Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Return to Kabul

Day four in Qatar I had to turn up at 2100 (9pm local time) to check the departures board by the USO desk and find out what time I'd be flying out. It turned out my departure wouldn't be until 1700 (5pm local time) the following day, so I got most of a free day in Qatar. Nice.

Day five started out as a pretty laid-back, quiet day. I spent the bulk of it kicked back in one of the libraries* surfing the web and sipping coffee. At least it started comfortably.

At 1700 I reported in uniform, wearing my armor, and carrying all of my luggage. I'd managed to minimize the amount of stuff I bought while I was in Qatar, so I was down to a backpack (about 45lbs worth of dirty laundry, books, sleeping bag, shower kit, towel,** drinking water, spork, and assorted other trinketry) and my laptop case (about 25lbs worth of laptop, peripherals, books, software, powerbars, and assorted small electronics). In all, I was travelling light.

The 1700 muster didn't happen until about 1740. That turned out not to matter though, since our flight wasn't scheduled to leave from nearby Al Udid(sp?) Air Base until about 2100. By 1800 we were on a bus to the airbase. Coincidentally, this is the exact time that the base clubs are allowed to start serving alcohol. I'm certain that was intentional.

Before we left, base security came through and verified that we each had our military ID cards in hand. Since everyone was wearing their armor and had their luggage sitting on their laps and the bus was filled to capacity and spilling into the aisles, this meant that the security guard had to wrestle and squeeze his way through the crowd to look at all of our cards. It was a huge pain in the ass, but after about 20 minutes we were on our way. 90 minutes later we arrived at the air base.

When we arrived, the first thing that happened was base security boarded the bus to check each of our military IDs. An old Army sergeant seated behind me started grumbling about it:

SERGEANT: Why are they checking our IDs again? We didn't make any stops from one base to the next. Do they think that some of us got out of the the military on the way over?
ME: Well, I thought about it…

We got to line up in the passenger terminal by about 2000 (8pm) and then dropped off our checked luggage.*** Then we ended up with the next three hours to wander the terminal or go to the flightline kitchen to grab a to-go dinner. At 2300-ish (11pm) we were loaded onto a bus that took us about 300 yards to the waiting C-17 we were riding back to Afghanistan. The C-17 is a massive plane and much more comfortable than the C-130 we came in on. Better still, it's a lot faster and the wind would be with us. So the six-hours of misery it took to get into Qatar would be an easy two or three hours on the way back.

So we boarded the plane, took our seats, and strapped in. Sitting there I was staring at the rest of the cargo tied down along the deck was in huge crates. That wasn't unexpected. What was unexpected was that all of these crates were marked for delivery to Iraq! I had to wave down one of the passing aircrew guys just to make sure that they weren't accidentally flying us all back to the wrong war. I guess it wouldn't have been a huge problem, but I hadn't packed any sunscreen.

Either way, here's me on the plane with really bad helmet hair:
The flight itself was just like any other flight I've ever been on. No matter how much I screamed and cried and banged on the window, they still wouldn't let me out

We arrived in Bagram at some unkind hour of the morning and they checked us all back into whatever computer system says we're in town. Then everyone scattered in their various directions for continuing travel to elsewhere in country.

My connecting flight was scheduled to leave at 0445 in the morning, so we would have to muster at 0400 to load up our gear and board the plane. So there would be no real chance to get any rest before heading on to Kabul. Instead I got to sit in the terminal and watch the middle half of an edited for the Armed Forces Network version of Frida**** By 0500 we were on the bus out to the plane on the runway.

By 0600 we were still on the bus out to the plane on the runway. Our 0445 flight didn’t end up taking off until sometime after 0630. This kinda sucks when you consider that the flight time from Bagram to Kabul is about eight minutes. If I'd started walking when we first landed in Bagram, I would've arrived in Kabul at the same time.

Kabul looked pretty much exactly the way I'd left it:
Once I picked my bags out of the big pile of bags that used to be a tightly packed and stacked pallet, it was time to find a ride back to the headquarters compound. It turns out my cellphone wasn't getting a signal. This happens often around here and it's usually temporary, so I bought a cup of coffee, plugged into the internet, and settled in to wait for my phone to start working. Two and a half hours later I finally got through to the office. About an hour after that, Greg and Major Brinkman (our new Air Force guy in the office) showed up and I piled my gear into the vehicle.

Since my stuff was stowed, we were inside the secure airport compound, and nobody was eager to rush back to the office, we took a quick lap through the shops on the airbase before heading out again. This is where I found the moosehat:
I did not buy the moosehat. I'm holding out for an asshat as worn by the folks who sent me here.

Once we got back to HQ I probably should've just gone straight to sleep, but as soon as the Finnish colonel I work with saw me I got piled up with a list of pointless chores that couldn't wait until the next day and ended up stuck in the office sitting at my desk until 1830.

Since then things have been pretty much exactly the way they've been ever since I got here. I'm still getting plenty of opportunities to drive around outside the base and we've got a handful of projects coming up that promise to actually be interesting. We'll see how that goes.

Stay tuned...

*The USO libraries in Qatar were pretty cool. They had four different rooms full of bookshelves stocked with paperbacks that were free for the taking. I guess it doesn't make sense to try and run a regular lending library when everyone's only in town for a few days and you can't really expect to see any of your customers again.

**Never travel without your towel.

***"Checked luggage" in this context is a bit misleading. It's the stuff that gets stacked onto a cargo pallet, lashed down, and loaded into the plane in a bit of spare room in the middle of the rest of the cargo. Since the whole plane is open, the passengers get lashed down in the same space as the cargo.

****This version of Frida is the same as any other version of Frida you may have seen, only they'd edited out all of the foul language and all of Salma Hayek's nude lesbian scenes. It is not the version I'd recommend.


  1. It's probably best to not wear a moose hat, if we end up living in Alaska someone might accidentally hunt you down and make a wall mounting out of you.

  2. Always know where your towel is, right?