Kelly, Buffalo Jills Cheerleader, shares some thoughts on the Jills trip to visit the United States troops in Kuwait and Iraq. Kelly, and the rest of the Jills, have shared their experiences and photos with buffalobills.com throughout their trip.
We were warned that Basra is one the most active bases, located in the southern end of Iraq. I think each of us had our own reservations about what to expect when we got in.
When we boarded the C130 for our flight into Basra, the crew asked teammate **Lisa **and I to sit in front with them in the cockpit!
We were each given a headset to listen and talk throughout the duration of our flight. We had a blast asking them questions about where they were stationed, their idea of a perfect date and why there were only seven parachutes and 25 passengers on the plane…That is when they agreed to save us first if we ever went down!
**Lisa** and I were able to watch the take-off and landing, standing next to the pilot and co-pilot. This was an unbelievable experience and I never thought in a million years that I would be brave enough to do it, or make jokes about parachuting out of a cargo plane.
We landed at the airbase at Basra and were greeted by Romel. He was responsible for organizing our shows for the next three days while we stayed on base. Along with Romel were four soldiers, for our personal security, one of whom was from Binghamton, New York!
After spending three days of non-stop touring it was relaxing to get into Basra to have the day to explore the base and do some shopping! We dropped our things off at our new barracks which were, much to my relief, hardened buildings, which meant that it would be difficult for any missile or rocket to destroy. That is, of course, if they aimed accurately - and from what many of the soldiers said, that is not very often.
Romel gave us an extensive tour including a visit to a unit that was responsible for detecting, retrieving and detonating IED's or other explosives aimed at the military base. It was like walking into a top-secret fort, the guys had spread out all of their equipment and "toys" including several robots and a bomb suit. They went through the details of what their purpose was, and even shared some incredible war stories with us about how they personally deactivated missiles and bombs while saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers.
After detailing and demonstrating some of their equipment, they let us play with the robots. It was like a bad episode of Battlebots watching us girls, in our pink warm suits, trying to maneuver the robots. One of the robots is controlled by an X-Box controller, and we had to wear goggles to get a visual of what the robot saw. It is often the device that is sent down into underground tunnels or holes to retrieve explosives.
The Bomb Suit was by far my favorite thing to see. The story behind it was somewhat sad...a soldier wears this suit to retrieve an explosive and its purpose, as explained by the soldiers, is to make sure his body stays intact should the bomb or missile go off. Needless to say, it was not a light suit.
The armor itself weighed about 75 lbs. and we had two cheerleaders, Katie and **Jill** put it on. Katie got about eight feet walking when she said she was too tired to go on! **Jill **on the other hand, our rookie, was talked into doing push-ups and she surprised us all by dropping down and doing two...Go **Jill**!
At the end of our tour we took pictures in the "Bone Yard," a collection of all the missiles, rockets and IED's that they have destroyed. It was nerve-wracking to be surrounded by all of this warfare, but the soldiers were very proud of their work and each piece had a story that included many saved lives.
After our tour with the bomb unit we went shopping and got to meet the General. He invited us into his office where we each got to talk about our personal life and what we were getting out of tour. He presented us with a coin and certificate of appreciation for our service in Iraq and at Basra!
It was a very relaxing and interesting day, but we still had work to do. Our security escorted us to our show at 7:00 p.m. I mentioned earlier that Basra was one of the most dangerous bases in Iraq and we had been briefed on what to do in case there was a missile. We had to find the closest bunker and get flat to the ground and plug our ears.
The day before we arrived there was a missile at 2:00 p.m. and they were expected to have another over the next three days. So far, the warning siren hadn't sounded - so when it was time for the show, we had to have a plan in order in case something went off. Romel and security surrounded our stage. It was planned if the warning sounded, they were going to grab us and carry us to the nearest bunker! Not only did we have butterflies about the performance, but in the back of our minds was the fear that in the middle of our show we would have to bunker down in a cheerleading outfit!
Thankfully, there was no warning and we went missile/rocket free the whole performance, and we even had a few Bills fans in the audience.
Each show seems to be getting better and better! Basra has been wonderful and I am glad we get to spend the next few days here working with Romel. Despite all the warnings, we all feel very safe and are enjoying the experience. Tomorrow we get a short break from dancing to do two meet and greets at small platoons close to the Iranian border. It will be a change of pace from the bigger shows and nice to get to know some of the soldiers one-on-one.
Missing you lots Buffalo!