Saturday, June 2, 2007


Traveling a distance that's about the same as going from Kansas City to St. Louis ate up about 18 hours and cost me a night's sleep. And everything ran on time.

That's just how things go in ArmyWorld.

I got to the Green Zone before dark so my drivers could get home safely. I spent a few hours in the media lounge, this time spent talking with a guy from an Austrian paper (less than a year old, circulation 350,000 -- who says newspapers are dying).

Then to the Rhino, which is essentially your Uncle Marty's Winnebago stripped down, filled with 30 seats and wrapped in armor and bulletproof glass. This is how people get from downtown to the airport. They've even got "Rhino Run" T-shirts.

The ride is eerie. Just parking lights going on the convoy of Rhinos and escorting Humvees. I can hardly see a thing outside. The road is bumpy and the weight of the Rhino's armor is more than its shocks can handle. I take close note of the exits, because this thing feels like a steel coffin.

We're dumped out another collection of blast walls -- I wonder if the collective weight of reinforced concrete gathering in Baghdad is going to shift the weight of the planet off balance -- and a more civilized shuttle to the actual airport.

The shuttle plays an Armed Forces Network radio station in all its Orwellian glory. Patriotic country tunes of the lamest sort are separated by eat-your-spinach public service announcements. Volunteering will make you happier, promises one spot. That's followed by reminders to drink plenty of water. Then an announcer warns of the signs of coming suicide: is your buddy gloomy? Is he upset about being a long distance from loved ones? Did things get worse after the extension of your deployment? Uh, yeah.

I get to the military airport at about 3 a.m and kill the time until the 6:30 check-in for my flight failing to fall asleep on a picnic bench. The soldiers around me have no trouble conking out.

Finally I'm walking on the tarmac behind the roaring engines of a C-130, which is sort like walking into a kiln. We're in Kirkuk in less than an hour.

Here, things are much calmer. There's less violence, and as a result, there's less armor on the base that sits not far from the city's center. And I'm embedded in ArmyWorld for a week.

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