Arriving in Qatar, early morning, we were ushered off by groups, and taken to a in processing area. This was reminiscent of basic training. We were taken into one of the tents for a briefing. At the beginning of the brief – we were taken out by a lieutenant and told we didn’t need the briefing. So we proceeded to get our bags, line them up and get ready to in process into Qatar for what could be a week or two.
Then we had to wait for the planes to be unloaded – and our bags brought to our area. This was no airport baggage claim. The bags were loaded onto 2 flatbed semi trucks and unloaded by all the passengers. We formed a couple lines and lined the bags up into several rows so that we could all walk between them and locate our things. Having 3 bags, 1 guitar case with my bass, and a gun case with my 9mm and my M4, I was on the lookout. Our guys – I believe it was Major Bill Thomas and SSgt Alejandro (Alex) Saldivar – were on the lookout for our weapons and putting them into one area so we could get them to the weapons area. We were briefed by the Lieutenant that had pulled us earlier – we need to be first in line to drop off weapons or we would be there for a long time. We pulled all the weapons early and headed over as soon as the trucks were all unloaded. We were first. ;) We got our guns checked in, and headed over to get our ‘checked bags’ into a single pile, so we could get them when we checked out of Qatar, whenever that was – be it days or weeks later. The Lt said that it probably wouldn’t rain – but we may want to throw some plastic over them just in case. We did.
Part of being in other countries as invited guests, as we are considered while military members, means that we are required to follow that countries rules and customs. One of the most stringent customs of Qatar involves the fact that there are a majority of its citizens who are Muslim. As Muslims, there are certain practices that are forbidden, which we as military members, must also refrain from. The first – and most important – at least in the way it was presented to us – is the ban on pornography. We were repeatedly warned to not bring pornography into the country, under fear of certain arrest, holding in a military cell and deportation back to our military unit. Now, what most folks think of porn is not the same as what Qatarians think of porn. We were told that magazines such as Maxim, Sports Illustrated, or even Men’s Fitness (where there are partially clothed models – albeit body building models – that would be considered ‘porn’. We all have what we refer to as ’72 hour bags’ – which contain enough cosmetics, personal items, and uniforms to get us through 72 hours. We were told that we were currently assigned to no mission, and that there is nothing currently scheduled for us to get to Kabul. So we may be at Al Udeid for up to a couple of weeks. We got all magazines out of our 72 hour bags, and proceeded to go through customs.
Talk about a let down – I walked through customs, after setting off the alarm, grabbed my bag and walked out the door without the Qatar officials even blinking an eye. According to some folks – I was told that they must have not found any porn that day – and were very nonchalant about us coming through. That was fine with me – I was okay with not drawing any attention to us.
We then proceeded to billeting, and assigned a temporary cot in a transient tent. We got our linens, and then got our alcohol ration cards. On Al Udeid, alcohol was allowed to be consumed, but all personnel were limited to 3 drinks per day, from 9:00am to 2:00am. We got settled, showered and changed, ate and then slept on and off. We visited the BX (base exchange) to shop for anything we needed, hit the base bar for a beer (at 10am no less). Of course, with our jet lag and traveling, most of us felt like it was late at night. After we all went for dinner we were told our flight was scheduled for the next morning, early – so we needed to be up by 2:00 am to start out-processing everything we needed to leave the base and get on to Kabul. So time for a bit more rest before taking off.