My Afghan Experience, Part 3 of 3

Working as a contractor even in Afghanistan, you can make a lot of money and further your career.  However, most of the people on bases are not here for the money and it’s not a matter of career positioning.  We were reminded of that reality after we returned to work from dinner.  Our Italian sponsored looked upset.  We immediately recognized it and asked him, “What’s the matter?”  He stated that something was not good.  His English is limited so when we asked him what happened, he declined to explain it.  The next morning we heard their fellow soldier(s) lost their lives.  We’re not certain how many.  Yet, the impact on the base was profound.  A ceremony for one of their fallen soldiers took place and we attended to pay our respects.

The next morning, Justin and I prepared for yet another flight to another base.  This one was even more remote.  When we landed, all we saw was dust from the rear of the plane.  After a moment or two, we saw more mountains and we were greeted by occasional loud bursts.  Thankfully, there weren’t incoming shots, but tanks firing shots in the distance.  After a week of travel, we returned to our home base no worse for wear.

My last week in Afghanistan was uneventful.  I met more engaging people doing great work and who are very sharp.  The lifestyle is not ideal.  Yet, the work is important and the pay is good.  I would’ve never considered working here previously.  Yet, my experience here has brought the phrase, “Never say never” to the forefront again.

The day of my departure was long.  I woke up at 4:40 AM to prepare for my 5:30 drive to the airport.  With my colleague missing his flight a week earlier, my co-workers and I checked and re-checked the departure time.  I arrived at the airport at 6:00 AM and waited for the 8:30 departure.  We flew into Trabzon Turkey to refuel.  Our time there lasted less than one hour and we were back on the plane to Copenhagen.  We arrived in Denmark and I was already tired and I had reservations at a nearby hotel.  However, I felt I was close to home and I didn’t want to stay away another night.  I went to the ticket counter and inquired about a flight to London.  After checking the schedule, the agent told me I could take an 8:20 PM flight.  With the clock approaching 4:00 PM, it would be no problem passing the time.

Later that day, I boarded the flight and we arrived in London shortly after 9:20 PM.  Now, I had to get my luggage, work my way through customs and grab a train from Heathrow to London, then from London to Huntingdon.  Each train ride is an hour.  So, I knew it would be another two hours and some change before I arrived at home.  Yet, when I bought my ticket going from Heathrow Airport to downtown, it was after 10:30 and the ticket agent wasn’t certain I could catch the second train to Huntingdon.  He thought they may have concluded for the day.  I prayed there would be trains running because an hour long taxi ride would not be cheap.  I arrived at downtown London shortly after 11:30 PM.  Fortunately, there was another train to Huntingdon, but it wasn’t leaving until 12:36 AM, more waiting.  I got on the train and had to fight the urge to contain my excitement at approaching home and not falling asleep thereby missing my stop.  Twenty minutes from my stop I called a taxi so I could have a ride home.  When I got off the train, the guy was waiting for me and it wasn’t a moment too soon because a fellow passenger was eyeing my ride.  I live less than two miles from the station but the ride seemed much longer.  However, I arrived at home shortly after 1:30 AM and I shortly afterwards I answered the bed that was calling me every since I arrived at Denmark.

I had an enlightening experience in Afghanistan.  I met many people and gained some new friends.  I thank God for the opportunity and hope and pray this war comes to a peaceful resolution.  God Bless and Keep Shooting—pictures, that is!

My Afghan Experience, Part 2 of 3

After the wild car ride to the other base, I obtained my room and later met up with my co-workers.  We went to dinner and hung out for the rest of the night.  The next morning began very early.  I woke up at 4:30 AM, exited my tent and walked 20-30 yards to the shower facility (In hindsight, it surprises me that I was used to going to another building just to use the bathroom and/or take a shower.  If I were to return, I shudder at the idea of doing that during the colder months).  My co-worker, Justin, and I met at the departure point and got into our vehicle headed to the airport.  Justin was supposed to leave yesterday, but since he didn’t I was able to go with him.  His flight was canceled and he hoped the same went happen today.  I told him that we would leave today and on-time.  The receptionist told us the flight was still scheduled and we had only five minutes before they would close the desk for anyone leaving to our site.  Although we arrived more than two hours prior to the flight, they were closing the desk very early.

We waited in the lobby for approximately an hour then we were led to a C-130 airplane.  I looked for the friendly airline attendants and the 1st class or business-class seating, but there were none.  Instead, there was a long stretched-nylon bench for us to sit.  We were less than ten feet from a large palette of equipment that I prayed would remain in place.  The airline attendants always warn you about items shifting during the flight.  I hoped that wouldn’t be the case with that large palette.

Traveling with the military is interesting.  As a first-timer, I watched helicopters take off and land.  Everyone else ignored it as they were used to it.  However, a couple of instances included jets that took off as well. Whenever they took flight, everyone would stop and watch.

Our flight was scheduled for 8:00 AM and we boarded the plane shortly after 7:00.  We spent nearly an hour sitting on the seats waiting.  However, at 8:00 sharp the plane began to take-off and take-off it did.  I wasn’t near a window.  However, there was a window across from me.  In one instance, I would see the ground and the base of the mountains.  Suddenly, the plane would sway and I would see nothing but the sky.  The pilot would bank and turn and the mountains were so close I knew I could reach out and touch them if I wanted.   He would speed up then slow down and the plane would drop.  It was the roller-coaster ride from hell!  However, a military guy and I must have been the only first-timers.  He pulled out his camera to take photos and I couldn’t stop laughing.  Everyone else was deep in thought or sleep.  After approximately 15 minutes of fancy maneuvers, we reached a high altitude and the flight was routine.  Approximately an hour and a half later, we landed at our destination.

Justin called our contact and within a few minutes we had a ride to our base.  The base was an Italian post.  Therefore, I knew since we would be there for a few days, I’d have to endure a few more days of pasta for lunch and dinner.  We met our contacts and they showed us our lodging accommodations.  It was a 7’x18’ room with four twin beds lined two-by-two.  Across the hall were the bathroom and shower stalls.  As we surveyed the grooming area, we noticed a few necessary items missing.  There was no door for the bathroom and none of the stalls contained toilet paper.  We asked a soldier staying in the next room and he told us that toilet paper around here is like, “white gold”.  So, we kept the roll he gave us and used it sparingly.

We went to our work site and accessed the situation.  Prior to working, the early morning start began to take a toll so we asked if we could break for lunch and if they would show us to the chow hall.  After a less than pleasant lunch, we returned to work and fixed a few problems.  We decided to pace the amount of work we’d do since we knew we weren’t leaving for a few days.  The next stop was to our room for a siesta.  We continued this pattern for the next three days, get up, work, eat lunch, nap, and work some more, and finally go to dinner to eat some more.  Our first night on base was enlightening because the more remote bases do not have lights.  Therefore, we walked by the built-in flash lights of our cell phones.

One night, we ran low on our “white gold”.  We saw our sponsor and told him we needed toilet paper.  He only understood, “paper”, so he put his hands together and motioned like he was turning pages in a book.  We repeated the phrase only slower and louder (as if that ever works).  We tried to get him to understand it was a different type of paper we needed.  In the back of my mind, I knew what would make him understand, but I didn’t want to go there.  Finally, after several unsuccessful attempts, I demonstrated the type of paper we needed.  “Ohhhh, toilet paper”, he says while laughing.  A few minutes later he returns with the goods.

We traveled to another base a day or so later.  When we arrived, the officer took us to our rooms and we took a break prior to getting our work done.  We walked around to pass the time when we came across a memorial.  It is a reminder how the attacks over nine years ago changed the world.

Contractors often seize opportunities to work in Iraq and Afghanistan because of the economic opportunities.  Nevertheless, we would have another realization of the life and death consequences due to the war before we completed our trip.