Monday, April 23, 2007

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

I am sure you all remember that movie where Steve Martin and John Candy (rest his soul) had a miserable time traveling by all the means listed. My trip was not exactly the same and it consisted of Planes, Buses and Trucks (of course that didn't sound as good so I used the movie title). As I mentioned in the last update we arrived in Kuwait and waited. Everyone was anxious to get on with our mission so schedules were shuffled and we found a flight to a local base in Afghanistan, not our final destination, but much closer. We arrived in the middle of the night and fortunately there was a flight the next morning (actually the same morning because it was so late.) We stayed up all night and caught our flight to get us to Kabul International Airport (did you notice the initials, KIA, yes that's right the same as killed in action, so no one calls it that, we use the more friendly name of the Korean car). We then loaded up in trucks and made our way to our final destination called Camp Phoenix. This camp is a little like Phoenix back in the 1800's, lots of dust and dry and hot. Our trip from the airport to Phoenix was surreal. This truly is a third world country. As we drove we saw farmers working their fields, people walking beside the pothole filled road and children all watched as we passed giving us the "thumbs up" signs. It was just like pictures I have seen with the children dressed in rags with dirt on their faces, but they seemed happy. If you have ever been to Tijuana, I thought that was poor, well this place is far worse. The average annual income is less than $350 per year and it is amazing how they survive. One good thing is they don't have a weight problem like we have in the states. They have a long way to go to building a stable economy, but one step at a time.

A little about Camp Phoenix, it is a fairly nice base for Afghanistan. There is a Post Exchange, post office, laundry service (this is nice, you just drop off your laundry and they wash it for you free, its just like home with Rebecca except at home I don't have to count my underwear), a pretty nice dining facility (we actually had steak and crab legs on Friday night), a nice gym and recreation center. Of course there are large walls and razor wire surrounding the place and plenty of bunkers in case of attacks. I live in shipping container that measures 7 feet by 9 feet (it is actually half of a shipping container, but at least it is private), I think prisoners get an 8' by 10' cell, not that I have ever been in a cell and of course they gave me a key so I can come and go as I please. No matter how small, at least it is better than a tent with a cot, I have my own bed, nothing else in the room right now I will have to work on that. One great thing is I have internet access in my room so I am able to do e-mail at my leisure.

A little about Afghanistan, it is a relatively small country about the size of Texas. It is almost 6,000 feet in elevation so it beats Denver for elevation. I can definitely feel the effects of the elevation as I went running and was short of breath, of course the dust and smog in the air did not help. They say it takes about two weeks to get aclimatized. I am 11 and a half hours ahead of West coast time. Yes there is a half hour in there. You might wonder how they figured that out. Here is a brief summary of the time zones for your education purposes.
There are 25 integer World Time Zones from -12 through 0 (GMT) to +12. Each one is 15° of Longitude as measured East and West from the Prime Meridian of the World at Greenwich, England. Some countries have adopted non-standard time zones, usually 30 minutes offset. Some of those countries are: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Iran, Afghanistan, Central Australia, Newfoundland. Nepal is actually 5:45 ahead of UT. So with all the variations there are actually 39 time zones due to political boundaries and other offsets. The largest time gap along a political border is the 3.5 hour gap along the border of China (UTC +8) and Afghanistan ( UTC+4:30 ).

As I load my magazine with my 5.56 mm rounds (well not right now, I am typing and I can't do both at once, but I was loading my magazine and had to stop to type what I was thinking) I realize this is for real. These are not blanks and we are not playing. We are in war-torn Afghanistan and we need to be prepared for anything. I think for everyone here it has become real and people take it very seriously as they should. All our training will now come into play so we all come home safely.

Today is Sunday, a regular work day here in Afghanistan. Friday is like our Sunday in the states due to the Muslim religion so Fridays are our one day off. But today is Sunday so we decided to go to the range and fire some weapons since we had not shot anything for about 3 weeks and everyone was getting itchy trigger fingers. Not really, it is however a good time to check our weapons and get some more practice. We set up our convoy and headed out in town which was quite an experience. Did you know that that they do not have driver's licenses here and they have no driver training. It would be obvious to you if you saw how they drive. I thought China and Italy were crazy, but this place takes the prize. There are no lanes and cars drive anywhere on and off the street. In addition there are potholes everywhere and dirt roads next to the main road. So taxes are really a good thing because without them you get Afghanistan. There were people all along the side of the road so you had to avoid potholes, crazy drivers and people walking along the street. We finally arrived at the range, which was really just the base of a mountain with some old Russian tanks out in a field as our targets. We shot our M4 rifles, M9 pistols, an AK47, a couple of other foreign weapons and then the big thrill was firing an RPG. This is a shoulder held rocket launcher and is pretty cool. You may have seen one if you saw the movie "Blackhawk Down". It was amazing how loud an RPG is. Overall a fun day. We knew it was time to go when a big dust storm started and we were getting blown away by sand and dirt. The whole place is dirt, so when the wind blows you need to find shelter. Have you ever gotten dirt blown deep into your ear? I did, so I guess it is good that I have some good wax buildup to stop it from getting all the way to my brain.

I am meeting regularly with the team I am relieving and learning all the progress they have made during their time and the issues I will face. It will be a very interesting and exciting year. For those who want to see pictures, they will be posted on my blog in about a week.

Peace to you all,

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