11 March 2011

To boldy go...back to Phoenix

As on so many of my field trips, this trek out east saw its fair share of oddities with regard to all things airborne.  For example, I found out that the base at Jalalabad boasts a drone crossing.  Upon my late-night arrival, we were paused during our poorly lit tromp from the flight line at the Predator cross-walk.  Seriously; there was an actual cross-walk light with an X and .  Apparently, the drones always have the right of way.  Not terribly pedestrian-friendly, if you ask me. 
A few more photos from the Korengal Valley
Meanwhile, up Asadabad way, the observation blimp was struck by lightning, resulting in a general computer meltdown in the TOC.  I was surprised at how well they took this setback, and was informed that they were used to it.  This was the fifth blimp they had lost in the last year alone.  The other blimps were casualties of weather, RPG, small arms fire, and a clotheslined Chinook, in that order.  One of the image analysts sighed as he confessed to me that Wright was leading the country in downed blimps. 

As I write this, I’m two-thirds the way through my trip back to Kabul.  It amazes me that it will take me at least three days, three flights, and many more hours logged in terminals to cover 184 km.  It would be both easier and faster to just catch a cab.
Heading down to Jalalabad
 On the upside, when I finally left Jalalabad (at quarter to five in the morning from a 1am show time), I did get to sit in the cockpit for the flight back to Bagram.  It was filled with green lights, radars, guns, and Little Debbies wrappers.  There was also a wedding ring hung in the window like a talisman or beacon.  The pilots’ chairs were set on a raised dais that swiveled, leading me to fervently hope that one of them would ask if the course was laid in and call to engage, but no soap.  My own seat was an improvement from the cargo hold, given that it wasn’t a canvas jump seat and actually faced forward, mitigating the g-force of takeoff and landing.  It was actually very difficult not to fall asleep, but I felt that would have been discourteous.
I just couldn't get over how green everything was
It was quite spiffy to watch the mountains I had so recently been photographing materialize on the radar.  The crew let me lean over their shoulders to look out the window at the sea of blackness, the quiet countryside lit only by eternity of stars.  Out of that dark ocean rose the sprawling island of light that is Bagram, noticeably messier than JAF, which is precisely as long as its airstrip and looks like a blackened hotdog in a B-Hut bun.  As we came in, I amused myself by trying to discern the base’s features from their light signatures: walls versus runway versus B-hut.  This might be my best memory of Bagram, painted with textures of brightness.  To add some icing to my exhaustion-addled cake, the crew was based in Colorado, so we all shared some home state love while waiting to disembark.
There we are: barren and desolate.  That's the Afghanistan I know and love
 What other random thoughts can I spew out, running on fumes of exhaustion and boredom?  The Jalalabad DFAC bouncer was in full battle-rattle, which I found only a bit ominous.  Ten months in theatre, and your tolerance for such things gets surprisingly high.  Additionally, I absorbed a new bit theatre-speak to my lexicon: fobbit, or one who never ventures outside the wire.  I didn’t inquire as to the relative furriness of their feet.