Reilly answering questions, taking pictures and signing Autographs. He was accompanied by Col (ret) Hunt, one of Fox News' military analysts. Like all other guys there, I attended and got his autograph and a picture with him. He signed it "With Respect."
That night we flew from Kuwait to Qatar, which is pronounced by most as "cutter." Arriving in the early early morning, we quickly found racks inside a building inside a warehouse. The enlisted guys were put inside a tent inside a warehouse. The architecture of the base as a whole left much to be desired and would be considered only as bland. Most buildings were the same warehouse construction with wide open spaces inside. The next day was a late start, though not as late as expected, having gone to sleep around 5am, I was surprised to have awoken at 11am. I then set to orienting myself to the building and base. Lunch was at Chilis, the only true sit down restaurant on base, and a very welcome sight.
The next day we went out for a "lunch on the beach, to include SUV ride through the sand dunes." The ride was just that, a pretty lame attempt to get some very minor cheap thrills, but did not really satisfy the true 4 wheeler in anyone. It was quite disappointing. Arriving at the camp on the beach, the weather was not quite beach weather, even though the water was pretty warm. Some played volleyball while others just sortof lounged. Most of that was brought to a grinding halt as the rain started to come down. Lunch was served, kababs, hummus, and vegetables adorned everyone's plates. The real trick, though was to run from the serving tent to the eating tent without getting drenched. As all finished their meals, thoughts quickly turned to getting the duck out of dodge. That is, all of the military guys were thinking about leaving, but the guides thought it best to wait out the rain. Sadly this is the hardest rain that Qatar has received in 40 years, so the rain did not
let up and we took another disappointing ride through the sand dunes back to the blacktop with the base to follow.
The roads were certainly not equipped for rain, and it is very quickly apparent why most vehicles are 4x4, the water level at some roundabouts came up to the upper half of the tires, if not a bit higher. Both of my times outside the base I only ran across two stoplights, otherwise the form of traffic management was the roundabout, an effective, but very dangerous tool. Some roads were composed mostly of potholes while adorned on either side by everstreching desert or impoverished industrial areas. Some of the potholes are almost not navigable by anything but an SUV. In the more suburban to downtown areas, the roads were very well maintained, and the roadside bustling with businesses.
Upon arrival in Qatar, we were informed that the Asian Games were on their waning phase in Doha, the country's capital and only large city. With this, we were left with very few options for activities. All of which included venues only done outside the city. Two days later the games ended, and were we authorized to go to the mall and go golfing. Not being very well known for my golf skills while being in practice, I thought it best to forego golfing (it has been almost six months since I've been). So we went to the mall. The mall was three stories of pure shopping madness, that is if you are looking for women's clothes and the latest in modern middle eastern wares. Sadly I was looking for neither, so we went to Applebees. Having found no good option for local foods, the Applebees was a welcome
sight. One store was quite interesting. It was a rug shop that ONLY sold Persian rugs. I have never seen so many Persian rugs silk and wool alike. Sadly most of them were above my price and also completely superfluous to me. I did however go to one of the three Starbucks retailers there. Sadly no ground coffee in sight, so I bought a coffee cup that says Qatar and a grande Americano, my coffee of choice. It was good, very good.
I must say that coming here, I expected certain restrictions, being a foreign country in the Middle East, but was unprepared for just how restrictive they were. As I said before when the Navy hits a port and has a completely controlled area, the rule of thumb is to just not piss off the Master at Arms with the big sticks. However, that is not the case with the Army. It was an experience that I will never forget,and could not live anywhere else.
With the stopover in Kuwait having lasted basically two days, I am now behind schedule and will have to try to travel a bit faster. One of my stops is sure to be cancelled so that I can be back in time to meet my relief. That is a very welcome appointment. I have but one more stop then it is back to Salerno until my relief comes. As it happens I will be spending Christmas at one of my favorite FOBs. . . Torkham Gate.