First, grab an atlas (for you youngsters out there, an "ATLAS" is a collection of maps--kind of like a "book"). Or navigate to your favorite online digital map. Or old-school globe.
Ready? OK....find BALTIMORE, MARYLAND.
The old saying is "A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step." Mine started with a 3 hour bus ride from Fort Dix, New Jersey to the Baltimore/Washington International Airport. We were travelling on a chartered jet, so it was nothing but military on this flight. Of course, that means that #1: everyone on the plane was wearing the same thing that I was and #2: everyone was riding in the cheap seats.
After a 2.5 hour wait in line (see picture below of my luggage cart), we took off about 7:00 on a Wednesday evening. And for the record, I did not have ricotta cookies to eat on the flight.
Now...navigate to Ramstein Airbase. It's in eastern Germany, near the town of KAISERSLAUTERN, GERMANY. 8 hours later, that's where we landed, but only long enough for a crew change and an hour leg stretch in the terminal. I should note that since we left when the sun was going down, and we were flying east at several hundred miles per hour, Wednesday night only lasted about 2 hours or so.
Now....find your way to Incirlik Air Base. It's about 8 miles east of ADANA, TURKEY. Found it? That was the next stop, after a mere 3 hour flight.
Now comes the hard one. You'll need to find BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN. Did you find it? Some old maps call it "Frunze", but now it's reverted back to the historical name of "Bishkek". It's usually the last stop before Afghanistan. We arrived after a 5 hour flight from Turkey, which doesn't sound bad, except that we got into Bishkek about 0300 on what was now Friday morning. That was the 2nd short night in a row.
People stay in Bishkek for various periods of time, but most of the Navy guys were leaving that night about 0200 in the morning. Which meant that we had to grab our bags, take a quick shower, and be back at the airport around midnight. In case you are counting, this would be the 3rd night in a row that basically evaporated into nothing.
To make a long story short....I arrived in KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN on Saturday morning, four short flights from Baltimore. As it was lunchtime, we stumbled out of the airport into the nearest dining facility, which happened to be run by and for a large British contingent. After 18 flight hours, multiple time zones, and several nights that never occurred, I suddenly found myself confronted with "bangers and mash", "butter carrots" and "treacle sponge pudding".
Luckily, my time in Kandahar was short, and the next morning, I found myself on a French C-12 transport headed to Kabul.
There are several events I need to mention:
First, on the flight from Bishkek to Kandahar, we made a sweeping loop to the West (maybe it was the west? I was a bit confused). The direction probably doesn't matter, except that through the port window, we suddenly had a spectacular view of the end of the Himalayas. Yes...the big ones. Nobody else in the plane seemed to care, but I was excited and managed to get a couple of pictures (see below).
|Looking out the "porthole" towards the Himalayas.|
|Why am I smiling? Because I got an aisle seat....|
|The view from "Business Class"|
Second, on the flight to Kandahar to Kabul, we were on a small little French plane. It was dreadfully hot in the plane, and we were wearing what is called the "full kit" (helmet, bulletproof vest, gloves,
weapons, extra ammo, eye & ear protection, etc). It must have been 150 degrees, and to make matters worse, I noticed that after 30 or 45 minutes, a very large duct behind my head was hot to the touch. It was so hot, in fact, I could smell my flesh starting to roast. I was really starting to worry, until I noticed that the smell was NOT my roasting flesh, but one of the French crew members cooking lunch. He had pulled out a George Foreman grill, plugged it in, and was making himself some kind of hot panini for lunch. I was relieved--even though he didn't offer to share.
If you still have your atlas, navigate to KABUL, AFGHANISTAN. That's where I am, at least for the time being, and once things get into a routine, I'll share a bit about the routine here.
I should note that access to personal blogs is severely limited here (it took me several weeks to get this post online) so the frequency of posting will probably be less...wasn't it P.T.Barnum (or maybe Walt Disney) who said, "Always leave them wanting more."