Sunday, January 19, 2014

First Trip Outside Kabul

This past week, I had the opportunity to get off-base and fly to Jalalabad (or as Cristi calls it Dramallamabad), which is only about 30 miles from the Pakistan border.  My M4 never got zeroed before I deployed, so we set up a trip there to use the range.  In addition to instructing Afghans, our pilots have to stay current, so we took an all-American crew on a C-208 training line.  The C-208 is a small passenger plane that the Afghans use for small troop movements and light medevac.

On our way, our pilots took the opportunity to do a little sightseeing as we flew over the mountains. Here's a taste of what we saw.  The snow-capped mountain range in the background is the Hindu Kush. Those mountains are probably over 20,000 feet!

The river valley leading to Jalalabad:

Jalalabad...It nestles right up next to the mountains and is very green along the river.

Flying into Jalalabad...In the last picture, you can see crop fields.

Me on the range...Don't I look like a professional?

Flying back into Kabul...You can see how congested it is.

The C-208...Mission complete!  It was great getting out of the office. This was easily my best day in Afghanistan so far! One of the guys I work with says it really helps to pass the time, so I'll be looking to get out on other missions to other locations while I'm here!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Festivities, Flat Stanley, and Force Protection

This past week saw not only New Years but our first snow.  Finally!  I love seeing the snow on the mountains.  I also think that if it's going to be this cold that we should have something to show for it.  Here are a couple of pictures of the morning after.

Apparently, we've had a light snow season so far, so I'm looking forward to more.  For New Year's Eve, one of our contract partners, G3, that handles all of our Base Civil Engineering functions invited me and Col Doty, my boss, to their New Year's Eve celebration.  I'm still not sure why, but apparently we were big celebrities.  We stood and took pictures with cameras from everyone that had one for about half an hour.  Most of them are Philippino, and they are extremely hard workers.  I'm thankful for an amazing group of folks that make my life easier.

They had karaoke going there at the party, and I got goaded into singing.  After what seemed like an eternity of trying to find "the right song", I finally settled on "Desperado" by the Eagles.  What was really funny was that most of them -- especially the ladies -- kept running up there to take pictures with me while I was singing!  One tactical mistake I made was that a couple of my Defenders happened to be there (along with my boss).  They promised that they wouldn't tell anyone and would leave no surviving record of the performance.  That lasted until the next day!

Flat Stanley came to visit later in the week, courtesy of my nephew.  Because mail takes so long over here, he really had a whirlwind tour before he had to get back to the States.  I didn't realize it at the time, but it was my responsibility to dress him in addition to taking him on some adventures.  Well clearly if he's going to be on base, he had to have a uniform, and in Afghanistan, weapons are required.  So I made sure he had the proper gear (forgive the background noise from the scanner).

While here, he got to have lunch with Col Zalmai, my Afghan counterpart (Trust me, he doesn't always look this solemn!).

And he also went out on patrol with the Defenders.

When we went out, we went to a little compound called PeH, which is their equivalent of Air University.  The main thing the advisors do over there is teach English to those that need it for their job, like pilots, who have to talk to Air Traffic Control.  They're geographically separated from Oqab, so I wanted to get a feeling for what the route is like traveling over there, what the security situation is like, and what exactly they do.  I wanted to walk in their shoes.  We had a little bit of slack time, so they gave me the 5-star treatment.  After one of our walking patrols, they asked me if I wanted to drive the MATV (which I think stands for Massive Armored Truck Vehicle).  I drove it all over base.  They told me I was doing great, and I responded that I had had a driver's license for a year or two.  Oh yeah...and I had driven a wheat truck in college.  Next thing I know, we're turning down this street that has a wide-ol' Humvee on one side and a Toyota Land Cruiser on the other side and not much room in between (Afghanistan is not known for wide roads.  Actually, Afghanistan is not really known for roads, period).  I stopped short, but they told me I could make it.  Somehow I squeezed it through.  I must have actually been driving the Harry Potter Knight Bus MATV.  After squeezing through and popping out on the other side, I asked them if they had done that on purpose.  They just laughed.  I think I had been had! 

Shortly afterward, it was time to go back to base, and one of the guys asked if I wanted to run the gun on the way back.  Because I consider that one of the two most important positions in the vehicle, I reluctantly said yes if he gave me a tutorial on how to operate the M-249 fully-automatic heavy rifle.  The trip home was awesome!  Standing up in the turret, I could see much better than on the way out there.  It wasn't all sightseeing, though.  We travel right beside a major Kabul road with lots of traffic and buildings alongside.  I got to apply some of my pre-deployment training looking for bad guys.  Fortunately, nothing doing.  Fortunately, it's nothing doing almost every day.  You can't take this stuff for granted, though.  That day, it hit me a little harder what our Defenders do for us, and I'm thankful they're professionals.