Saturday, March 05, 2005

Welcome to Afghanistan

Wow, what a week!! We received our Call Forward message from our higher headquarters on Thursday the 24th of February. Merging with two other units headed for the theater, we began pulling our people into the Purple Ramp at Ramstein on Saturday morning. As usual, the plan was flawless up until the execution point. Buses were on time at Miesau, baggage was packed, spouses were kissed and the first chalk hit Purple ramp on schedule. They were manifested by the Air Force, loaded onto shuttle buses and disappeared towards the flight line. An hour later, on schedule, we got word that our battalion colors had departed for Operation Enduring Freedom 6....then the plan went to hell in a handbasket.

The Army liason to the Air Force informed us that the 2 remaining flight for us that day had been delayed until Sunday. This is not unusual as there are a myriad of difficulties that can arise when you're loading Army equipment and personnel on Air Force aircraft. So we took the news at face value, held off bringing the 2nd, and 3rd chalks forward, and I went home to finish my last minute preparations.

As I was dumping the last of my trash at the recyclying yard around 4:00 in the afternoon, I received a call telling me that the 2 flights had not been delayed, one had already departed, and the other would be departing in 30 minutes. Angry phone calls ensued followed by a mad dash back home then back to Ramstein. Apparently the Army person had not read the Air Force computer system correctly when he said the flights had been cancelled, but 2 flights had indeed left without our people. After several hours of reworking load plans we found flights our people and equipment. More phone calls followed and by 10:00 P.M. we had our contingency plan in place...It wouldn't last long.

Sunday Morning we found out that the second plane that had departed empty, mission 17, had been forced to return for mechanical diffuculty. 3 more flights departed that day, and I was to bring up the rear with our last 10 people on Mission 17's rescheduled departure at 10:00 P.M.

By 9:00 P.M., we had loaded the bus and departed to the flight line. Maintenance lights still surrounded the C-17, but we were instructed to load our bags. Once thet were loaded and tied down, we boarded the bus again to wait for the order to load passengers and we were promptly notified that the flight had been postponed for another day. We unloaded the bags, put them back on the bus and headed back to Purple Ramp. We called for a bus to take us to the nearby Deployment Processing Center where we could eat, sleep, and shower. then returned to Purple Ramp Monday morning.

We were able to get 4 of our people out first thing Monday and 2 more flights were scheduled which 1 by 1 were cancelled until we were left with Mission 17 again at 9:30 that night. At 8:30, we again loaded the bus and headed for the flightline, we again loaded the plane and as it was being de0iced, we boarded and strapped in. The cavernous cargo hold of the C-17 held an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter along with several pallets of cargo and our bags. The Chinook is about the biggest helicopter the Army owns and can carry a good 20 people on it's own. This gives you a good idea how big a C-17 is if you've never really seen one up close. The passenger seats are along the side of the fuselage and face inward, and we strapped in to them and listened to the enigines motor up. Looking at my watch, I saw that we would be 2 hours in flight before February expired in Germany and we would be on the ground in Afghanistan before midnight on the U.S. East Coast and we would qualify for Combat Zone Tax Exclusion for the month of February. Then we listened to them motor back down, saw the door open and more maintenance personnel boarded shortly before we received word from the flight crew that the mission was cancelled again.

Again we unloaded our bags, put them backon the bus and headed for Purple Ramp. This time we opted just to reamain in the terminal at Purple Ramp. We had taken the box lunched that the Air Force had brought for the flight, and we stretched out on cots and waited for the forst flights of March.

By 6:00 A.M. we received word that Lucky 17 was scheduled to fly again at 10:00 A.M. By 8:00 A.M. the First Sergeant from Miesau had arrived from Miesau with breakfast and a certificate of promotion for Staff Sergeant Haliburton to Sergeant First Class. We held an impromptu formation in the terminal, read the certificate, pinned on the rank. We then boarded the bus and headed back to the flight line.

We were getting really good at loading the bags by now and we had them on in short order, and soon after we found ourselves strapped in staring at the side of the Chinook and listening to the engines motor up again. This time Luck 17 rotated off Ramstein's runway at 12:30 P.M.

Somewhere over the Baltics, I rousted all my people as well as the 4 Chinook crew members that were accompanying their bird, hald a formation in the back of the plane (yes it really is that big) and officially promoted SFC Haliburton.

As we crossed over the Black Sea, the Co-pilot came down from the cockpit and asked me if I wanted to watch the inflight re-fueling. So, I took Sergeant Rogers, the HHD Supply Sergeant and headed to the cockpit where we strapped into the seats behind the flight crew. After tracker the KC-141 tanker on radar for about ten minutes, we saw the contrails and watched in amazement as the pilots manuvered the C-17 2 within a few hundred feet below and behind now mammoth tanker aircraft. It was an amazing operation to watch at 20,000 feet going 250 Knots and far to detailed to describe here.

5 hours into the flight, I pulled my GPS from my bag and placing it in the window of the rear passenger door, I eventually got sattelite reception and saw that we were over Turkmenistan and close enough to see lights of certain Iranian cities. By the time we passed into Afghani airspace, the wingtip position lits were turned off and for the first time I began to feel that we were actually travelling into harm's way.

7 hours after leaving Ramstein, we touched the ground at Bagram Airbase. After unloading the bags, which we are still really good at) SFC Ramerth met us with a vehicle and transported us to the passenger terminal where we were finally reunited with the rest of the unit.

The main body of HHD 191st was now in Afghanistan courtesy of Lucky 17.

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