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.


My Afghan Experience, Part 1 of 3

I was mentally preparing myself for the vacation that I’d thought would never come. In a few days, my mother and brother would be arriving in England. That’s when a GDIT manager said to me, “Roger. Would you be interested in going to Afghanistan?” I, nonchalantly, said, “Sure…no problem!” (That’s honestly what I said). I then asked him for how long because I knew my sister was coming in October. They told me I would be there for 30-40 days. I agreed and we began the process of sending me to Kabul, Afghanistan. My manager told me that I would be at one base for the duration of my stay. However, it was possible I could spend some time at another base three to four miles away. Since travel between bases typically requires a convoy or at least one vehicle with two armed guards, she told me she would work to limit my time to that one base. Yet, by the time I returned home, I traveled to several bases and logged more than 1,000 miles traveling throughout Afghanistan!

My journey began with a two train rides, a flight from Heathrow in London, and a layover in Copenhagen, Denmark. I detailed my Copenhagen experience in an earlier blog. When I returned from my Copenhagen excursion, I met up with a co-worker, Henry, who was traveling with me. We boarded the plane shortly after 8:00 PM and traveled to Turkey. The plane refueled and completed the final leg of the trip and we arrived in Kabul shortly after 7:30 AM.

Henry’s drivers were waiting for him and they promptly took him to his base. Unfortunately, my ride was not present and this is not the place where one just grabs a taxi to his destination. Travel to any location requires designated drivers trained for the “unique” forms of road rage within the country. As a praying man, I truly didn’t worry. I knew someone would take me to my location, especially after I called and they told me they were coming. The escort arrived after an hour or so of waiting. It was two armed guys, a driver and a shooter. I later learned they are special ops military personnel trained to drive in this area. They gave me a bullet-proof vest and a helmet to wear. However, as a praying man, I wasn’t worried until the “shooter” started talking. He began telling me, “When we get shot at…” He told me that when we began receiving gun fire they would return fire. However, if the vehicle becomes disabled, they would work to defend us and I should remain in the vehicle until further notice. I said, “You mean we’re going to get shot at?” He said, “No, this is what we’re going to do if we get shot at. I just want you to know what the procedures will be.” I breathed a sigh of relief and I thought to myself. “You need to use the word “if” instead of “when”. That’s a big difference. However, I kept the thought to myself.

I arrived at the base and I met some of my co-workers. However, this was not my place of work for the month. Later, I traveled to my home base and I met my co-worker for the month, Frank. He gave me a tour, took me to my tent, and continued to show me around the base. After a busy first few days, I settled in to a routine. I did some work with Frank. However, I craved to do more during my time in Kabul. I contacted management and my co-workers at the nearby base. Within a couple of days, plans were made for me to travel and get the experience of a lifetime. The drivers came to get me so I could go to the nearby base and prepare to travel with my co-worker, Justin.

I was riding down the Kabul streets, where they drive on the right-side of the road, taking in the surroundings when we arrived at a round-about. What happened next was right out of a football playbook. The lead vehicle cut into traffic and block the lanes. Our vehicle quickly entered the round-about traffic and the lead vehicle continued around the circle. Now, we were the lead vehicle and to exit the circle, we performed a similar maneuver. However, the best part was yet to come.

We continued down the boulevard where an island separated the traffic flowing in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, I noticed the right lane was used for vehicles that wanted to travel in the opposite direction of us and vehicles in the other lanes. Therefore, we had to occasionally get out of the right lane to avoid the on-coming wrong-coming traffic! Our destination required us to exit the street with a left turn. However, there are no left-turn lanes and our vehicles did not want to be sitting in the middle of the street waiting for traffic to clear like sitting ducks. That left us with only one other option.

We’re approaching the side street where we need to make the left turn and the lead vehicle drives past the street and he’s looking for a break in the traffic. Suddenly, with no blinkers or signal to the oncoming traffic, he turns right in front of the traffic. The traffic comes to a halt and our vehicle quickly turns with the traffic being cleared and he follows behind us allowing the traffic to resume. That’s the kind of driving that my father-in-law would love!