Updated: Nov 4, 2020
Al Udeid air base is a small military staging area in Qatar right in the middle of the Persian gulf. For the most part it functions as any other base in the region, there is a contingent of fighters and tankers that live there, and they run a variety of missions in and around the area. But, there is also this large sectioned off area of the base that everyone who has been to Afghanistan knows effectively as purgatory.
Al Udied has become the official stop point for all Air Force personnel entering any theater of operation in the middle east. Nobody that I know is really sure why this mandatory stop over is necessary. The running theory is that it is some kind of required psychologic transition between going in and out of theatre, but if that is true it seems like it irritates more people than it helps.
When I first arrived, I was issued a bunk bed assignment, and a set of linens with instructions to check back in three days to see if the group I came in with had a flight to Afghanistan or not, thats right it was not actually known if we had a flight or not. As I walked through the compound towards my tent in the baking Persian mid day heat it really didn’t seem that bad at first. I was confused as to what all the bitching on the plane was about having to stop off in the Deid. There was a pool, a sports bar (with a three drink limit/day), a coffee shop, Pizzahut, 24/7 chow hall, a small BX, and there was even a place to get custom Baharainian suit made. For the next 48 hours I was pretty content to sit around drink my three beers, and just chill out. I chatted with guys from my group that I came in with and most of them were not handling the boredom as well as I was. In general they had left the states pumped up and excited to get to work in Afghanistan and were frustrated that they were forced to sit around and do nothing with all their nervous energy.
Surely this forced limbo had to make sense when going the other way and leaving Afghanistan? I also talked with people excited to get back to their families. They left Afghanistan happy and excited to go home, and after several days in the Deid all they were was pissed off for sitting around doing nothing while anxious families waited. I guess I’m generally missing the point of how this is making sense.
Three days came and went and we were informed that our plane had broke and that it would likely be at least another three or four days. Over the next few days the fog of frustration that everyone else was feeling started to loom over me and I was able to make some rather absurd observations. For starters everyone transitioning through the Deid has to wear PT gear with a reflective belt, and if you have ever seen the Air Force PT gear you know what I’m talking about. The funny thing about this is that everyone in the bar is of course in PT gear as well, and they behave like its any old bar back at home. I was at this field skills course a couple of weeks ago and on this white board someone had wrote down the commandments of what you will not do if you are a military contractor or operator, they were things like “Thou shall not wear military boots with civilian clothes” Or “Thou shall not have facebook profile picture looking tough with rifle”, then at the bottom of the commandments there was an asterisk that said “If you can pick up the hottest chick in the bar in your Air Force PT gear than the above commandments do not pertain to you”. Which of course always makes me think of the Died.
One of the other absurdities about the Died was this giant thing called “the bra”. The bra is a giant double awning that of course looks like a bra, and it’s where everyone hangs out day and night. All day, and all night without fail there is continuous Bob Marley playing, or some other version of relax me now Reggae. At first I thought nothing of this, but after a week in the Died it kind of all made sense that this was a feeble attempt to further feed the whole “relax, be calm, transition, relax, be calm, transition” mantra that they were clearly trying to drill into us like some kind of reverse prison camp. By the end of a week I couldn’t handle anymore iced mocha frappacinos, Bob Marley, or sticking to every chair because my PT shorts were too short. I would rather be in Afghanistan and after nearly eight days of “Doing the Died” I finally got my wish…..