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R&R trip to Qatar, TV message bring home closer

Nov. 18, 2005

by DAVID KAYE, columnist

Saturday night, my staff sergeant gave me the best news I've heard in months. He said I was one of three soldiers leaving the next morning for four days of rest and relaxation -- R&R -- in Qatar.

Sunday morning, we loaded up our vehicles and convoyed to the nearest air base, about an hour from where we're stationed.

The road we take is usually quiet, but about halfway there, we saw an explosion in the mountains about 500 meters away.

There was a huge fireball and suddenly a large mushroom cloud that made it look like a bomb had been dropped.

We're still not sure what it was. We drove on and arrived safely at the air base. After a few hours of waiting, we were lucky enough to catch a flight leaving that day.

Every military flight I've taken so far has been on a C-130, which is a small plane that uncomfortably holds about 40 people.

The last time I flew on one, we weren't allowed to take carry-on baggage because there was nowhere to put it.

I felt so relieved to hear that we were flying on a C-17 to Qatar. The much-bigger C-17 can carry many more people -- even tanks, if necessary. On top of that, it's faster than a C-130. What would've been a six- or seven-hour flight took three and a half hours.

We were able to lie on the floor and sleep for most of the trip.

We even had real seats, instead of the cargo nets we use for seats on a C-130.

We arrived in Qatar just before midnight.

Fortunately, our commanding officers decided not to count that day against us, so we weren't scheduled to leave until the following Friday.

Qatar is a resort country off the coast of Saudi Arabia.

The military has been sending soldiers there for R&R during the war because it's a relatively safe, relaxing place to visit.

It's known by most soldiers as the only place in the Middle East that allows alcohol.

We spent the first two days relaxing and learning our way around the post. We swam in the pool and ate lunch at Chili's.

Just walking in, I felt like I was back in the Chili's Too in the Baylor parking garage. The Cajun chicken sandwich was as good as I remembered.

People at the base there take trips every day to different destinations around Qatar.

On Wednesday, we got on the water sports trip. About 30 of us went on a boat in the Persian Gulf.

We cruised for about 30 minutes until we stopped and jumped out to swim. The water was salty, but I still enjoyed it.

I got to ride a jet ski for the first time, and it definitely will not be the last. I'm thinking about buying one when I get back.

We got a speed boat to pull us around on an banana boat. Falling off of that while going about 50 mph hurt, but was fun nonetheless.

My favorite part of the R&R happened when we got back. At the base, people were recording holiday messages from the troops to show on television back home. I got to record one that they're going to play in the Houston area. I can't be home for Christmas, but at least my family will see me on television.

Army Spc. David Kaye is working with military communication in the Middle East. He's a junior journalism major from Katy.