A Whisky and a Sigh of Relief

Looking down on Baghdad International's passenger terminal following takeoff


Arriving at the Baghdad International Airport provides a unique flying experience.  To avoid anti-aircraft and small-arms fire, incoming commercial aircraft must conduct a sharp, spiralling descent from their set cruising altitude.  The plane, when almost directly above the airport, banks sharply to one side and points downward.  The airframe groans in response to the force and stress caused by this maneuver.  Only when a few hundred feet of altitude remain does the plane quickly level out and immediately land. 

When departing, the spiral is conducted in reverse: only seconds after leaving the ground the plane climbs upward through the cone until reaching cruising altitude and proceeding to the destination.  The flight pattern is affectionately known as ‘The Spiral of Death.’  After the displeasure of experiencing it four times – two inbound and two outbound – I was understandably elated on my final departure. 

My return trip from Iraq to the U.S. required an overnight layover in the Mid-East and the short respite was a welcomed opportunity to reflect and decompress before returning home.  And how better to reflect than in a plush, worn-in leather chair, with a glass of whisky and a thick Cuban cigar.  Such luxuries allow one to process past events and be truly thankful for safely completing their mission safely – the simple fact I had come through unscathed. 

My hotel’s lounge provided just such a setting.  It was styled to appear as a library: false books lined inlaid bookcases; dark hardwood floors were covered by several room-sized and meticulously detailed rugs.  Cigar and cigarette smoke hung heavy in the air.  My Cohiba Churchill produced an impressive cloud itself.  Glass after glass of Crown Royal complimented my smoke.  My fellow patrons – Arab businessmen in European-cut suits and couples enjoying the privacy of dim lights – paid me no attention. 

I returned their favor, focusing only on my drink and immediate plans following my stateside arrival.  A long pull on my cigar was followed by a deep sigh of relief: relief of tempting fate and probabilities of violence and chaos and not being harmed.  Reason enough to order another drink. 


To commemorate the anniversary of September 11th, this month I’ll reflect on my time serving in the Middle East.  This is the third in a series of three posts.

Published in: on September 24, 2010 at 8:00 pm  Comments Off on A Whisky and a Sigh of Relief  
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