25 March, 2005 Fallujah, Iraq 07:58
The past thirty six hours have been a blur of activity- sensory rich and thrilling memories that signal this last leg of the journey in Iraq will be an unforgettable capstone of adventure.
Wednesday night we performed at Camp Victory in Kuwait and enjoyed warm and wonderful hospitality. Sgt Ornelas, Cpt. Smith, Cpt. Quatrion, CW4 Hermanson and Col. Smith made us feel at home, giving us fine food at the DFAC, a camp tour, and world class support for our performance.
After finishing the show and doing our “grip and grin” with the audience, we loaded up and headed home to Doha. Waiting in our bunkhouse was Col. Eddie Saunders, a new Point of Contact who will be at our side for the rest of our time here. We grabbed a few hours sleep and Broadie was back to take us to the Kuwait airport.
While airborne in the C130, the Load Master motioned for us to follow him to the flight deck. We obliged, and once we climbed the short staircase into the cockpit, the flight crew erupted into spontaneous applause. They had enjoyed our performance a few days ago at Ali Al Salem and wanted to chat awhile. We quickly donned headsets, and the conversation that followed was a lot of fun.
We returned to our seats for a “combat decent,” or extremely steep dive, into Al Taqqadum. When the rear cargo door of the aircraft opened, wind and sand overtook the compartment because of the local “wind storm.” Next came five Marines who swept in with a similar fashion, unlatched our gear and loaded it into transport vehicles – all in less than two minutes time.
Before we knew it, we were off the plane and on our way to meet our new hosts and explore this former Iraqi air base. First we met Col. Jim McCown, the Chief of Staff at Al Taqqadum (“TQ” for short). And we also met Maj. Ron Tootle, a US Marine and Col. Saunders. Maj. Tootle and I soon made a personal connection – he and I are both from Snellville, GA ! In fact, we were in High School at the same time just a few miles apart from one another! With that local connection a fast friendship took hold.
The base tour included the DFAC (for our first meal of the day), we saw a larger-than-life mural of Saddam Hussein, now disfigured as a result of the overthrown dictatorship. We saw the Iraqi fighters and bombers that are riddled with bullet holes and now only pieces of history. We visited the medical facilities where Spence, John and Todd all had tests to determine blood types (I already knew mine). We also saw beautiful Lake Habbaniyah, once a resort area for the Bathist Party.
We performed in the same building where we ate meals. In fact, the base had to close dinner early to transform the space into our showroom. Just thirty minutes before show time, I thought we would never be ready in time for our scheduled start. But with efficiency and teamwork like I’ve never witnessed, Marines struck all the tables, set up theatrical seating, constructed a stage of wooden blocks and aircraft pallets and hung our banner. Meanwhile, we set up the sound system and props. We started the show as scheduled, on time, as promised.
Just minutes after the show started, a Sergeant approached us and asked to make an announcement. He called for all medical personnel to leave the show at once and report to the surgical unit. He also called for “O” blood donors to follow. We found out later that an insurgent car bomb had found it’s target- the Iraqi National Guard.
There were 18 casualties. Although we never did learn the severity of the injuries, the incident was a harsh reminder of the reality of our circumstances and the importance of our mission.
The show, like all others that preceded it, was warmly received. Afterward, we raced to pack up our equipment and return to the airfield, where a “Sea Knight” helicopter landed to take us to Fallujah. We are only flying at night with lights off and night vision goggles in order to minimize the target we present to the enemy. When taking off, the sand and rock combined with the rotors and created “sparks” of electricity which were extremely cool to see.
What a day! By the time we were in our new quarters, it was after midnight. We rested well and awoke refreshed to take in the next chapter of this exciting story. To be continued…
Click Image to enlarge.
(L) Home town aquaintances: Maj. Ronald Tootle and Dan (both from Snellville, GA). (R) Hosts at Camp Victory, Kuwait