Well, my 70 1/2 hour transit is finally complete, and I am sitting in the Multinational Forces-Iraq (MNF-I)'s Combined Press Information Center (CPIC), which will be the base of operations for our activities in the Green Zone (which will last until I am embedded with a unit).
My trip to this point has included a 645am Delta flight from Atlanta to NYC, a bus from Laguardia to JFK, a nine hour wait, a Kuwait Air flight from NYC to Kuwait City, a road trip to an undisclosed installation, 24 hours of processing and waiting for space to come available on a C-130 to Baghdad, then a flight on that C-130 to Baghdad International Airport (my old home for part of 2003), where we arrived in the evening at the section of the airport known as Sather Air Base. Seeing the sign at the entrance to the base brought back memories for me; its namesake, Scott Sather, an Air Force Combat Controller, was a member of my Joint Task Force who was killed in Iraq in April of 2003.
From Sather Air Base, we took a bus to Camp Stryker, where we waited until after 1am to make a blacked-out, kevlar-and- body-armor-wearing run to the Embassy in the Green Zone, escorted by guntrucks, in a 37,000-lb. armored bus (with 18-ply tires) called a "Rhino" (pictured at left). I had never heard of such a vehicle before, and, based on the statements of the soldiers and the driver, it appears to be a vehicle developed specifically for Baghdad (and supposedly influenced by the Israelis). I'm not sure what it says about Baghdad that new means of armored transport must be devised in order to move around there, but I will say that it is one stout vehicle. Rumor has it that on one such run, an RPG was fired at a Rhino, and though the latter took a direct hit, there was no damage done whatsoever. They are apparently that sturdy.
Once at the Embassy, I underwent an inspection of my gear by a bomb-sniffing dog, and was picked up in an armored SUV driven by a very dryly humorous public affairs liaison and taken to the CPIC.
Though this trek was both tiring and time consuming, it did provide an invaluable opportunity to converse with soldiers and contractors who were going through the same rigamarole I was. Being in an area which prohibited media from acting like media, I was assumed to be exactly what I looked like - an ex-special ops guy who was coming into the country to work as a contractor (though if asked, I was always straightforward about my actual job). As a result of that and of my actual background - as an ex-special ops guy - I had the instant credibility to justify both their confidence in me as someone they could talk to about real issues, and to put them at ease about speaking freely in my presence.
The results thus far have been interesting, and will be the subject of posts to follow.