After all the prep and the waiting the time had come to head out – first stop, BAF.
Despite being among the busiest airports in the world BAF, and larger cousin KAF are not as widely recognized known as say LAX or JFK, which is a shame because the passenger clearance is MUCH faster (there was none) and the gift shop (aka the PX) is WAY cheaper, to say nothing of the tremendous culinary offerings that go for a steal (as in free with a DOD badge).
Bagram Air Base (like cousin Kandahar Air Field) – is a huge sprawl of tents, wooden “B-huts” and mismatched cement buildings plus, you guessed it, lots and lots of containers. I’ve recently come up with the depressing theory that the containers make a one way trip by sea to Pakistan, then by truck to Bagram or Kabul or wherever where they are unloaded. Normally, a shipper would then stuff something else in it, and reverse the trip, but there are (says the armchair and former economist) insufficient exports to backfill the huge influx of materials purchased by us foreigners, so they sell the box instead of paying to haul a big empty metal container a thousand miles through what a colleague rather quaintly calls “indian country”. That or they did such a bang-up job marketing hooch heaven they have inadvertently warped the export market by making containers more valuable than the goods inside them. But I digress.
SecDef Touring BAF
(in winter and courtesy of Wikipedia)
To support the need to move people regularly from place to place the Embassy has a clever arrangement known as Embassy Air that works just like an airline (minus cabin crew) with x-ray check, baggage tags, and so forth except that body armor is not counted against your weight allowance (which they have) since most everybody carries it. My flight went first to Jalalabad, and the short flight gave me an appreciation of just how dry and dusty a place Afghanistan is. The airstrip seemed like an oasis of green in a sea of light brown hills. Bagram by contrast, seemed more like an early version of the Mos Eisley spaceport might have been. (for you non-Star Wars fanatics, that’s where Luke met Han and took off in the Millenium Falcon with stormtroopers on their heels). A city laid on top of flat dusty plain kept alive by the constant traffic on the huge black runways.
Anyhow, after getting picked up by my predecessor Han, we headed out for some chow. The DFAC (“Dee Fak”) or dining facility lacked the cavelike charm of the Mos Eisley cantina (and didn’t have blue aliens playing that catchy tune) – but was impressive in its own right. First – a nod to the public health folk who have indoctrinated the troops in good hand washing and sanitation and have installed sinks at the entry to ensure compliance. The variety and freshness of the food was impressive, and I indulged appropriately, topping off my meal at the ice cream bar. The environmentalist in me cringed at the cardboard trays, but I convinced myself that washing the number of dishes generated by the 30,000 odd people living on BAF would drop the water table and is a bad idea.
Next we did a tour of the base, stopping in to see my new bosses and a few dozen people who would be introduced something like this. Bill, meet (Insert Rank) + (Insert Last Name) he/she is the S-(#1-9) for Task Force (insert cool sounding name like Gladiator, Bronco, etc.). He/she sits with CJ(add 1 to 5 more letters or numbers) over in the (building name and number). For the fully indoctrinated, this sounds more like “meet Dr. Watkins, he is the chief of emergency medicine down at County Hospital” . Eventually he took pity on me and gave up trying to help me break the code so we headed to our guest quarters. After a short rest we decided to drop by the MWR center (that would be Morale, Welfare and Recreation) to watch a pleasant but forgettable movie (whose name, main stars, and plot I have forgotten). Finally, we turned in early to get some sleep before an early flight out.