After five hours at Camp Kaia (the military side of the Kabul airport) Christian and I boarded a DeHavilland Dash-8 for Bagram Air Base 30 miles to the north. The Dash 8 was run by Presidential Airlines, a company that until very recently was owned by Xe (formerly known as Blackwater).
Following a short flight we landed at BAF and waited in the terminal (watching the Detroit Tigers play the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on ESPN) for somebody from the public affairs shop to come pick us up. And we waited . . . and waited. It turns out that Bagram has a traffic jam problem at certain times during the day along Route Disney, the main drag across the base. It took our public affairs contact 45 minutes to travel a mile or so. (Good to see that we’re bringing the full range of the American experience to the theater.)
The public affairs team (reservists out of Georgia) gave us a place to crash for the night – the “San Francisco” room in “Hotel California." As we opened the door to the place we were surprised to run into our old friend (and Christian’s former colleague) Sean Naylor of Army Times. After catching up for a bit in the space no bigger than some of the staterooms I lived in during my aircraft carrier days and taking care of some other admin items (including a brief nap on the top bunk (without a ladder) – at this point we’d gone basically two night sleeping on commercial airliners) we headed for the chow hall to grab some dinner.
BAF had a busy vibe, no surprise since it’s the main in-country support facility for the war. Even the sidewalks were crowded – not quite Tokyo-at-rush-hour crowded; more like a college-campus-between-classes crowded.
Dinner was good – I had spaghetti and ribs – but food always tastes better when you’re jet-lagged beyond recognition, doesn't it?
The next morning while waiting for the van to show up to take us back to the terminal for the next leg of our journey (this one to Forward Operating Base Salerno near Khost) the sound of morning prayer beyond the wire was shattered by the roar of two F-16s taking off (most likely for an on-call CAS mission). It struck me as a metaphor for something, although I’m not exactly sure what.
Once again at the terminal we dealt with the “normal” amount of BAF-related confusion/frustration. (Which line should we stand in? Did we have to have our orders stamped? Why did they want to keep our media IDs and when would we get them back?)
In many ways Bagram has the feel of a big, overstuffed bureaucracy. Troops in clerical positions seem at once competent and in the grip of a malaise of sorts. They know what their jobs are – or aren’t – and beyond that the information comes at you a step too late to avoid a wrong turn.
But at those times it’s important to keep your cool and remember that in spite of the fact the terminal may look like a commercial one in some respects, it’s about the mission and not the individual. And as we waited to board our Dash 8 for Forward Operating Base Salerno near Khost, I had a sense that the closer we got to the core mission, the more we’d appreciate those priorities.
(Another big shout out to BLACKHAWK!, the gear company that has been incredibly helpful and generous to us for this embed. We’re putting our gear through its paces and it’s performing as advertised, so far.)