Sunday, September 16, 2007

The IRR Vacation

As I watched the creamy-white foam cascade into black, my mouth began to water. Here it was, a creamy, dark, delicious Guinness, my 1st beer in about 138 days (not that I was counting). I could hardly wait to take my first sip, and when I did, I wasn’t disappointed. The aroma was just a hint of sweet malt, and the taste was creamy smooth, starting with a sweet taste and ending on a slight roasting note with just a hint of coffee. I sat down in my chair and turned my attention to the Eagles-Packers game on the 62” TV and thought out loud, “Ahhh. This feels great.”

No, I wasn’t at home or anywhere near the US. I was in a little country called Qatar, on a US base that now serves as an R&R destination for deployed Soldiers. It’s called a 4-day pass, but as we found out it quickly turns into an 8-day or longer absence from your place of duty. Actually, as I write this in the IZ, I have been away from Taji for 10 days. Granted, I am still getting work done here and spent a day doing work before I left, but I have been gone from that place for 10 whole days. I almost feel bad . . . almost.

The trip started with a quick and easy convoy from Taji to Baghdad. Once there, I met up with my IRR friends who I’d be going on pass with and we took an armored transport to Baghdad International (BIAP). It’s always great to see my friends, and we had been planning this 4-day pass since the beginning of our deployment. We joked around that 11 IRR CPTs on vacation was a dangerous combo, and it was – but in a good way. We stayed the night in BIAP and then flew to Qatar, where we would soon discover that the bad luck cloud of the IRR had not followed us.

We arrived at approximately 10pm and started the process of checking in and going through customs. Although we were noticeably lighter without our weapons (which we left behind) and stripped down body armor, there was another weight that stuck to us like sand on wet skin – humidity. There air was thick, and while waiting in line my friend Colleen (also from Delaware County) turned around and said it felt exactly like a summer in southeastern PA. We didn’t mind, though, because we knew that the humidity meant we were near water! (Actually, Qatar is surrounded by it, as you can see in this map.) Once through customs we sat in a big air conditioned tent, watched some college football, and were told that the following day would be our day 0. We all exchanged surprised look for two reasons: 1. This meant our 4-day pass would be a 5-day pass and 2. The IRR as a group just experienced some good luck. Good start to our week.

That night the guys in our group stayed up until 5:30am watching college football on the aforementioned 62” TV. Best part of the night was watching PSU beat Notre Dame; we called it a night once LSU went up 24-0 on Va. Tech. The next we got to sleep in, and then we all went to the pool and Chili’s for lunch. Chicken Fajita’s never tasted so good, although I think it was mainly because they didn’t come from a DFAC and no one was calling it “chow”. It also didn’t hurt that I was in “civilian” clothes, otherwise known as shorts and a t-shirt.

After the pool we did some research and found out that the Eagles-Packers game was one of two games being shown that night. The problem, however, is that there was only one TV. Being the dedicated fan that I am, I set out to commandeer the TV – 2 and half hours before kickoff. Since no football was on at that time, I was the only person in the area and had complete control of the remote. As kickoff approached, however, the situation took a turn for the worse when I was I startled out of my pre-game coma by someone shouting “What game are we watching?” I looked at my watch and saw that there was only 5 minutes till kickoff; I doubled checked the channel and when I turned around I saw a packed house. All of the chairs were filled and people were standing to watch the game. When I replied that we’d be watching the Eagles game, things got kind of ugly. Several people shouted “What?? You have to be kidding me!” One individual confronted me with “You can’t seriously think that will be a better game then Pats-Jets!” My only reply – “I’ve been here for 2 and a half hours. If you guys wanted to see your Pats that bad you would have beat me to the remote. If you want to change the channel, your gonna have to pry the changer out of my hands.” I heard a few grumblings but no challengers, so I turned around happy to watch the game. Not surprisingly, there was quite a few Packers fans during the game, and my determination was rewarded by my Eagles fumbling two punts, which lead to 2 Green Bay scores, and a loss. Awesome.

The next few days were similar – hang out by the pool, drink our 3 beers at night (yes, there was a beer limit in place), and hang out and joke around. The beer was good – Guinness and Kilkenny were the best two they had, but it got me thinking a little about my beer-making hobby at home, and I think that when I am done with this blog I will start one about all the different beers I make. We did spend one day out on the gulf where we got to do water sports and that was a really good time. Check my pictures link for some funny shots! It was after this trip that I discovered someone out there who can beat me in the radio game - Joanna, another CPT who won the IRR lottery. We just happened to be discussing music and who sings what songs when we both noticed that the other person had a good depth of music knowledge; our conversation naturally turned competitive. Since there was a band playing that night, we took the competition to task, where she promptly whipped me 8-4 before I conceded the victory. It was disheartening, but at the same time impressive. I haven’t lost in a long time . . . .JoHa, we will play again!

We did actually go shopping, twice. Yes, Rachael, I went shopping on vacation. Call me crazy, but I enjoyed it. The malls (yes, malls) were a decent size and American style, but they sure werent americans shopping. I guess you could say it was like a life-size dominoes set-up - the women dressed in all black, and the men in all white. According to one of our guides, the citizens of Qatar receive over $100,000 a year just for being a natural citizen of the country. They dont have to lift a finger and still make 6-digits a year. So naturally, all of the cars in the parking lot were Porche, BMW, Mercedes, Range Rover, etc, and all of the people in the malls were clean and refined - a stark difference from what we've been seeing in Iraq. Maybe one day Iraq can figure out how to become like this . . .

So now I am back in Baghdad, but I don’t feel that much more refreshed and ready to charge back into work. It was awesome being around my friends for a week and talking to Rachael every night, and for some reason it just made me want to go home more. I’ve talked before about how lucky I am to have met this group of people, but this trip just made it even more obvious. Luckily, I feel myself getting back into the mental state of acceptance as I do some work around here in the IZ, so when I do get back to Taji I should be ready to jump right back in. Is it weird that I miss some of my Iraqi counterparts more than some (one, actually) of the Americans?


SecretAsianMan said...

So, what was the final score between you and Joha? Does she lose points if she visits Mr. Sleezy-Winks-alot's web site?

David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 09/17/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

JoHa said...

Thanks for the shout-out Jason. No disqualification or loss of points for my obsession with Mr. Skeevy Winks-a-Lot. I beat you fair and square. Until next round....

Anonymous said...

It's about time you get back to work.
Your boss is looking for you!


Anonymous said...


Nice tan!!


BrianFH said...

Have you heard about the Austrian (?) research that showed a significant enduring IQ loss from lazing around on vacations? Most people never miss it. Possibly because they're no longer smart enough to.