You may have heard by now that my departure has been moved forward. As opposed to having to extend 3 extra weeks to spend quality time with my replacement, they actually moved my replacement's report date forward by 3 weeks so I actually leave Basrah in the early morning hours tomorrow. Mike is also leaving with me.
Dan left last night and was to meet up with us in Qatar to catch a rotator back thru Europe. However, when he got to Al Udeid he checked with the Brits to see if they had anything moving to the UK (he’s stationed at RAF Mildenhall). True to form, the Brits added him to a flight this a.m. bound for London just 4 hrs after he arrived at Al Udeid…as easy as that. Mike and I will be required to wait 3 days at Al Udeid for the rotator to arrive.
Last night Grp Capt Burt invited four of us (me, Mike, Dan and Scifi) to a formal dinner. The night began with a social hour in the pub to begin the evening with “a pint.” Afterward we moved to the chow hall for dinner. The table was beautiful—for the first time in 5+ months we had table cloths, real plates and a full/formal setting of silverware. There was a nicely presented shrimp and tuna steak salad for starters followed by a personal Beef Wellington and ended with a Neapolitan mousse.
Throughout the meal white gloved waiters in black bow ties and pin striped vests circled the table with white and red wine as well as water. Following a brief intermission we rejoined the grp capt’s table and the waiters circled with wine, cheese, crackers, cookies and tea.
After tea the grp capt said a few words about everyone that had been invited to join him for dinner (some 30 guests). To us he passed his appreciation for integrating so well into their camp and for becoming a defacto part of their wing. (We were just thankful to have somewhere safe/sanitary to live.) Then he thanked us for everything we did on 19 Jul and gave us an update on each of the wounded men we helped.
Finally, he told a joke then opened the floor for anyone else to tell a joke. They circled the table several times as various career fields told jokes about one another or their service. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves and airmen/officers of all ranks stood up to tell a joke.
One of the many things that impresses me about the British is the sense of familiarity they have with one another. Though they may not know someone they’ll sit down at the table and pick up a conversation and start to laugh and joke as if they’ve known each other for years. Additionally, they have a much smaller sense of personal space. Where American airmen will leave a “man space” between them at the table the British will sit side-by-side at the table no matter how many other chairs/tables are available. Working with them has been a pleasure and truly one of the highlights of my career.
We went into work this a.m. to do some last minute laundry and say farewell to Dhiia, Col Sami, Andnan, Kaiser, Abdul Aziz and many others. I will miss them. They all asked that we send their well wishes to our families and their hopes for our future. We all agreed that we would like to come back someday when Iraq is safe so we can truly experience their culture. Until then I hope for a safe/secure Iraq for them.
Lastly, Col Sami and Abdul Raheem asked us to remember Iraq and the people serving here. Particularly they asked us to tell American people about the true Iraqi people—peace loving people including those serving in the military and the government, people who want a safe Iraq. (Their words.) They want Americans to know that the insurgents and militia do not represent Iraq.