09 August 2010

Getting There

 My path to Afghanistan has not exactly been a smooth one.  It included multiple trips to the Social Security Office in Virginia, visits to two separate DMVs in Colorado, and leadership training in Ohio.  I was beginning to think that, rather than go to Afghanistan, I was simply embarking on a very idiosyncratic tour of the US.

Finally, however, I was able to make it to the CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) at Fort Benning for my pre-deployment training.  For the inquiring minds out there, they did not teach me how to shoot an M16.  In fact, it turns out that I'm not even allowed to carry a knife.  I'll just have to cower behind the nearest Marine, if it comes to that.  Instead, they stuck me with myriad needles and subjected me to dated PowerPoint presentations.  The president of Pakistan is Musharraf?  Please, no more!  On the up-side, they did teach me how to spot an IED and field dress a sucking chest wound.  Important life lessons, those.
We left Georgia on a Friday afternoon, landing in Qatar by way of Amsterdam very early Sunday morning.  What with driving to Al Udied Air Field and having to process through about seven different checkpoints, we didn't end up making it to bed until just after 5am.  I was finally forced to get out of bed about five hours later by the oppressive heat.  Even inside our tent, it felt like a wet sauna.  Once I worked up the nerve to leave, I hit a wall of heat and light.  Everything - dirt, tents, sky - was the same shade of bright dun, like looking into a soft light-bulb.  So a wet sauna, but in a whiteout.  It was so bad that one of my traveling companions took a shower, only to take another with her cloathes on in an effort to stay cool on the way back to the tent.

After passing the day staving off boredom, we were told to pack our gear in a hurry late Sunday night, as some seats had opened up on the 1:45am flight to Bagram.  We scampered to the air strip, only to be bumped to the 5am flight, and then bumped again.  All told, we tried to leave Al Udied three times and sat on the tarmac in temperatures well over 100F for more than 15 hours.

Once I finally arrived at Bagram, I felt no small sense of triumph.  That's not to say everything was perfect - I was still living out of my duffel, didn't yet have reliable internet access, and the disconnected bath houses made the base feel like summer camp without the fun or potable water.  Still, I've already learned some great things, like riding in a C-17 is really quite fun, and that I look super cute in body armour.  And, actually, as I watched the sun set on the epic mountains surrounding us, I thought of how much it felt like Colorado, if you managed to ignore the armoured vehicles and fellas with guns.