I started writing this yesterday & then stopped to write the perception/reality post. My thought process is often scattered like that with a lot of branches and sequels. Instead of trying to ignore my natural tendencies to jump from one thing to another, I will just let things follow my natural path. So, here it is. It is incomplete. I will finish it another time; I just don’t know when I will feel like picking up this path again.
What did I mean when I said ‘My time in Afghanistan has been everything I expected it to be, but nothing like I imagined’? I’m not sure I can adequately explain it, but I will give it a try. I will start with my first experience with Afghanistan.
My expectations initially went from one extreme to the other in that at one end of the spectrum I was expecting to be in a largely comfortable and well-developed environment similar to how I lived in Bosnia. After all, we had been in Afghanistan for 10 years, it must be well-developed. On the other extreme was my knowledge that although there were some ‘comfortable’ bases here, there were also little Combat Outposts (COPs) and Patrol Bases (PBs) that didn’t have running water. I was pretty certain we wouldn’t be at one of those, but what would it be like?
I was able to come over to Afghanistan in May 11 on a what is known as a Predeployment Site Survey (PDSS). I was thankful for that, as it gave me a clear picture of what things could be like. I should emphasis ‘could’ as it was also clear that anything could change between May & October.
There were 11 of us in our PDSS group. We flew together from Minnesota to Texas, then on to Atlanta, Shannon, Ireland before landing in Kuwait. After a short, few hour stay in Kuwait, I, along with two others, peeled off the main group to head to Kabul, Afghanistan to attend the COIN Academy to learn about how things should be done in the Counter Insurgency fight. We made it to Bagram Airfield (BAF) & discovered that it would be at least 3 days before there would be any chance to make it the short 20 minute flight to the base that held the class. BAF is the sprawling metropolis that represents the one extreme of life as a Soldier in Afghanistan. All the comforts and amenities you could ever imagine, minus the freedom to leave the walls of the base. Sort of like I would expect life in a minimum security prison in the US.
We quickly made the decision that we were not willing to sit around Bagram for 3 days as we would miss the first 2 days of a 5 day course. We were able to get a flight out to Kandahar Airfield within 6 hours. Kandahar Airfield (KAF) is another sprawling metropolis, but on a slightly smaller scale. But not that small. There are about 50% more people living on KAF than in my hometown. There is a large shopping complex on KAF called The Boardwalk. It is a large square with a 1/4 mile rubberized running track in the center. You are able to buy just about anything you could want. There is a TGI Friday’s and a KFC along with a wide assortment of other restaurants to choose from. As strange as it may sound, I wanted out of there as quickly as possible. To me, the thought of living and working on a place like KAF would be as close to a deployment hell as one could get. Don’t get me wrong, I like nice & I like comfortable, etc, but I honestly had no wish to be at a place like KAF for my year away from home. I’m not sure why, maybe it reminded me too much of Bosnia…
The rest of the team arrived KAF within 24 hours and Soldiers from the unit we would replace were there to give us all a ride to our home away from home – Forward Operating Base (FOB) Apache. Although it was early May, the temperature at KAF topped 100. But it was a dry heat. Yes, I know that can be a joke, but trust me, I will take 110 & 5% humidity over 90 & 50% humidity any day!
The first real problem began when we started our journey north in the back of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. Counting the gunner standing in the turret, we had 7 Soldiers stuffed into the giant armored truck. All of us were in ‘full battle rattle’ – armored vest, helmet, gloves, eyewear, etc. so it is crowded and uncomfortable and we have a 4 hour ride to our destination, without bathroom breaks. Within 30 minutes the air conditioning went out on our truck & the temperature quickly rose to nearly unbearable levels. It was one of the most miserable 4 hours of my life. I have no idea what the temp was inside that vehicle, but there was not a dry spot left on my uniform when I finally climbed out.
FOB Apache is the anti-KAF, which to me is perfect. We sit high on a hill so our air seems clean (it is actually dust filled, but the wind is always blowing). KAF seems to sit in a hole where the dusty, stagnant air seems to suck the life out of you. We do have running water on the FOB. There are several latrine trailers. Some are just toilets, some are just showers & some have both. There are a couple within a 100 meters or so from the tent I live in, but they are heavily used by the Third Country Nationals (TCNs) and so the conditions of them are not really that good. I opt to take the long walk (500 meters or so) to the ones that are used more by just Americans.
to be continued…maybe
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