Friday, November 14, 2008

Part IV: Hello War Zone

We left Camp Virginia in the afternoon and took another bus convoy out to an air terminal in another middle of nowhere in Kuwait.  Once we got there we had a couple of hours to kill before we were herded onto more busses that took us out to the flight line.  The terminal was pretty surreal and there were piles of sleeping Army guys all over the floor, but I didn't bother taking any pictures.  There was also no bar there.*

Our ride to Afghanistan was an Air Force C-17 cargo plane configured to carry passengers.  When they set up for passengers, basically it just means bolting down a bunch of seats where the cargo would normally be lashed down.  All of our seabags were strapped down to pallets and loaded in just aft of us.  Its' a weird feeling being in a plane without all of the normal perks provided in an actual passenger aircraft.  In particular, since there was none of the usual sound-dampening that commercial airliners tend to have, we all had to wear earplugs.  Here's a shot of our luxury travel setup:


We landed at Bagram Air Base just before midnight.  This is where we met the six-man Navy personnel management team that is responsible for us wherever we would be in-country.  After a few briefs and introductions, we got to go outside and pick our luggage out of another pile of seabags and stack them onto another pallet to be transferred onto our next ride, an Air Force C-130.  Here's a shot of my deluxe seating arrangements in the First-class section of the aircraft.  I've never had so much legroom on a plane:


It was also nice that we didn't have to lose sight of our luggage during the trip:


My next stop (along with 20+ other Navy folks) was Kabul.  From Bagram to Kabul is a scant 30 miles and we were going to fly there.  Easy, right?

Wrong!  Once we were loaded onto the plane (with some Army, Air Force, and a couple of Marines) we found out we were going to go to Kandahar first.  Kandahar is about an hour in the wrong direction.  Once we got there we dropped off three guys and got to spend an hour in the saddest little passenger terminal I've ever seen.  It looked like an old bus terminal from a small town in Mexico might look if you decided to remodel it with hand grenades.

After an hour we got back onto the same plane with eight more passengers and headed off to Kabul.  It wasn't until we were airborne that we finally found out that before we went to Kabul, we were going to drop some folks off in some place called Bastian (sp?) first, about half an hour in the wrong direction.

As we started our decent into Bastian, the plane began to lurch and bank erratically.  Then flares started shooting out from launchers beneath the wings.  When we'd landed, one of the aircrew mentioned that someone on the ground had fired a rocket-propelled grenade** at us.  You'd have to be pretty lucky to hit a flying plane with an RPG, but all the same there's nothing like being shot at to let you know that you're not in Kansas anymore.

On the ground in Bastian we found out that none of the passengers were actually supposed to be going there.  Essentially, we flew all that way for nothing.  Oops.

From Bastian we flew directly (finally!) to Kabul.  We arrived there in mid-morning only to find out that there was no transportation waiting to take us to the base.  The air base there had free wi-fi though, so it wasn't all that bad.  And for all my bitching about all the extra crap I had to carry around, at least I didn't have it as bad as these Army guys:


The ride from the air base to the headquarters compound was interesting.  The city itself only barely deserves to be called a city.  The traffic on the streets includes armored fighting vehicles, taxis, about a million white Toyota Corollas, horse-drawn carts, bicycles, and pedestrians.  Mixed in there was the occasional herd of sheep.  The buildings ranged from mud huts to shipping containers to shattered old brick buildings and everything in between.  I snapped a few pictures, but it's hard to get any decent shots through the inches-thick armored windows:

I always thought it was funny to hear folks back home in late 2001 talking about "bombing the Taliban back to the Stone Age."  What they didn't seem to realize is that the whole country was basically already in the Stone Age:

Here's a busy roadside fruitstand:


And a local farm.  As near as I can figure, they're growing mud:


Everything about this place is fascinating on some level and, goofy as it may sound, I really hope my job will afford me the opportunity to see some of the countryside and perhaps meet a few of the locals.  The important thing is; at this point I still had no real idea what my job would be when I finally got into Afghanistan.  Since I had now arrived, I figured it would be nice to know sooner than later.


*Throughout the period where I have a firearm signed out in my name, I fall under General Order 1B which stipulates, among other things, that I am not allowed to consume alcohol.  So I've got over 230 days of sobriety to look forward to.***  How awesome is that?

**Rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) is the blanket term for any of a variety of weapons that use a small rocket to hurl an explosive charge across the battlefield.  These are essentially the same thing as the Bazookas used by US troops in World War II.  There is no guidance system involved and the range is somewhat limited, so it's kind of a waste to expend one on an aircraft. 

***This 230 days of sobriety comes on the heels of over 100 days I decided to spend sober while I was out at sea aboard the M/V Moku Pahu.  If you own shares in any sort of liquor companies, I apologize for their poor performance and promise to continue doing my part to pad their profits as soon as possible.

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