Well, we finally departed Qatar on a C-17 bound for Ali Salem Airbase in Kuwait. It’s a hole. After stocking up on water and MREs we took off again for Balad (airfield east of Baghdad) where we had to drop some cargo before continuing on to Baghdad. Well, after being told that we’d be spending only 10 or 15 minutes on the ground at Balad because a C-17 makes a nice target for the mortars, we sat and sat and sat. An aircraft’s air conditioning is connected to the power generated by its engines, so when the engines are at idle you don’t get much air – you can imagine we were all frustrated and soaked to the bones with sweat. After about a half an hour the crew chief announced that we were waiting for some cargo to be delivered, and that we had been diverted south to Kuwait. Of course this resulted in numerous groans from the officers and worse from the enlisted. By now the sun is going down. It goes down fast out here, so it seemed to get dark in no time. Twenty minutes later a civilian truck pulls up to the tail of the aircraft and opens its back door – there are two flag-draped aluminum coffins inside. Now everyone is quiet. We filed off of the aircraft, formed two lines, and watched in awe as soldiers from these guy’s units gently picked up the coffins and brought them into the cargo bay. We saluted, and the loadmaster tied them down with cargo straps. It was very somber.
A chaplain came aboard and led everyone in a prayer. Usually, I make it a point not to cross my hands or bow my head, but I did this time out of respect. Most people didn’t talk on the way to Kuwait, but I did get up to touch one of the flags.
The bodies were off-loaded in Kuwait in the same manner they were brought aboard, except in reverse order. Then we took off again for Baghdad, which almost seemed anti-climatic. As I recount this, it sounds like the beginning to an Oliver Stone movie, but this is the way it happened.