by bkachinsky | Sep 19, 2009 |
BMX has taken me to some crazy places. I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of the most beautiful places as well as some of the most depressing. Either way I’ve been lucky to see a good portion of the world but the best thing is, there is always more to see and do. Even with my past experiences NOTHING would prepare me for what I was about to experience in Iraq.
Made possible by Christian Schauf of Trovata Entertainment and Nate Wessel, we were about to have the experience of a lifetime. I know it sounds cheesy but it’s 100% true.
Our Crew consisted of Mike Escamilla, Dave Osato, Nate Wessel, Catfish, Walter, Kagy, and skateboarder Judd Heald. Christian and Kyle from Trovata Entertainment had been many tours over there before and they were our guides. They are both awesome dudes and a pleasure to hang out with.
And so it begins…
We all took commercial airline flights into Kuwait City (12 hour flight) where we were met by our drivers who took us into a major US Military base in Kuwait. The minute the exited the airport was when it really hit me. We were in the desert. The real desert. It was 9pm and it was still scorching hot by my midwest standards. We traveled in a convoy of SUVs to the base. Our formation going down the highway reminded me of a motorcade the president would have. Every car had to stay tight to the one in front of it for our protection. I think it was a bit of overkill but they don’t want to take any chances and I wasn’t about to complain. We passed countless oil fields and refineries on our way to the base. You could see dozens of flames burning across the horizon. After all we are in the oil capital of the world. It was all fun and games until we arrived at the base. All cameras had to be put away, all passports and documents had to out and ready to show to the many stages of security they have in order to enter the base.
We spent the night on base in Kuwait and so far it was uneventful (relative to what was to come) and were bound for Baghdad in the morning. I realized that we were nearing a war zone when I was walking the hall on the way to my room and was passed by 4 soldiers holding machine guns. Despite being slightly on edge I got some rest knowing there was a big day ahead.
After breakfast at 8am we were notified 0ur 10am flight to Baghdad was cancelled until further notice. This was going to be par for the course for the rest of the trip. Our flights weren’t delayed much but almost every travel detail or destination was on a “need to know basis” meaning that they wouldn’t really tell us where we were going or where we would be staying until the time came. They do this for security reasons and to prevent the unthinkable. I personally didn’t mind this at all and it just added to the adventure of it all.
In the afternoon we were escorted to a military airport a good distance from the base in Kuwait. This is where we would board our C-130 plane bound for the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. When we arrived at the airport we were given heavy body armor, helmets and strict instructions on the workings of a military flight. It was mid afternoon and it was 127 degrees outside.
The commander in charge of the airport took roll call to make sure our crew, as well as 20-30 other soldiers, were all present. We then palletized our gear which consisted of loading all of our luggage and bikes onto a huge pallet to be loaded in the plane. We then went back inside where we sat amongst dozens of soldiers who were going off to fight in Iraq. The mood inside was somber, the dimly lit waiting room was filled with soldiers who are heading straight into a war zone. I couldn’t help but feel a bit depressed and humbled when I saw the looks on the soldiers faces.
The plane was both barebones but also hi-tech at the same time. This thing wasn’t built for comfort but strictly for function. They are loud, uncomfortable, huge and unlike any airplane i’d ever been in before.
We filed in tight and sat facing each other on a row of nets. After buckling in I took a look around and saw I was surrounded by friends and soldiers, no smiles in site. They loaded in the pallets of cargo through the same huge drop-down door that we entered through in the rear of the plane. We were packed in and ready for take off. At this point it’s dark inside the aircraft and all I could see were the soldiers across from me. My ear plugs were so tight I could hear myself think but was still overwhelmed the sounds of the jets blazing for take off. After about an hour and a half of sitting on a net with hot, heavy armor on, we deplaned. As we exited the back of the plane the heat from the jets blasted onto your skin. It was so hot it felt like it seared the hair off my arms. Hot, dusty desert air as well as blazing jet fuel exhaust filled my lungs. Welcome to Baghdad International Airport.
Kuwait was like a 5 star resort compared to Baghdad. We were guided to our rooms which were a cross between a shipping container and a mobile home. These housing units were incased with T-walls which are basically 12 foot tall jersey barriers, two rows deep. These barriers are meant to protect and contain blasts from missile attacks. The idea being that if a missile strikes and destroys one of these units, the unit next door will be protected. It’s as if we were quarantined but replace disease with explosives. Everyone on base lives this way, not just us. It’s a necessity.
After a long day of travel and already eye opening experiences we went to sleep on the eve of what would be an insane first day in Iraq.
To be continued….