Saturday, April 11, 2009

Kapisa, Parwan, Bagram, etc.

When last I posted, I'd just left Bamian Province with a couple of helicopters loaded with VIP's enroute for points west.

Our first stop actually ended up being Kabul, where we dropped off the first of three flag officers and his straphangers. Then we lifted off and flew north to Bagram Air Base in Parwan Province where everyone was shown to their accomodations.

The next day we got a tour of all things Reconstruction and Development located at Bagram Air Base. Most of our time was consumed by Powerpoint presentations for the Admiral. We got a 2-hour brief/discussion at the Regional Headquarters, a 2-hour brief at the Provincial Reconstruction Team, and a 1-hour brief at the headquarters of each of the local task forces. This is specifically why I'd prefer to make my visits to the PRTs with as few people as possible (and ideally, as low-ranking as possible). Instead of getting a chance to walk around with the PRT personnel out on the ground and get a first-hand impression of their operations, all I managed was to sit in the back of the room and read along as they showed us their VIP show.

So I spent my first day there getting bussed around with the Admiral and generally not learning anything. I also found out that there were no plans for the PRT folks to head out and do anything outside the compound while I was there. Bummer.

The one thing I saw that I hadn't seen before was the expansive distribution yard they have for Humainitarian Aid materials. This is a massive stockyard full of shipping containers loaded with everything from basic food staples to girls' cold-weather clothing. All of these items are loaded up on an as-needed basis to be delivered wherever it's needed within Afghanistan.

Our policy is to try every other option to help people before providing directly donated aid items, but when the need comes around we've got plenty to spare. It's hard to get a good photo of the scale of the space, but here's the best I could manage:

HA Yard
Even though the plan is to only provide "in extremis" huminitarian aid distribution, the yard is always a busy place. Given all of the problems across the country, there's always someone somewhere that's desperate for help. When it's too far or too dangerous for some other donor to provide help, that's when these guys load up some trucks with flour and sugar and gloves and hats and plastic tarps and so on and head out to distribute it to the locals.


Once the Admiral's tour had ended, it was time to move along on my own. I bundled up all of my gear in the VIP accomodations and got myself a cot over in the transient tents. This was one of over 150 cots in this nearly full tent, so there was no shortage of other servicemen around to keep me company.

At this point it was already dark and raining, so I had little to do but wander over to the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) building and watch a few movies. Sometime around dinnertime I got a call from one of the guys back in the office telling me that I should keep an eye out for a Marine lieutenant colonel who was supposed to be coming through Bagram on his way to being assigned to our office.

There are several thousand people working at Bagram Air Base. Meals can be had for free at any one of several dining facilities as well as bought at a number of restaurants on base. The base itself is easily comparable to a medium-sized town. I have no idea how they expected me to find one US Marine in all of this space and among all of these people.

Sure enough, less than an hour later I ran into him.

We ended up grabbing a cup of coffee and chatting a bit about what the office does and what he can expect from his tour in Afghanistan. He'll be in theater for a year, so he's got a lot to look forward to.

The next morning I was aiming to find a way to get out to one of the other PRTs in my region. Sadly the weather was still crap, so when I went over to the rotary wing passenger and cargo terminal to hitch a ride on a helicopter there were none available. According to the Army sergeant at the desk, with the backlog of people and material trying to get out I could've waited there a week before going anywhere.

Since there were no flights coming or going and no planned trips outside for the PRT, I once again had nothing to do but sit in the MWR building and watch movies. The good news was that LCDR Vale was coming up from Kabul to run around Bagram and then head out with me. The bad news was that I had to find him first.

Just after dinnertime, I found him.

We spent the next morning going around and talking with a handful of our contacts at the air base and then managed to catch a fixed-wing flight back to Kabul airport. After one week of living out of my rucksack, I was glad to be back in my little box and done with travel for a bit.

Stay tuned...

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