Friday, July 10, 2009

Zaragoza-- Land of the Lisps

In May 2001 not too long after I had returned from Saudi Arabia with my squadron we were assigned a vacation like training deployment. We got word that the deployment was heading to Zaragoza, Spain and it was clear that the work would be very light so my boss got our crew on the list and off we were... in a C-130 HERC cargo plane sitting on nets... Not anybodies idea of a good time.

The HERC is a 4 engine turbo propeller aircraft that moves very slow. It took us around 6 hours to cross France and land in Zaragoza which is located in the norther part of Spain. The HERC's cruising speed is only about 330 MPH (540KPH) and the cargo netting is oh so not comfortable. We would take reflective belts we had to wear while in uniform after sunset and pass it through the netting and rest our foreheads in the other part and lean forward just to get some sleep. But having vehicles and other equipment needed for the deployment strapped down where your feet are supposed to be is something you can never get accustomed to. And pray that you don't feel the urge to relieve yourself.

When we landed in Spain and the doors were opened the heat and humidity entered into the plane instantly and oppressively while 90 odd bodies didn't help the situation. As the buses came we couldn't load our personal effects into the cargo bay quick enough. The air-conditioning was a Godsend and we were quickly on our way off of the Spanish military base that is attached to the public airport and into the middle of a modern, crowded and beautiful city.

We soon pulled up to a wonderful hotel in the middle of the city named Hotel Ramiro l. We were all given our own rooms and I remember speaking with some other friends on the trip about how nice the hotel was. On top of the nice hotel that we didn't have to pay for I think we were also receiving close to a hundred dollars per diem for being there.

Not long after we arrived we were all called into the conference room and were told by some OSI agents that I never saw before that there had been a political assassination that afternoon. They told us that we had nothing to worry about but to be more keen of our surroundings.

Here is the article from CNN about the incident.

Killing prompts Spanish rallies

ZARAGOZA, Spain -- Thousands of people have protested across Spain at the latest killing blamed on Basque separatists.

More than 300,000 people gathered on Monday to protest the killing of Manuel Gimenez Abad, 52, president of the local chapter of the ruling centre-right Popular Party.

Abad was shot on Sunday as he walked with his son to a soccer match.

While no one has claimed responsibility for the killing, officials immediately blamed it on Basque separatist group ETA.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and other Spanish politicians led the procession through Zaragoza, capital of the northeast Aragon region.

They were joined by Abad's widow Ana Larraz and their two teenage children.

Demonstrators marched holding a banner that read, "For freedom, against terrorism."

An official statement read at the rally, accused ETA of seeking independence through "suffering, injustice, fear and barbarity."

Similar rallies were held in Madrid and other Spanish cities.

Prior to the shooting ETA was thought to be observing an undeclared truce in the run-up to May 13 elections.

The last killing blamed on the group was March 20 in the Basque town of Lasarte.

Polls indicate the Popular Party, opposed to Basque independence, could win for the first time since the Basque country won limited self-rule in 1979.

Sunday's killing was the seventh blamed on ETA this year and the 30th since it ended a 14-month-old ceasefire in December 1999.

ETA has killed more than 800 people in its 33-year-old campaign for Basque independence.

Abad's funeral was held Monday afternoon in his hometown, Jaca, a village of 15,000 people at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains near the border with France.

At the service, the bishop of Jaca, Jose Maria Conget, said, "No ideology can justify terrorism. Terror is the enemy of humanity."

The killing was condemned by politicians, and all parties in the Basque elections except the pro-independence Euskal Herritarrok, widely considered ETA's political wing, suspended campaign events for Monday.

"We will defeat them with the rule of law," said Javier Arenas, president the national Popular Party.

"Basques have got to go and vote on May 13 and tell ETA that they are not wanted, that they have to disappear," said Carlos Iturgaiz, PP president in the Basque region."

So this incident caused the whole of the city to come to a standstill one day and the main boulevard in the city was packed with people marching down it. I remember I had to be to work around 2pm or so and I wanted to make a run to the McDonald's that was close by and unfortunately on the other side of the parade.

I was not going to let 300k protesters get in my way of a Big Mac! So I managed to weave in and out of the parade lines and make it across the large boulevard get lunch and then fight my back through it again... The worst part though was that my fries were cold by the time I walked back to the hotel. And I don't like cold fries.

And as I sat back in the hotel room of my crew-member eating cold fries and watching the news coverage of the protests (in Spanish) we noticed just how strong the lisp of the locals was. The name of the city we were visiting went form Zaragoza to Thaaragothah. Apparently most of Spain has this linguistic trait but it is the strongest in Zaragoza.

Other that I just did a lot of shopping and sight-seeing around the old beautiful city. And showed up for a few hours in the afternoon to do a little work. And I assume we flew back on a C-130 to Germany but I cannot remember. I need to talk to some of my old pal that went with me...

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