So now we have made it to the airport and are sitting in our very comfortable buses and we pull up to a gate somewhere in the back of the airport. Far, far away from all the people who are going off on their family vacations, business trips, illicit affairs in other states trips and what not. I always wonder about that. Why the military takes great pains to make sure that soldiers on their way to wherever, are not placed squarely in the public eye. I would imagine that the "party line" answer would be something relating to security concerns, but I believe that the real answer would have something to do with the fact that the military does not want an endless parade of soldiers going off to war filing right past all the business travelers and soccer moms reminding them right before what are supposed to be happy vacations that there are two wars going on.
Anyways, we are sitting there in this sardine cans on wheels and we watch intently as our first sergeant and commander who actually seem to be negotiating with the security guards for our safe passage into the airport and hoping that they get this done quickly because I haven't felt the left side of my ass for the last 3 hours. No matter how much shifting and squirming I did I just could not get off the one vein that was carrying blood into that butt cheek. But anyone who has ever been involved in anything like this knows that nothing in the US Army moves quickly. Hurry up and wait.
After about 20 minutes we make it past the gate into the airport. We drive around for another 5 minutes or so and come to a plane sitting off by itself and looking incredibly small given the number of soldiers and baggage we are about to put onto it. You even hear a few dissapointed groans from soldiers, "What the hell is that a plane for smurfs?" "You thought it was tough cramming our asses into this bus, at least we only had 1 platoon per bus, the whole fucking company has got to go on that plane....oh yeah, and we have to jam all of our shit in there too."
But that is to be expected, it is every soldier's God given and constitutionally protected right to bitch and moan.
So then some sergeant, I forget who, jumps up in front of the bus and starts yelling. I remember thinking to myself, "You know what asshole, its like 4 in the morning, we are all half asleep, and you got to get up there and show everyone how big your nuts are by yelling. Just give it a rest pal." But I digress on that one. He told us that we should not wear any headgear (army term meaning: hat) because our hats could be sucked into the turbines and damage the plane. (Always thinking of the equipment before the soldiers, well not always) Then he told us to jump out the bus and start loading all of our shit onto the conveyor belt running into the belly of the plane. So we do. This takes about 25 minutes. Lightning speed in military terms.
Then we start to load onto to the plane. There is a first class and business class section, then there is the coach section. Moving to the rear of the plane I can't help but wonder if this is what black people felt like back in the day when they got onto buses. As I walked by and saw the plush leather seats that are wide enough to accommodate even the fattest of asses, with the seat backs that actually lean back more than 3 inches, and the leg room that could quite possibly comfortably seat a 6'2" grown man. But I am an E-4, only 3 rungs up from the bottom of the barrel. So I walk to the back of the bus, err plane.
Anyone in the military who thinks that the ranks of Specialist, Private First Class, Private (E-2) and Private are different in any substantial way is completely full of shit and should be immediately beaten severely with a rolled up newspaper. If you think that just because you are a specialist that you are in fact "special" and you can boss around the privates, well please let me run into you one of these days. I would love to introduce my foot to your ass. We are all the same, we are the ones who do the work. They (you know who I mean) give the orders and we do the work. So take it down a peg there Napoleon, and get back down here with the rest of us and get to work.
-----Side note complete-----
Another adventure is the seating arrangements. This plane has 3 seats on either side of the aisle. Now just like civilian air travel, you have a certain group of people who do not understand the idea of a carry on bag. It is a bag that should be of sufficiently small dimensions that it will fit easily into the overhead compartment or beneath the seat in front of you. Well fuck me running, we got people getting on this plane with bags that could be used to smuggle Chinese people. So trying to find a place to put my bag is fun, and I end up cramming it into a spot large enough to fit a kitten, and wondering if I had taken out the store insurance on my iPod. Then I flopped my ass into the seat by the window.
Oh, I forgot to tell you. We also had picked up a new bit of baggage at the armory that we were carrying with us. In army speak these are the infamous, "SENSITIVE ITEMS" in other words weapons, and anything else the army deems too expensive to allow you to lose. Or items without which you would be of no use to them. And these items have to be accounted for at all times. If someone comes up and asks to see your sensitive items you have to show them. Not a big deal normally, but on a plane this becomes quite a cluster fuck. So I put my sensitive shit down on the seat beside me and settle in for the plane ride.
Now its been about 30 minutes and everyone is managing to get seated and ready. Senior NCO's are walking up and down the aisle counting people and making sure they have all their stuff. Now this little situation is truly hysterical if looked at the right way. Picture it: 100 and something soldiers all sitting in a plane. Several platoon sergeants, 3 of them to be exact, walking up and down the aisle trying to get an accurate count of their platoons and make sure everyone is there. Now no one is sitting with their platoon, they are all sitting by their friends, so they have to walk around and pick out who belongs to them, count them, dodge the next platoon sergeant coming down the aisle and keep track of all this shit. Now throw in the fact that we had just been on a bus for like 3 hours and people are moving back and forth to the bathroom and moving seats in order to give themselves the best view, or let them sit by their better friends or whatever. Figure in also that several people have now fallen asleep and are leaning against the seat in front of them and are not visible from the front, not to mention those of us who are bent over jamming bags under the seats in front of us while our platoon sergeants walk by and don't see us. Needless to say this situation is something that Laurel & Hardy could've done wonderful things with.
So it takes a while, but we get that done and the plane takes off. We got the safety lecture from the stewardess, and then we got the speech from the captain about how long we are going to be in the air and cruising altitude and "thank you for your service" and all of that. Then the airline brought us our breakfast. Remember we have been going for about 6 hours already and we are now having breakfast. Midflight they brought us this little silver bag, that when I got it, the damn bag burned my hand. Why you may ask, well it seems that McDonald's is now handling the catering for the airlines. Inside this bag was a little mcmuffin looking thing, which I have to admit was quite tasty. I gobbled that up in about 4 bites, and was infinitely disappointed to find out later that there was ketchup in bag. Oh, that would've made the sandwhich so much better. But I digress.
We fly for about 2 hours and land in Arkansas. Its still dark. I am pissed because as soon as we get off the plane the first thing they tell us is that there is no smoking at all on the tarmac. I also realize that the army does not move this many soldiers anywhere quickly. So its going to be quite a while till I have a cigarette. Oh, don't worry, its only been like 5 hours or so, I am not irritable or anything.
We grab all of our shit and line up in an area under a tent and wait for instructions. We sit there for about another hour. We finally get picked up by more fucking buses. Except these are the school bus type buses, not the cross country greyhound style ones. Surprisingly, these buses are a lot easier to negotiate than the other ones. We get on those and drive for a while, then we come across our home for the next three weeks. Beautiful Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.
NEXT TIME WE'LL TELL YOU ALL ABOUT THE FIRST DAY AT FORT CHAFFEE.