Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Welcome to the Mountains

Greeting from the Hindu Kush Mountains! I'm just going to jump right in with this crazy adventure!

So this past Friday March 11, we went into lockdown at Ft Benning early morning and after lots of formations and roll calls we were bussed to the Airfield where we were kept in an airport hanger until the flight, which they kept secret until we actually boarded the plane. From there it was an 8 hour flight to Leipzig, Germany, a two hour layover and then a 4 and a half hour flight to Kuwait City. The flights were largely uneventful apart from the Silverback gorilla in the seat to me who protruded into my seat at least 3 inches. And sitting on my left was, no joke, a Major Restrepo! I asked him if people always asked if he was the soldier from the documentary and he said I was the third person today to ask! And added though that he could always tell who had seen the movie because they asked "Are you the same guy from the movie?!" Gotta love the black humor ;-) (Restrepo was a documentary about the US in Afghanistan and the little outpost was named Restrepo in memorium for one of their soldiers).

Once in Kuwait City took a blackout convoy to Ali Al Salem camp, a.k.a Tent City. Ali Al Salem is a transient camp for those coming in and out of the deployed zones- Iraq and Afghanistan. We checked into the camp around 7pm and then proceeded to haul the 600 duffel bags that had been loaded into flatbed trucks from our flight off the vehicles. You'll be amused to know that I'd had maybe 5 hours of sleep since Friday morning (it's now Saturday night) but I was on my 600th wind at this point so I was literally throwing these duffel bags at the 6-2, 220 contractor standing behind me in line causing him to have to take a step back each time I heaved one at him. He found this hilarious and starting yelling at everyone that he had muscles standing in front of him, hehe ;-) We spent that night in delightful dusty open bay tent with 10 other women and a mandatory 24 hour lights on rule.

We were manifested on a flight to Afghanistan for Sunday at 1:45pm but we unfortunately got bumped off for soldiers returning from R & R which meant, wahoo...another day at Ali Al Salem :-/ The next morning, Monday the 14th, we managed to get on a flight that left around 10am. We palletized our duffel bags (the military equivalent of "checking bags") loaded up in body armor and were bussed to the airfield where we boarded a C-17. We buckled up our seat belts and after sitting on the tarmac for an hour... were informed that the flight was going anywhere and we needed to de-board and bus back to Ali Al Salem. Sooo back to the PAX terminal to try and get on the next flight (they were having problems with the radar). We did fly out later that day, a 3.5 hour flight to Bagram. The most exciting part (apart from flying in the belly of a military aircraft where you can see the organs of the plane) was the evasive maneuvers the pilot took to land in Afghanistan. All of a sudden this transport aircraft has turned into Top Gun swerving sharply to the left, then dropping down like a rollercoaster making your stomach scream, then veering left, then dropping again. Easily the best part of the flight :-)

After arriving in Bagram at 10pm Afghan time, we met the current team leader in the terminal, and shlepped out duffel bags to the Red Cross truck. After a few errands, we went to the office where we got the keys to our rooms and made calls home. At 12:30am I headed to my BHUT which is the most rugged, cobbled together housing I have ever experienced on deployment. The BHUT is basically an outer skeletal structure with one room inside that has been divided into four "sections" using plywood or whatever the military could find. The walls don't go to the ceiling so there is 3 to 4 feet of exposed room before the ceiling making the room totally communal. I have a bed and a wardrobe and about 5 feet of walking space in the "room." I am also sharing with three other women. It's definitely an experience - it's like living in a construction site... with cobras, rats, and scorpions for neighbors.

Yesterday, our first day, the whole team had to be up by 8am to get a tour of the base and do lots of administrative things. The highlight of which, let me tell you, was the military postal class I had to take at 9:30am to get certified in picking up mail! You had to sit through a class and then take a test. I was so tired I can't really believe I passed, but when we were grading each other's papers at the end I had mis-graded the guy's next to me because I was so tired! :-( My shift is normally supposed to be 3pm to 12am, but since we'd had no sleep and a early start, my team leader let me go back and sleep so I started half way through my shift. It was a good night and I'm getting settled. I will leave it at that if you've even made it this far!

Thank you for all your replies and kind words. Hope to speak to you soon and I promise pictures to come! If you are interested in learning more about the base here is the wiki link! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagram_Airfield

Across the miles :-)

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