I was told earlier this year that I would get tagged for my first ‘deployment’ to the Middle East. Seemingly perpetually lucky in my life, I didn’t get Iraq or Afghanistan, but one of the largest main operating bases (MOB) just outside of Doha, Qatar.
As far as deployments go, my experience will be completely none standard – and definitely something you won’t hear broadcast on CNN reports or in ‘support the troops’ ads. This is not because we don’t work like crazy at MOBs, but because the threat level is low enough that we are allowed to have a few drinks, go off base and even get rare glimpses into the extremely interesting culture – and rising regional power – of Qatar. My first experience in my new Arab home, was that of the harsh weather conditions. As I stepped off the contracted aircraft into the July sunlight of the flightline (and into my new home for 6 months), I was immediately thankful I had taken the advice of those before me and had sunglasses on hand. I was also mentally prepared for the heat, although nothing can realistically physically prepare you.
The first few days I felt I could handle it – even had ambitions of walking everywhere even though I am one of the lucky few who has a car. It indeed feels like a hot hair dryer blowing on you constantly – which honestly was way better than the still, non-existent wind days. Sand storms are another pest – those traditional Arab scarfs are not just for show! I have heard it actually gets cool here in the winter months, however, it’s hard for me to believe that while I sit inside, in air conditioning and still manage to break a sweat. It is simply a fact of life here – sweat is part of your everyday. 150 degrees has been the average high, with the evening temp getting no lower than 90.
I entered Qatar at the time of Ramadan. Those familiar with Islamic cultural will know – it is a about a month period where Muslims do not eat or drink while the sun is up (a seemingly impossible feat when out in the draining sun all day – not even water is supposed to be consumed). I was reminded the instant I landed on ground that I was in fact, not on a US installation, but a Qatari one (and one that the Qatari’s like to periodically remind us of) – and therefore had to abide by the rules of the country (not just religious law, but actual law) – no eating or drinking in public for me either.
After making it through the long lines of Qatari immigration, I finally stepped foot into the military compound, greeted by my completely burned out replacement. “You are going to have a great time here” she said. It was then when I learned my new job for six months – booking bands, running the bars and ensuring we do everything we can to keep to moral of hard working troops as high as possible. I’ll take it!
Let the adventure begin.