European Vacation…Part II
I walked out of the hospital in Germany without out a plan, with no idea of where I was and with a small green duffel bag over my shoulder. Somehow, I was able to get a ride to the local train station. My wife and I were talking about this particular story the other day and I confessed that I don’t remember how I got to the train station. It was probably a base taxi but I may have walked. I just don’t remember how but I did find the train station. Once there, I do remember changing in the train station out of my brown flight suit and into jeans and a short sleeved shirt feeling very under dressed. When we left it was late September and now in Germany over Thanksgiving it was cold.
The only jacket that I had was my brown Gore-Tex jacket that was great at blocking the wind and rain but it was horrible at keeping me warm. I found a train schedule and figured out which track would lead me to the Frankfurt International Airport. I love Germany because the transportation system is so efficient. The country is connected by train, and there is no reason to have a car. A short walk to the village train station and you can go anywhere. By the time the train pulled into the airport station, it was way past dark. I made the long walk out of the airport to look for a taxi. They were everywhere but the sign in American English pointed to the US side of the airport. I assumed that if there were signs and a walking path that it couldn’t be that far. I was wrong as it was halfway around the Atlanta sized airport to the US gate. It was a long hike in the cold, dark, misting rain.
Finally, I walked up to the gate. I am sure the guards thought I was a zombie and back in the day zombies were not cool. My bandage had fallen off, the open wound was oozing blood and other juices, and I was shivering, wet and hungry. Looking back, I’m surprised that the guard didn’t send me to the hospital. It was past midnight and the base taxis had stopped running for the night. The guard gave me a base map and pointed me in the right direction to find the billeting office. I roamed the quiet, sleeping streets until I found the Inn. They put me in transient housing, which was fine because it was relatively close. The room they gave me had eight bunk beds and fortunately they were all empty. I walked down the hall to the bathroom, so I could shower and re-bandage my face before I crashed hard.
The next day, I walked over to the C-17 Squadron in uniform. I spoke to one of their schedulers and asked about catching a ride down range. He gave me the weirdest look and asked what I considered down range. I told him that I didn’t care, Baghdad to Oman was fine. Just anywhere that I could catch a C-130 back to Salem; he had to ask why and I told him the Cliff Notes version of my sad story. The first flight back was a 2 AM show for Balad which is a US base about thirty-five miles north of Baghdad smack square in the Sunni Triangle. I said I would take it and he left a note for the crew.
I went to the All Ranks Club for breakfast/lunch/dinner. By this point, I was starving and I had a big hamburger and fries. To my surprise, it was Thanksgiving and there was a football game on the big screen TV. Detroit was playing Green Bay and won a close game. I watched about half of the Dallas game but Miami was smoking them so I left.
Before I left, Sleepy hinted that when I came back from Germany that I shouldn’t forget the boys. I got the message loud and clear. Don’t come home empty handed, so I went to the shoppette and bought six liter bottles of sun tea. Then I went next door to the Class-Six store and bought the equivalent amount of whiskey and went back to the bunk house. Fortunately, all the beds were empty and poured myself a large glass of tea and put the rest down the drain of the sink that was in the room. I did have to wonder how many guys had used the sink as a toilet in the middle of the night. I can’t answer that question but I do know one guy who transferred six liters of soon to be illegal alcohol into six unapproved containers and wrapped up by one stolen Air Force towel.
Loaded with enough contraband to find myself into a heap of trouble I went to catch my flight. I went into the flight planning room to meet the crew and to my surprise they were making their first flight into Balad. The Aircraft Commander was a Lieutenant Colonel Squadron Commander and the Co-Pilot was just a Lieutenant. They asked if I have been there before and I said yes. They asked if I have been there on night vision goggles and again I said yes. I showed them everything I knew, which wasn’t much and out we went. The flight was scheduled to leave at 6 AM and arrive around midnight because of the flight time and time zone changes. Midnight was one of the worse times to show up because that was prime time for missile shots. The way we figured it, the Insurgents would work during the day for the Coalition and then go home to the family for dinner. After the kids were in bed, Dad would go back out to fire a couple of missiles for the Insurgents to get a little extra pay and to be sure he was on both sides depending on how things turned out. In retrospect, that was a good idea.
I stayed in the back of the massive airplane to watch my bag because I know how Loadmasters like to snoop. Twenty clock hours later I was back in the sandbox.
Kicking myself for getting back so quickly, I ate a MRE in the passenger holding area of Balad waiting for a C-130 to come in. Finally one showed up and I was happy to see that it was from St. Joseph Missouri. The Missouri Guard had been with us since day one of Tabuk. The airplane sat with the engines running under the supervision of a Loadmaster standing twenty feet off the nose of the airplane. He waved before he gave me a questioning look. I just smiled and pointed to the door asking if I could go on board. He replied with a thumb up and I climbed in. I knew the pilot in passing and I quickly summarized my situation. He gave me permission to ride along but this was their first stop of the day. I said they could put me to work as they needed and he told me to crawl into the bunk and go to sleep. I must have looked rough. I put my bags in the back and again went to sleep.
Taxiing into Salem twelve hours later, I got the attention of the Loadmaster. I asked him if he liked tea. He shrugged and I handed him a bottle of tea. A few days later, I saw that crew in the chow hall. They all thanked me for the gift.
Until next time, keep on rockin.