07 October 2014

They Laid out the Red Carpet for Me in Bagram

Travelling to a new base is a lot like a vacation. Except it's not fun, and you have to carry your own bags. And you always depart or arrive in the middle of the night. And you are responsible for two weapons along with your bags.

So it's not like a vacation at all, come to think of it. The flight on the C-130 is exquisitely uncomfortable. Net seating doesn't recline, the roar of the motor isn't muffled, and I am wearing 25 pounds of body armor and have 45 pounds of carry-on on my lap.

We land early that morning and lug our over-sized bags up two flights of stairs in our conex tenements.

I learn that Prax is sharing a room barely big enough for one with two other Soldiers. Of course neither of them have any idea that she is coming. It must be really fun to wake up at 0500 hours to discover you have a new roommate. With four bags.

I also have four bags. And I also have two roommates. I wonder who is more annoyed-- them or me. Prax, at least, gets a wall locker. I get my lap again.

Two days later we are beginning to settle in. BAF is huge, but we don't realize it quite right away. The main drag is called Disney. A nod to the reach of American culture, I assume, like "Hotel California" (a large tent where transients stay). We feel sheepish on discovering that it is name after a Soldier killed here in a heavy equipment accident in 2002. SPC Jason Disney was a transportation specialist from Nevada. The street signs take on new meaning, to us, at least.

On Sunday we get a longer tour, and some introductions, from a broadcaster on his way out. He takes us to the US Army Corps of Engineers compound and a nearby villa that is used for jirgas and other high-level meetings. We stop and smell the roses—the first we have seen since leaving the U.S. Then we visit the guys in "Dustoff," the operational name given to every medevac unit I have ever met. It seems, I don't know, ironic, that American troops occupy these structures built by the Soviets 30 years earlier.

We also drive by the secret prison that has been the source of some controversy. It looks like every other secret prison I have seen.

It is much cooler up here. And I feel more comfortable, as the weather probably mirrors the Wasatch front almost exactly. I don’t sweat unless I mean to anymore. The food seems better, too, but that might just be because it is different.

By the fourth day at BAF, one third of the occupants of my little unit has left. Suddenly I am like the wealthy gentry of US Forces – Afghanistan, what with my own wall locker and a bottom bunk. My other roommate, an Army captain, is in the same spot nearly every time I step into the room—legs in a sleeping bag, sitting on his bunk, typing away on his laptop. He says he is leaving soon, so I assume he is sending off hundreds of emails to friends and family eagerly awaiting his return. I’ll have to start doing that soon, I guess.

A new assignment brings new opportunities, and so I begin a new workout regimen. The gym is quite inviting—a new hardened structure that makes me feel like I might be paying $69 a month if I were back home.

Our office is hardened, too, which means that during a rocket attack we don’t have to evacuate to one of the hundreds of bunkers outside. We came under such an attack the other day, but I just kept working merrily.

It’s a strange time to be here, at the world’s largest forward base. Americans are leaving in droves, and all the talk is about Resolute Support and how NATO isn’t doing anymore combat and how it’s really great that we’re giving the Afghans a bunch of MRAPs. It’s great not because the equipment will help them in their fight against the Taliban, but because giving them the vehicles makes the U.S. seem less wasteful.

Speaking of waste, we should be here about seven more weeks. Then we get to travel again. Back to the U.S. It’s like vacation, except…

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