Sunday, September 30, 2007

R & R

R&R, Rest and Relaxation, no worries and no responsibilities. No place to be and no meetings to attend. This is Qatar and I certainly rested and relaxed. Some people had claimed that coming to Qatar was not worth all the hassle of the travel, but I disagree, it was well worth the time and effort to get here and enjoy a few days of free time. Some of you may think this was a vacation spot, an Oasis in the desert so to speak, it was not necessarily that, but it was different than Afghanistan and that fact alone made it worthwhile. Although there were no drink girls at the pool serving me funny drinks with umbrellas in them, they do have a pool and a very nice one at that. I spent a couple days at the pool just lounging and reading and it was a great diversion from the usual routine at Eggers.

Pat Meriwether and I started our trip at Bagram Air Field where we spent 2 days waiting for a flight. We did have a room so it wasn't like we had to live in a terminal like Tom Hanks in the movie "The Terminal". We went to the gym, the dining facility, the computer room and the movie room to watch football, so it was a mini vacation. We checked in each day to see about flights and we ended up catching a C-17 flight out that was transporting HR (that is Human Remains). We all stood at attention as they moved the flag draped metal casket passed us and into the belly of the plane. We all sit in the belly of the plane because it is a cargo plane. We all sat with the casket firmly secured in the middle of the cargo area. I did not know the name of the man we were travelling with, but Rebecca did her research and found out his name is Army SFC (Sgt First Class) Matthew D. Blaskowski, 27, Levering, Mich. When we landed, the passengers once again stood at attention as SFC Blaskowski was taken off the plane. (Editor's Note: SFC Blaskowski was serving in the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Vicenza, Italy. He was killed when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire during combat operations in Asadabad, Afghanistan. SFC Blaskowski was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his action in May 2005 in Afghanistan. This is part of his Silver Star Medal citation – “The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star Medal to Matt Blaskowski, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving as 3d Platoon Weapon Squad Leader for Company C, 2rd Battalion (Airborne) 503rd Infantry, in action on 3 May 2005, in Afghanistan, Staff Sergeant Blaskowski displayed undaunted gallantry and valor without regard for his own safety under heavy enemy machine gun and RPG fire for over four hours while wounded near Bulac Kalay, Afghanistan in the Arghandab Valley. Numerous times, Staff Sergeant Blaskowski placed himself at great risk while engaging the enemy positions and relaying directions to his machine gun crews.” Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of SFC Matt Blaskowski for the grave loss suffered. He is in our prayers.)

After finishing our check in process at the Aliudid air base we waited for transportation to Qatar. This took almost 4 hours of waiting in a small tent with a TV. I can understand how some people would think "this is not worth it" but we were fed and still had no responsibilities and our liaison officer from Qatar eventually showed up. We loaded on a bus and we were off to our vacation spot. When we arrived at Qatar, we received our welcome briefing which consisted of all the rules we were to follow. We also learned that because it is Ramadan, many of the tours were cancelled. It really did not matter to me, I was there to relax. We were taken to our barracks which consisted of rooms built in the inside of warehouses. Apparently Camp Asilyah was a forward staging base for equipment, so many warehouses were built in support of this effort. After a drawdown, the warehouses were emptied so that left a lot of empty buildings. Someone had the idea to create an R&R base for soldiers and thus Camp Asilyah became the "Club Mideast" for the military.

So this does not become a 10 page e-mail, I will give you some highlights of activities. I slept and then I slept some more. Actually, I did catch up on sleep but also enjoyed some activities. I mentioned there is a very nice pool and spent a couple days lounging and reading. We also went on a beach trip. We travelled by SUV's across town to swim in the Persian Gulf. On the way, the tour guides took us on an offroad trip through the desert sand dunes. This was quite an adventure as we did not know the driving skills of the drivers and while on a trip to the beach we witnessed 3 vehicle accident, so our confidence was not high. Our concern was confirmed as we were driving up and down the dunes when the vehicle in front of us stopped suddenly and we were forced to go around. That vehicle took the high road and we took the low road and eventually the first vehicle took the low road too as it rolled over off the side of dune. The vehicle sat for a moment and toppled over in slow motion. Fortunately it righted itself and no one was hurt, but the vehicle had its winshield smashed and roof crushed. Everyone immediately started snapping pictures and laughing about the whole incident. I am glad I was not in that vehicle. We arrived at the beach and they had a great set up with cabanas and lunch prepared for us. We swam in the warm water of the gulf and sat out in the sun. It was a good beach day.

Another event was a visit to the mall. Hard to believe I could get excited about going to a mall as if I were a teenager or something but when you have limited access to things of home every little thing helps. The mall was exactly as any mall in the US would be, just a lot of different people wandering around. Since it was Ramadan the stores did not open until 7 PM and then it became just like any other mall. We wandered around shops and grabbed a bit to eat. There was one interesting thing as we walked we saw a line forming near the middle of mall and we noticed it was a line of children waiting to see some lady sitting in a chair giving out small gifts. It was like the line to Santa Claus, except this lady was giving out toys and not just lollipops.

The other event that made Club Mideast good was the fact that we could drink. It had been a long time without a beer and we wanted to get our fill. Each night, we are allowed to have 3 beers. Now these are not Yards of beer, these are 12 to 16 ounce beers (depending on type) just enough to get you warmed up. In any case, they had Guinness on tap and that was worth the hefty prices they were charging. One good thing the beer helps with is Karaoke night, it helps loosen the pipes and nerves. I did not sing, I am more of 6 beer Karaoke man.

For dining they have a real Chili's restaurant and we ate there once and then decided to eat most of our meals at the dining facility for free. The food was pretty good and it was different than our regular dining facility so it made it alright. We also played games of putt putt golf and bowling. Overall quite a good little vacation. We were also fortunate to have a visit from 3 Heroes of the Diamond. These were 3 former major league baseball players who decided to tour the mideast and visit troups. We met pitcher Jack McDowell (mostly known for time with the White Sox), infielder Frank Menechino (spent time with the A's, I had never heard of him either), and infielder Darren Bragg (who bounced around many clubs but did some time with the Red Sox). It was nice of these guys to show their support for the troops. Once they left Club Mideast, they were off to Afghanistan to visit various FOB's (Forward Operating Bases).
Now we are waiting to go back to Bagram and then somehow work our way back to Eggers. It has been a good time here in Qatar and I am glad I came. For now I will say, I'm so glad we had this time together, just to share a laugh or sing a song, seems we just get started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say "so long". So long everybody. (Yes, that is from the Carol Burnett Show).

Peace to you all,


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