The day started at some ridiculous time in the morning, before the sun came up or the coffee shop opened. The plan was to make sure we got to the airfield with plenty of time to meet up with the other passengers going to the conference with us and board the helicopters. "Plenty of time" was supposed to be one hour, but it turned out to be about three hours. While most of the civilians who were traveling with us were late, two hours of that wait were due to foul weather at the point of origin for the aircraft.
Since we had some time to kill, we grabbed some coffee and I made friends with one of the MWD's (Military Working Dogs) at the passenger terminal:
This one was actually a NAVY working dog, so he's a rated Chief Master-at-Arms (since his handler was a First Class Master-at-Arms). He was very friendly, but I didn't catch his name. Same goes for the handler.
After hanging out with the rest of the crowd for a couple of hours, our two Blackhawks landed. Then the colonel we were tagging along with split the group of civilians in two, gave half to myself and LCDR "Vic" Vale (the new guy in the office), and an Air Force sergeant guided us out to the bird.
Here's a shot of Vic on the way out to catch our ride:
Vic and I were the last two to board the helo, so we got the forward-facing jumpseats right aft of the door gunners. Here I am all strapped in and waiting to take off:
Someone made the mistake a while ago of telling me that my body armor is not technically a uniform and so is not subject to any kind of uniform regulations. That's why I feel justified in wearing the "McLovin" nametape. I have to have my name on my uniforms. The armor is not a uniform. I win.
Being seated right aft of the door gunners did mean that all of the cold mountain air was blowing straight in at us in transit, it also meant that I got a great view all throughout the trip. Here's the door gunner's view of Kabul as we flew over:
Before anyone asks, I don't know anything about that body of water coming up below us. It looks like some sort of manmade reservoir, but that's the more than I know.
Continuing on, here's a shot of the Kabul River as we flew over the city. Somehow this place manages to look filthy, even from a high altitude aircraft:
Once we were clear of the city, it was time to cross over the mountains to the South:
As we gained altitude, it got progressively colder and more picturesque:
During the trip we reached an altitude of just over 11,000 feet. What was really fascinating though, was the few scattered little communities wedged into these amazingly remote niches. You can see one such place on the lower edge of the shot below. The mud huts are a bit tough to spot, but they're there:
What boggles my mind is wondering just how pissed off someone has to be at the rest of the world before they take their family and climb up into the mountains and set up a life in these miserable little places.
As we decended below the other side of the ridgeline, the mountains faded away behind us and I caught this shot from the door gunner's perspective:
Then the foothills started to fade into the lowlands beyond:
And we passed over the surprisingly lush backdrop behind the town:
Then we set down in the landing zone and piled out. Once again, it's always easy to remember where you parked in Afghanistan:
The trip back looked a lot like the trip there. Only backwards. In fact, it was so similar that a bunch of these pictures were probably from the return trip. Sorry.
Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting adventure.