U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is part of a congressional delegation that has embarked on an official visit to the Middle East. Senator Collins is joined on the trip by Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-NC).
After a press conference in Tripoli first thing this morning, we departed for Kuwait where we boarded a C-130 cargo plane to fly into Iraq. The C-130 is jammed full of soldiers and their gear. Along the sides of the plane and in the middle are red webbed canvas and metal frame seats that fold down from the walls of the plane and from the steel posts in the middle.
Every inch of the plane is utilized for equipment and cargo. Gear is suspended from the walls, clipped to the ceilings, and piled high on the metal floor.
Each of us is handed ear plugs and an air sickness bag as we board, and assigned a bullet-proof vest and helmet that we don as we get closer to landing.
The plane is too noisy to talk, too dark to read, and too crowded to move around, so most of the soldiers and Senator McCain, who can sleep anywhere, doze off. The plane is extremely hot.
For me one of the physically difficult parts of this journey is wearing the heavy and always-too-big flak vest. I don't know how our troops manage all the gear they carry.
As we leave the plane, we chat with the soldiers and express appreciation for their service. It is 113 degrees when we land in Iraq.
Then we take a helicopter to the Green Zone. I am off to meetings with General Odierno and Ambassador Hill.
By the way, although I often write these reports in real time, I have to delay sending them until several hours later for security reasons.