KIRKUK, Iraq — Our five-day journey ended here Friday after a 15-minute drive from Forward Operating Base Warrior, an air base outside Kirkuk, through downtown, where we were alternately waved to and flipped off by little kids.
FOB Barbarian is home to Bravo Company, 2-116th, the company of soldiers we have followed since last June when the 116th Brigade Combat Team left Idaho to begin training in Texas.
Statesman photo editor Kim Hughes and I flew out of Boise on Monday afternoon for Kuwait City, with stops in Minneapolis and Amsterdam. The trip took about 24 hours, crossing 10 time zones. We flew toward Kuwait into a setting sun — our second sunset in less than a day. It was mid-afternoon Tuesday, Idaho time, when we got to our hotel at 2 a.m. Kuwait time. We were wide awake.
Welcome to jet lag.
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Kuwait City resembled Malibu Beach with Tijuana as a suburb. A mall along the marina offered Gucci, Tommy Hilfiger and a Spago restaurant. One side of the freeway outside Kuwait is lined with dilapidated apartment buildings with no electricity; on the other side, bedouins live in tents with generators, lights, air conditioning and late-model SUVs.
To catch our military flight to Kirkuk, we took a one-hour bus ride across the Kuwaiti desert to a U.S. air base. We were told to keep the curtains on the bus window closed on the freeway. A busload of Americans is a tempting target.
We waited in a large tent at the air base, where we were briefed by a civilian who handles loading and unloading of the aircraft. "It's a hurry-up-and-wait time," he said. He wouldn't tell us, or the soldiers, when our flight would arrive or depart.
A brief stopover in Baghdad was strangely anticlimactic, maybe because tarmac in Iraq looks like tarmac anyplace else, and that's about all we saw. After another 45 minutes in the air, we landed in Kirkuk.
It was exhilarating and a relief to finally arrive in Kirkuk after 10 months of preparation.
This is why we endured vaccinations for tetanus, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, typhoid, influenza and hepatitis A and B. This is why every Monday we choke down a Spree-sized malaria pill. This is why our new daily uniforms are Israeli-made 25-pound bulletproof vests that will stop a 30-06 bullet and 5-pound Kevlar helmets.
This is where the stories we'd heard and read about Iraq would become firsthand reality. This is where we would rejoin friends we had made while covering the 116th's training in Texas and Louisiana. This is where we'd come to tell the stories of 1,700 Idaho men and women who left families, friends and jobs to serve a year in a war-torn country.