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  • December 20, 2009
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FLIGHT OF TEARS PART III: BUH-BYE MUMBAI

The following morning we enjoyed a fine breakfast buffet where I braced myself for the inevitable. This would take the form of Marines who were going to violate certain parameters we had given them the night before. I had pointed out during dinner that we weren’t exactly welcome in Mumbai and the press were looking for opportunities to sell more news at our expense. Our guidance was in no way were they to be wandering around the hotel and they could stay in their rooms or in the dinning room. There was a two beer ration for the night and everyone was to be in the dinning room by 0900 for a head count.

While examining the two beer max rule the average person generally exclaims: “Are you crazy? No one is going to just drink two beers!” In particularly Marines who have been dry for seven months and are eager to get their “tolerance up” as soon as possible. Indulge me for a moment as I draw back the curtain and reveal a piece of the subtle art of leadership 18 years in the Marine Corps has taught me. I know someone is going to break the rules; it’s all a matter of controlling the conditions under which they are broken. If we had told the Marines not to drink at all I would be forced to conduct Office Hours on someone for violating a direct order when inevitably they would try and sneak some alcohol and get caught. If we had said: “You can go ahead and drink.” This would have resulted in everyone drowning themselves in liquor and I would have had to pour 200 commandos back on the plane the next day. If we say: “You may have two drinks”, we have given an order that hasn’t sapped the morale of the men and allows me to destroy only the most egregious of violators. Are some of them going to have more than two drinks? I know they may have as many of 4 or 6 but they won’t consume an entire beer truck as they would have tried to do under the other two conditions. If no drinking were allowed then having one drink is as bad as 12 so why not go for it? If we leave the parameters wide open to interpretation with a broad statement like, “You may drink.”, then we open the door to a wide range of mayhem and chaotic scenarios. That’s not a pretty door so we like to keep it firmly closed. Hopefully this logic makes sense to you but if not that is why we have comments below.

During role call a number of people were missing. Some were late; others were dragging their buddies out of the rack (which I not so calmly explained they should have done 20 minutes earlier, not right at 0900). Different situations call for varying levels of volume. While the Master Sergeant called off names I wasn’t going to apply my audibly powered flame thrower on high but sometimes grunting my displeasure under my breath about a centimeter from someone’s eyeball is equally effective. This also gives me the opportunity to smell the amount of alcohol still permeating their system. Everyone within sight of these searing discussions knew what kind of language was being used so no need for volume anyway. In the end the handful of late arrivals were all accounted for and came out of it medium well. I always prefer to leave a little pink in the middle.

“Man 1stSgt, I’ve heard of face to face counseling; that was a nose to nose counseling!”

All in all the Marine’s conduct was quite satisfactory. No one had made a public spectacle of themselves and were all accounted for. Now we had to move on to our next phase of Indian adventure.

More bus rides! Hooray!

Our buses took us through a small throng of cameramen camped out in front of the hotel and toward the airport. This time though we didn’t simply go right to the flight line. Since every Ministry in the government of India wanted to be involved in our situation it was decreed that we would go through customs at the Mumbai airport and board our plane. We hadn’t been anywhere but the hotel and the tarmac but we didn’t want anyone having a stroke on account of skipping a step in the Ministerial Handbook Of Creating More Nonsense.

While disembarking buses in the terminal, local news jockeys attempted to swarm us as American consular types gave them the hand. Our numbers looked good so we entered the terminal in a single file line.

Upon entering the terminal we presented our ID cards and our names were checked off a roster we had been required to produce the day before. We shuffled on to another area where a red tag was affixed to our carry on bags and our names were checked off an identical roster only this time a number was written on our hands with a marker. This was beginning to look like some kind of concentration camp scenario and I was getting uncomfortable. We moved on to the actual customs area where our names were checked off the very same roster again as verified by the number on our hand. Why we had to be cross checked at three different locations within 100 meters on identical rosters will forever remain an unsolved mystery. I suspect the Ministry of Lists requires everything in triplicate.

Finally we went through security, the metal detectors, probes, and all that business. Security dutifully screened us confiscating the odd lighter here and there. Not sure what they were really looking for as none of us were interested in hijacking our own flight. At least we didn’t have to take off our boots which I always find is the single most ridiculous practice in airport security. So I will give the Indians that one. Maybe they just haven’t thought of it yet.

As we boarded yet another bus we were assured would take us to our plane it occurred to me on this leg of the trip I had actually logged more miles on buses than planes. It was really beginning to get out of hand. Once on board the plane our captain assured us we had a 12 noon departure time.
By 3pm we really started to get angry. Leaders even fired off handed remarks as the stifling conditions only made our mood worse. For the fifth time Monster Vs Aliens played on the screen and it wasn’t any better than the first time. Stranded on the runway with no AC or airflow, we sat perspiring in our frustration as our takeoff continued to be delayed for one mysterious reason or another. Again flight plans were submitted multiple times and a tide of Indian officials got on board the plane wagging their heads in authority. More folks pulled up in vehicles outside the bird. What purpose they served remains a mystery.

“How is brining more people to the plane helping? More people need to leave!”

By 4:30pm one of our flight attendants had succumbed to the furnace like environment of our flying sauna and went down. Between her polyester outfit, tights, and no air flow seems she suffered a little heat exhaustion. Luckily, there were well trained commandos on hand to deal with the situation.
At one point a female Gunnery Sergeant stationed in Okinawa remarked: “Man, I’m going to miss my hair appointment.” “Well, I haven’t had sex with my wife for seven months,” came the bellowed reply. It’s all about perspective.

Finally the Ministry of Proper Alignment Of Heavenly Bodies gave the all clear and by 5:45pm we finally allowed to depart the fine city of Mumbai and it’s various hospitable ministries. We estimate that we spent at least 24 or so hours on the runway as the sloths employed to expedite issues for the Ministry of External Affairs mulled over our case. Utapao, Thailand awaited us and the final leg of our journey.

The Thailand, Okinawa, Hawaii portion of the flight was relatively uneventful in comparison. On the flight line in Okinawa we did have to wait for a new part to be installed in our government contracted aircraft. My understanding it was something technical which would allow us to navigate over the open ocean. We appreciated their thoughtfulness.  The lowest bidder always seems to lead to high adventure.

Three months later I would be stationed in the Persian Gulf on the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain.

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16 comments

  1. If it’s any consolation you would have left a large swath of the Indian government ministers seriously frustrated (since, from all reports I’ve seen, any transactions over there habitually include paying large sums of bribe money to grease the wheels of bureaucracy)
    They’d have all been lining up like piggies at the trough – such a pity that the US military corp never play that way *big evil grin*
    Pax

  2. CI Roller, drunk and stupid troops makes for a cancerous experience no matter what else is going on. Someone should have been looking out for your guy and cut him off. Not sure why there had to be an investigation either.

    Red, I will, it’s called retirement pay.

    Pax well they did get a nights hotel stay out of us and a planes worth of fuel and whatever fees were involved.

  3. Top,
    Paxford is correct. If some Marine had slipped the *&^%$ some cash, you guys would have been gone a lot sooner.
    With all the “stuff” I “looked” at in Iraq with local gov, I figured they had to factor in 25% over the cost of any construction project to pay bribes.
    All them backasswards countries are like that.
    And I will tell the story of our flight home from Iraq and the poor leader we had who was getting E-9 pay.

  4. Hmmm. I’m filing the drinking rules under “things I should know for E-5.”

    And that whole experience sounds really horrible. At least there wasn’t any bloodshed…

  5. CI Roller, let’s not get started with our friends in Iraq and how they do “business”. I will say the first time I went to a big time shayik’s house I could hear the Soprano’s theme music in my head.

    Saker, there was bloodshed, I was bleeding out of my tear ducts.

  6. Ah Mumbai, or Bombay as the locals still call it, I think that’s where hurry up and wait. Once sat on the runway there for 5 hours in an old UH1 waiting for clearance for a 20 minute flight to an offshore rig. And no, we couldn’t open the doors.

  7. I can imagine the louder-than-the-airplane, deep-drawn sigh to be heard from you guys as soon as you left India’s airspace.
    By the way: A+ for your beer consumption idea. Why?

    “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”
    Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

  8. Kanani, well I still have to recount our passage through Thailand and Okinawa so I guess not. But that story really isn’t as harrowing as the India leg.

    Jim, you have summed up the Mumbai experience perfectly. It’s just how they do business and we barbarians just don’t get it I guess.

    Levant, when you manage a plane load of angry folks with guns you have to get creative.

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