We had planned for one last bit of motivation for the Marines. Since we would be “locked down” at the airfield for four hours before our flight, and no time for an evening meal, we ordered pizza and wings to be delivered. Fantastic. Each of the Marines got two slices of pizza and five wings. True to Marine Corps tradition, the lowest ranks ate first, with the most senior individuals going last. I love this tradition. The Marine Corps values the individual Marine – the warfighter – as the most important tool in its arsenal. We, as leaders of Marines, reinforce this notion every time we put the Marines first, and ourselves last.
After all of our Marines had made it through the line, we still had leftovers. We shared these with the other two units flying with us. Again, another great Marine tradition – taking care of each other – our fellow Marines, whether we know each other or not.
The Marine Corps had chartered an airplane (standard procedure for moving large numbers of troops). This means that we flew on a commercial airplane until we picked up our military aircraft closer to Afghanistan. We had civilian flight attendants, pillows, blankets and hot meals just as you would on any commercial flight. The only difference was that we were in uniform and carrying weapons! 240+ Marines, in utility uniforms, with blue airline blankets, curled up with their pillows, trying to sleep. I laughed when the flight attendant made announcements. Along with the usual brief on seatbelts, safety and flotation devices, they reminded us “to please remember that all weapons should remain on the floor and not in overhead compartments – with muzzles facing outboard”. I had to laugh. The person was equally monotone in making this announcement along with all of the other standard airline announcements.
Oh, for those of you wondering – there was no business or first class section – only economy seats.
The flight was uneventful. We stopped in Germany for a couple of hours, and actually got to get off the plane. They had sectioned off a small portion of the terminal for us, with food and drinks for purchase and Wifi available. Soon enough, we were continuing on our journey, en route to a mid-way point where we would pick up our military aircraft for the last leg into Afghanistan.
I crashed hard. Much of the adrenaline, the time change and long hours sitting upright in a plane had caught up with me. I took full advantage of the fact that we had nothing to do but eat and sleep. Next stop, Afghanistan.
We boarded our aircraft early in the morning. The Marines were very excited to be on their way again. I think there is nothing as much fun in this world as a group of Marines going somewhere or doing something. Their joy, their wisecracks and their easy rapport with each other are something not matched anywhere in the civilian world. On this morning, despite the early hour (yes, we were staged at the holding area at 4:15 AM), their enthusiasm was infectious. From the holding area to the plane itself, the space filled with their jokes, some VERY bad singing, and even a “wave” on the short bus ride from holding area to aircraft. Yes, really. As I looked around, I smiled and reminded myself, once again, how lucky I was to be part of this group.
Our Commanding Officer and staff met us at the airfield. They whisked the Marines away to temporary billeting, and me and my MSgt to the office. We talked for a while about staffing, the camp itself, and initial expectations. After lunch, I crashed once again. It seemed that ALL of the adrenaline had finally worn off – we were here. And I needed to sleep! Tomorrow, I’ll give you some more details about this camp. It’s truly amazing, and very, very different from my experience in Kuwait and Iraq in 2003.