A day in the life: Transient.
A word on transit within the Area of Operations...a primer, if you will, for those that have never had the pleasure. Let's say for purely hypothetical sake that you needed to fly from a notional desert airfield in the Gulf, serving as a major air transit hub, to another major transit hub located in a notional war-torn central Asian nation's capital region. Your initial feeling is a hopeful one...the reception cell has picked you up at the international airport, found you some temporary billeting, and signed you up at the 'terminal' for Space-R (reserved) travel on the next manifest. Imagine then that a couple of days creep by...each one filled with checking and re-checking your place on the list, and hoping to hear your name called at each roll call only to learn that either the flight has been canceled or that it is too full to take a single passenger. Despair sets in as you learn that others have been there for five days trying to reach your same destination (they may not call it a "surge" in HQ or in DC, but trust us, it's a surge...the meaning of the word doesn't change just because of some implication related to the other war).
Hi ho, hi ho...it's off to another-long-ass-wait-in-a-tent we go...
Then the miracle appears...you've made the short list of names allowed to board the next cargo flight passing through! High fives with the others who've made it, shrugs and sorry's to those who didn't make the cut, and off you go to drag your 200 lbs worth of gear from your tent to the area where they will be "palletized": stacked into a massive pile atop a crate pallet. Waiting time follows in the terminal, as you hesitate to run across camp for a decent meal (you are not permitted to leave the immediate area or you may miss your call), and a few more unexpected hours tick by. No one tells you why the plane isn't there...rumors abound of mechanical difficulties and re-routing, then eventually enough pestering gets the grumpy civilian behind the counter (think: DMV) to inform you that a "crew rest" issue has caused the 5-hour delay. Finally, you line up to get your IDs back, line up again to board the buses, sound off on one roll call after another, board the bus, take your seat, drop your head down -- it is late at night now, after all -- before hearing the shouts to get back off the bus. Yes, some extra crasher has thrown off the numbers and needs to be removed.
The fabled pallet. "Sir, can I help squash your bag into this mess, only to tear it apart later?" (I was helping pull straps literally 30 secs before taking these pics, so I'm allowed to laugh...)
Literally drawing up a list of names to be eliminated while on the tarmac, with the bird sitting there directly in front.
For some, this is the only way to deal while waiting for the 12th time to find out if you get to fly or not...
Once that issue is straightened out, it's back onto the buses, count off once again, roll on the airfield, debark the buses there, and line up on the edge of the tarmac...only to learn that the weight was recalculated, or underestimated, or something. Now 20 of you must be removed in order to await the next flight. The clown music begins again, the process is hashed out over much grousing and gnashing of teeth, your name is called as one to stay behind but then not called in the revised version...and you get to board the cargo plane. Hopeful times again! Another hour is spent jammed into the plane as the pallet is picked apart in order to remove gear for those not now taking the flight, and then loaded onboard itself. Eventually, somehow, someway, the engines do crank up and the C-130 begins to taxi. Your 5+ hour flight has begun (!), and the sun will be up before you get there. If you can sleep with your knees jammed into another's pair, your body armor plate jabbed into your back, and so on, you've at least got that goin' for ya. If you're me, and once again can't sleep on flights, well then...you're outta luck, pal.
What do flight crews dream about...when they dream a little flight crew dream?
The good news is that you'll land one step closer to (and in the same country as) your destination. The bad news? You've got to play this game again at the big base in order to get to the next stop. As the late great Mitch Hedberg once said when suggesting non-easy payments by mail... Good luck, f***ers!
"Mountains! That's good! That means we're practically there, right?"
"Sure...or, in another far more accurate sense, no. No, we're not."