Leaving Afghanistan we need to go west to get back to the States. A long, long way west. But before heading west, we travel northeast to Manas Air Base (officially called the Transit Center at Manas) a U.S. military installation at Manas International Airport, near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The story of why and how the US came to use this land-locked transit point in the former Soviet Union is interesting and is best learned by going to Wikipedia and reading what they have to say…(you will notice that sentence above is largely lifted from the opening paragraph).
From KAF, Manas is only about a 3 hour ride on a C-130. Which is nice, because C-130’s are not the most comfortable ride. This trip was not bad as the aircraft was virtually empty, so we had plenty of space. It turns out that we were joining an United States Air Force 3-star & is entourage on the trip out of Afghanistan. The aircraft had a small amount of cargo and less than 25 passengers.
The trip was uneventful and before we knew it, we were landing at Manas. After a very short wait I was ready to step onto non-Afghan soil for the first time since early June. I had never been through Manas, so I was not sure what to expect. My first impression was it looked a lot like ‘home’. In fact the first thing I said as I left the aircraft was ‘Wow, we land at Grand Forks Air Force Base.’ But then I noticed the mountains in the distance…
The temperature was wonderful, it was in the upper 60’s. The air was fresh, crisp and clean smelling. I liked it!
After a short wait on the tarmac, an Air Force bus came out to pick our little group up (the General & his group were whisked away in a nice little coach). They drove us a short distance to the in-bound processing terminal where they explained the rules and told us what to expect during our short stay.
We were then sent to our transient quarters, which was row upon row of Alaska tents. Upon entering my assigned tent, I was disappointed to see the tents so densely packed there was hardly room to move. My next stop was to find the latrine, which turned out to be an Alaska tent not too far from where I would be sleeping. Upon entering this tent and being overcome by the stench, my first thought was ‘what a f***ing sh**hole’; my second thought was ‘why, after all these years & all this money spent are we subjected to such crappy conditions (no pun intended)?’ Walking to the next tent over to look at the showers was the icing on the cake. For crying out loud, I lived better in Afghanistan.
I do not understand why they wouldn’t have better facilities. Cramming so many people into the sleeping tents is a disaster waiting to happen. The porta-potties on FOB Apache were infinitely superior to the toilet tent at Manas and the nastiest shower trailer I used in Afghanistan was better than the shower tent Manas. The US Air Force should be embarrassed at the condition the transients live in going out of country. Apparently the incoming living area is slightly better than the outgoing living area. of course it wouldn’t take much to be better. It is hard to imagine it could be worse…
I spent less than 48 hours at Manas, which was more than long enough for me. We arrived around 1600 on 17 Sep 12 & departed around 1200 on the 19th. One thing that many are excited about is the Soldiers are allowed to drink two beers per day. I had intended on enjoying that privilege myself, but as I passed by the little club that first evening I had no desire to have a beer, so I skipped it. The next night I felt the same way. As a matter of fact, I have been home now for over a week and I still have not had a beer…I seem to have lost my addiction and desire for Mountain Dew too.
The recreation facilities on Manas are pretty decent. The gym is big and not too crowded. There are a couple of MWR buildings with computers and movies to watch and free wi-fi at many of the places. Although the signal was barely strong enough to support Skype, it is a huge morale booster to have that kind of internet access. If it would have worked in the living areas a guy might be able to overlook the crappy conditions a little. They have a decent PX and a Burger King & Pizza Hut trailers. There was also a local bazaar area, sponsored by AAFES, with shops selling local crafts, trinkets and other needless junk.
Our showtime the morning of the 19th was 0445 for our 1130 flight. we lined up and quickly processed through Customs. kudos to Manas, the Customs process was much easier and faster than at Ali Al Saleem in Kuwait. From there we were herded into a large fest tent where we waited for our departure time. The tent was cavernous, but full. They did have free wi-fi to use and a large screen TV showing a movie to help bide the time.
At a little after 1100 we were loaded onto the busses for the short ride to the aircraft. The military uses chartered civilian aircraft for these flights. the seats are generally configured to give a little more room than you will find in economy, but not much. Following the old adage ‘rank has it’s privileges’, senior officer and NCO’s are allowed to board first and are directed towards the front of the aircraft. The seating is the same as in the rear, but there is often time more space because there will be enough room to leave seats empty.
Unfortunately the flight attendants told us this flight would be full, so we could not expect to have the luxury of empty seats. I was not thrilled at that news as we were looking at spending about 15 hours on that aircraft, which is never fun, especially if you are crowded. But, there isn’t much that can be done about it, so it doesn’t help to get upset. I sat in the aisle seat, middle row near the front, where it was 3-across seating. I asked her to go find someone small to sit in the seat next to me 😉 she did!
The guy across the aisle from me started whining about having someone sit in between him and the other guy in his row. He began to berate the poor flight attendant about having to sit 3-across. She patiently explained that the flight was full and she did not have a choice. I was thinking to myself ‘well Chief, maybe if you weren’t such a pudgy little fat f***, it wouldn’t be such a problem’. But when he told her ‘I’m a CW5 and this is a LTC, we shouldn’t have to be crowded’ I couldn’t hold my tongue. I was embarrassed for all senior officers to hear this pudgy little, privileged asshat behaving like that. I turned to him and told him that he wasn’t being singled out, the aircraft was full and we would all need to just suck it up. Incredulously, he said to me ‘well, I’m a CW5 and he is an O5’. I responded, yes, I can see that, I am not impressed as I’m an O5 too.
The nice thing is he quit pestering the flight attendant. The bad thing is he continued to piss and moan about it during the first 6+ hour leg of the flight from Manas to Germany. I felt bad for the poor Soldier that was stuck next to him. Before landing in Germany I talked to the flight attendant about moving that Soldier and they were able to do it upon reboarding. The good thing was that Soldier didn’t need to listen to the CW5 whining anymore; the bad thing is, the big baby got his way.
We spent a bit over 3 hours in the little terminal in Leipzig, Germany while they did maintenance on the aircraft and swapped crews. Soon we were on our way, facing a long 9-hour flight to Pope Air Force Base, NC. Pope was the final destination for all of teh passengers except our small group of 40+ headed to Camp Atterbury, IN. We had a few hours waiting at Pope and then we were once again in the air, next stop Indianapolis, IN, then a 45 minute bus ride to Atterbury.
We finally arrived at Camp Atterbury around 2330, 20 September 2012, approximately 47 hours after boarding the airplane at Manas.
About 96 hours later, I would finally complete my journey. I arrived home at about 2230 on 24 Sep 12.
It is GREAT to be home!
Thanks to all of you for joining me on this journey. I hope to continue to share my pictures and stories, but I’m not sure what or when. I need to figure out what I should write about and what kind of pictures to share. I also need to decide if I should change the name since I am no longer nine & a half hours ahead…
thanks again, take care,
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