I made my way to the front of the plane where the crew had set up seating. There were three rows across the front of better seats and then a row extending down each side of jump seats to make up enough seats for all my people in a small area.
I took the left front jump seat so I would have a little more room to use my portable office if I needed to. I slid the cooler and office under my feet as a leg rest, pulled the seat belt tight and waited for takeoff. The seats had a minor head rest, so I closed my eyes, leaned back and waited for the takeoff.
“Ma-am, Ambassador Jones, the Captain would like you to sit in one of the extra officer’s seat during takeoff,” I thought about asking if they had an officer’s seat for all my men but decided against making waves.
I climbed the stairs to the flight command center, sat in my appointed seat and fastened the multipoint seat belt. Moments later the tug moved the C17 into position to depart Morton Field. A few minutes more and we were airborne. It was 0800, just 14 hours to go.
I stayed in the seat until we reached cruising altitude and then they announced that it was OK for my people to move around. I asked about phone and computer use. Satellite phones were the only thing that would work. Computers could be used but there would be no internet connection, which I expected. I moved back to the jump seat.
I started a daily diary; I thought it may be interesting reading after my 6 weeks were over. I kept a separate ledger of things that Marcy could cross check for billing.
Seven hours into the flight I was the kind of hungry that snacks could not cure. I was sure everyone else was too. This morning while we were waiting for the crew to load everything into the plane, I had the restaurant make 50 cold subs of all kinds. They were in a cooler in the back seat of my Suburban. There was another cooler of drinks. Maybe they were not frozen – there were a couple of plastic bags of dry ice in each cooler.
“Is anyone hungry?” I asked. I went with four guys to bring the coolers to the front; I carried the empty trash bag and a big bag full of all kinds of chips in those little lunch size bags. This was the second of many more meals with my men and ladies but the first at 20,000 feet. I offered subs to the plane crew.
I lunched with my men and ladies; Linda, Ellen and Alice had befriended the other ladies who were part of the group. Blackhawk pilots Julie, Bambi and Lexy were talking aviation talk with the crew of the C17. They even got a tour of the command center.
Fourteen and a half hours after the start of the flight, the pilot announced that we would be landing in a few minutes at the Entebbe International Airport; it was 4 AM Kampala time. I called the security desk at the embassy and gave them our arrival time. Ambassador Bernardi had agreed to send a couple of embassy cars to help get my people to the embassy and that 0530 would be an appropriate time to send the cars.
It was an hour before we were parked and the massive rear door was lowered. The skid steer was the first thing out; then both Suburbans. The truck and trailer was a different story. It just did not back out like it drove in; repeated attempts to back it out were failures. They were over steering and getting the trailer all sideways.
I gathered that they normally let the assigned drivers from whatever branch of service drive the equipment into and out of the plane’s cargo bay, because they were the ones most familiar with the equipment. But, because we were civilians they did not trust us, so the Air Force guys were doing the driving.
But this was ridiculous as Andy and I watched the comedy. I had driven trucks through the sand with double trailers, up mountain roads pulling trailers so narrow you could not even step off the running board.
Finally I could stand no more, “Stop! Get out of the truck. Andy, give me distance with hand signals,” I said.
It took five minutes of jockeying to get the mess they created back straight then I backed the truck and trailer slowly out, down and off the ramp. I now hoped that there was a truck driver in my group who I could trust to drive the rig for 25 miles to the embassy.
When I shut the truck off I heard someone asking the whereabouts of Ambassador Jones, standing outside the truck.
I stepped out to shake Ambassador Bernardi’s hand and then said a quick thanks to Andy for the on the spot hand signals. I told him to go with the plan we had talked about for getting everything to the embassy.
We walked to sit in my Suburban; it was closer than the limo he came in.
“All this looks like a lot more than a temporary manpower exchange,” Bernardi replied.
“Again, I have to defer you to Washington for that answer. When you pack, make sure you pack as many of your personal things as you can for safe keeping. And tell all your security people to pack everything; they will not be coming back,” I said.
“They’re making that change now? Months ahead of schedule,” he asked.
“Yes, when you come back JBG will be the security force,” I replied.
Andy knocked on the window, “We’re ready to make the first trip. Linda, Alice, and Ellen have loaded up in the limo so you two can still talk. 20 will stay here to guard the rest of the equipment. Lead the way Ambassadors.”
“Why are we going in this and not the limo?” Bernardi asked.
“This SUV is armored, not that it will help much against heavy weapons,” I replied.
“Armored?? OH, I see; then there is a lot more going on,” Bernardi replied.
It took 40 minutes to make the embassy 25 miles away. It took twenty minutes to unload the truck, trailer and the Suburbans and get them headed back.
I went inside to get a tour of the embassy and its communications center. I was given the combinations to the safes. Alice, Linda and Ellen were shown what most of their duties would be.
As I toured the building I noted that the kitchen was large enough to handle all of our needs; I guessed it was over-sized to handle all the large parties.
I had a couple of my guys and a couple of the ladies who had volunteered to be cooks if I needed them; they had room to work, for sure. There was a huge walk-in freezer that was nearly empty that would handle all the frozen food we brought.
The tour of the building proved interesting; the basement was big, very big, much bigger than the building above it. One section was offices and meeting rooms for emergencies. There was a small armory that would not even begin to hold the things we had brought. The open space was big and we would be able to set up all the cots.
Outside the grass was manicured and there was a double tennis court that Andy and I had talked about making a helipad. The pilots would make the final decision on that later today.
In the back of the lot there was a 4 car garage and maintenance building. In a new addition was a big Cat generator to run the place when needed. We had brought four Honda 10KW generators with us for nothing. The generator was in none of the blueprints we had.
All the pallets and crates were being put in there by the skid steer as they were unloaded. The vehicles would sit out for a day or two. We would sort it out tomorrow.
The flat bed and trailer with the two Suburbans and two limos for escort had left for the airport to pick up the last of our equipment and personnel. Thirty of my forty people were on site.
Andy had instructed the last Suburban to stay at the airport until the chopper had been flight tested and the two mechanics in the terminal waiting for their flight back to BWI.
The C17 had departed for the Middle East at noon.
One thing about the embassy being on the outskirts of the city was that the embassy grounds were four times the size of the older embassies located in the center of the capital. We had plenty of room outside to play, plan and work with.
Ambassador Bernardi and I went back into his office to go over his appointments, meeting, and public events that he was obligated to attend and now I was. I was going to get to wear the fancy clothes a lot more than I wanted.
Ambassador Bernardi’s wife and staff had been packing furiously; their flight out was at 7 PM tonight. What they weren’t going to take would be put in the storage room in the basement.
The ladies in my group were helping Mrs. Bernardi pack things and marking the boxes by room numbers before carrying it to the storage room. I did not want any of their cherished things to be damaged or missing.
The men in the group were setting up their sleeping quarters in the basement, carrying the cots and air mattresses down. Everybody was doing something.
Lexy Ford – one of the chopper pilots – was with Andy looking at the tennis court. Andy made a command decision; take the nets down, pull the post and move the small bleachers out of the way. The skid steer had work to do until the truck came back. One of the men found some paint to make a landing marker and brooms to sweep it off. Pebbles moved by the rotor wash could do tremendous damage to the chopper and bystanders. Progress was happening.
Edit by Alfmeister
Proof read by Bob W.