From Babbitt to Baghdad (Part 26)

During the mid-1990s, Fidel Castro allowed thousands of Cubans to flee Cuba on homemade rafts. Many would perish at sea. He also emptied his jails of Cuban criminals and sent them on their way as well. I was lucky enough to  get a mission hauling Cubans to Guantanamo. I had heard all the stories about Guantanamo on the island of Cuba. It was a bucket list item for me. The operation was quite large with several C-141B units involved. A large contingent of Air Force sky cops was employed as well.

The Cuban recalcitrants, as they were called ,would be transported to Howard AFB in Panama. Then the C-14B crews would haul them to Gitmo. The mission stage would last 10 days. In that time period, I would get to fly to Gitmo four times. I would have gone more, but pulled a calf muscle and went DNIF jumping on a diving board at the base pool.

I had expected that these Cuban recalcitrants would look like big mean looking convicts in an Al Pachino movie. Instead, for the most part, they were short Spanish looking middle age dudes. They were escorted onto the aircraft by heavily armed Air policemen with tasers. Four big Air policemen with M-16s were stationed at the cockpit door. Several others were then seated with the handcuffed Cubans. Each seated Air policeman had a taser.  At the back of the plane, there were several more Air policemen with M-16s. These were no ordinary sky cops. They were the Air Force’s biggest and badest jarhead style sky cops. For fun, they would get drunk and the taze each other.

When my crew had a little time off,  a few of us stole the crew vehicle that was provided and headed off for Panama city and the Panama Canal. One night we partied until 3 am in Panama city. The coolest thing was the old French quarter. the French Quarter was built about the time the French started  and failed their version of a Panam canal. It was best to just drive through the French quarter. Even though the French architecture was gorgeous, it was now a Panamanian Ghetto.

Another cool mission was during Somalia or “Operation Provide comfort!” We staged out of Cairo West which was an Egyptian Air Force Base. One could still see the bomb craters from the 1973 Yom Kippur war. When we were on our way to crew rest and were leaving the base, we had to stop at the front gate. Then two Egyptian soldiers would get on the bus to check our crew orders. One pointed his AK-47 at us while the other read the back of the aircrew orders upside down and backward. I had to laugh at them so they pointed the  AK-47 at me. About that time I quit laughing and slid lower into the bus seat.

The bus ride to the Movenpick or the Forty Grand  hotel was uneventful. These compound style 4-star hotels were across the street from the Giza Pyramids. Along the way, one could observe Egyptians shitting on the side of the road in broad daylight.

Once at the hotel compound, we were treated to the best Egyptian food. The Tomatoes and  Lettuce were grown on the hotel grounds. The Egyptian pita bread was made and baked by an old woman that used a traditional handmade mud and stone oven. The salads were exceptional. Instead of per diem, the crew was treated to 3 excellent meals a day and extra money for other things.  On one trip, we celebrated New years twice.  Once on the way back from Germany and again later that night in Cairo, The second New year’s eve was spent on top of a 3 story old stone building across from the Sphynx. We were treated to the James Bond light show in French. That day we drank cold German beer. When it ran out, it was back to Egyptian Stella beer. Egyptian beer is flat with no head and tasted like crap.

We did a couple trips down to Somalia. Our approach to the airfield at Mogadishu was covered by a Blackhawk helicopter.

After the Marine was dragged through the streets, “Operation provide comfort” was changed to ” Operation let them starve.”

During Rwanda, we staged out of Germany and Mombasa Kenya. In Germany, The C-141B crews and maintenance  had a couple floors of a hotel in Saxonhausen. One room was dedicated to $1 German beers and snacks. The crew would get loaded on dollar German beers and then walk down the hill into the center of Saxonhausen to party. The rock and roll bands were superb. On the way back, it was very necessary to stop at the Gyro sandwich shop.

During one trip to Mombasa Kenya, we had a really weird navigator.  The guy would go bi-polar after a few beers. He bought all the crew beers and then tipped the Kenyan waiter $20 bucks. Twenty dollars was like a months salary for many Kenyans. When the bill came due he did not have any money. In addition, the Kenyan waiter at the resort almost lost his job for receiving a huge tip but not getting the money for the drinks. The rest of us paid his tab.

The guy was both bi-polar and a liar. He told everyone that he wrestled during the 1980 Olympics when Carter boycotted the event over the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Later at a hotel in Frankfurt, Germany he was caught on a hotel video surveillance camera peeing in the pool. He actually stood at the edge of the pool, yanked out his penis and pissed in the pool at a 4-star hotel.  That was the last we ever saw of the major with the bi-polar disorder.  The Aircraft Commander sent him home commercial. He was then asked to resign at McChord AFB. That was a good thing because this so-called navigator could not even call a heading turn.

In Kenya, the bus driver was wearing an old filthy t-shirt with holes in it. I had purchased some cheap collared t-shirts at the Ramstein BX that were too small so I gave him one. The bus driver immediately took off the old T-shirt and put on the Izod style shirt and thanked me with a big beautiful smile.. later, I would trade a big bag of athletic socks and $30 bucks for Kenyan hand carved statues.

The oddest thing is listening to a walkman with headphones while passing topless German and French Girls laying on the beach.

During this same trip, we would pick up an aircraft that had a “through  load” that was load planned 90 inches too far forward. In reality, the Loadmaster accidentally allowed the cargo to be loaded backward. At takeoff, the nose was really heavy  and the aircraft burned 20,000 pounds more gas with a download stab setting. We would divert into Italy.

In Cairo, one had three choices for transportation. One choice was the expensive Mercedez Benz  or Peugeot cabs. Next were the Fiats that barely ran. Lastly one could simply stand at a corner and flag down a VW bus and for pennies get a ride from the Pyramids to downtown Cairo. A taxi ride in East Africa or North Africa was cheap. Then we would get back to Germany and have to stomach the super expensive German taxi ride.


Image result for little donkey pulling cart in cairo



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