Sunday, July 18, 2010

Abesentee Blogger

Long time, no blog!

For those of you wondering, I'm doing just fine here in HOT sunny Afghanistan. Sorry that I have let so much time go by since my last post. We were encouraged (directed) to lay-low on the blogs/Facebook/MySpace after our base was attacked on the 19th of May. It only took 7 minutes for the news of our attack to hit CNN and there were a lot people posting info and pictures that were not allowed. That was a crazy day here and the Lord abosultely protected us. Several circumstances and divine intervention helped protect many soldiers that day and we lost no troops on our base (in contradiction to the Taliban's report that they killed several high ranking generals). Since then, all has been pretty quiet, but we remain vigilant and poised at a high security level.

Now another BIG event is coming soon... my return! Our replacements have arrived and we couldn't be happier! Wow, I can't describe the feeling it is to see people coming off a plane walking toward you that will be the ones who allow you to go home. We are in the middle of transition with our replacement unit, then soon I will leave this place and begin my journey home. I am so excited to see my family and spend time with them. I have missed Stacey, and Alison, and Isaac so much over these past six months and I know they have missed me too. Alison and Isaac both had their birthdays while I was gone and are now 11 and 9. Alison is starting her summer volleyball camps and she's been keeping her social calendar full with sleepovers and friend outings. She is a wonderful daughter and continues to impress me with her diligence and responsibility. Isaac has started a lawn-mowing business this summer in our neighborhood and is taking care of at least 4 yards on our street. He's a very hard worker and he is doing well and having some fun this summer too (his sister is a little jealous of the new-found income of her younger brother :) ). Stacey has been doing an awesome job as a single mom and working hard to keep things going at home, not just with the kids but around the house as well. I know she has a long list waiting for me when I get back, but by-in-large she has been able to handle all the litany of problems and nuances that have manifested. I'm very proud of her! I love all of them very much and I am very proud of their sacrifice too for me while I have been away. Sometimes I think it is harder for them since they have to stay home and try to live with a big hole in their lives, while I, on the otherhand, am fully distracted with a muriad of new challenges and demands that keeps me fully engaged and allows the time to pass by with haste.

It's been a long time... and yet it doesn't seem that long ago I was setting up this blog in Germany on my way here. We've accomplished a great deal of work and I'm amazed to look back and see all the changes that have happened during my stay. Don't get me wrong, I'm not the least bit sentimental about it... I'm ready to go home! Please, get me out of here!

This may be my last post and I wanted to send a special thank you to all of you who have supported both me and my family while I have been gone. I recieved several care packages, letters, cards, emails, and tons of encouragement from several people; it was all very wonderful. Thank you even to those who just tuned in to my blog to see what I was up to. It is nice to know that you are surrounded by people who care. God bless you all!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bottled Water

All of our water here on BAF is 'delivered' in one form or another. We have wells on base that produce non-potable water, but there is no water distribution system (pipes in the ground) and it's not suitable for drinking. Day and night, water trucks deliver water for showers, sinks, and toilets to individual water tanks; every building with plumbing has their own tank. As you can imagine, this is a big job. Several times each week, buildings will be out of water because the supply system cannot keep up with the demand (that's why we are only allowed to take 3 min. showers).

Likewise, all of the wastewater is collected into holding tanks and trucks have to pump out the sewage and haul it away. The gray water (shower & sinks) is dumped right into Coyote Creek which runs through our base. The black water (toilets & sewage) is transferred to large tanks then transferred again off the base. All of the water that we drink comes from water bottles. They're everywhere! You can't go very far without seeing a pile of them inside or outside of a building. They are free for the taking and greatly needed for survival.

In April alone we consumed over 11 million bottles of water here on BAF! That's almost 1.5 million gallons of water all individually packaged. Because of the lack of plumbing and the boutiful supply of water bottles, they end up getting used for much more than just drinking. Of course, we fill our coffe pots with them, but also, we keep them in the vehicles to top off the radiator and use them to fill the mop bucket when we clean the floors. Two bottles of water and a bottle of Windex makes winshield washer fluid, and if your hands are dirty, you pour some water from your bottle and rub them together (and dry them on your pants).

If nothing else (which it's not), this place is a constant reminder of how good we have it in out cities, states, and country. There is so much we take for granted without even thinking about all the work and infrastructure it takes to make it possible and so convenient. I know I will appreciate it more the next time I turn on a garden hose... I haven't even seen one in 4 months!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Friday in Kabul

"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of BAF
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings!"

That's the first two lines of a poem called "High Flight" (except I replaced the word earth with BAF)... we had to memorize that poem when I was in ROTC and it seemed to have greater personal meaning a couple days ago when I had a chance to leave the base and travel to the capital city of Kabul.

Myself and my electrical superintendent went on a service mission to help another unit at the Kabul International Airport (KAIA) where they were having power problems. Mainly they had been scavenging their power from other neighboring units and were being threatened to have their plug pulled. We were requested to see if we could provide generators and equipment to power their office, A/C, and refer unit.

Our flight left the base at 0530 that Friday morning, but we were required to check-in 3 hours prior to take-off... so, I set my alarm clock for 2am. After hours of drowsy sitting in the terminal we boarded the plane; an Air Force grey, Dash 8, small twin engine, turbo prop, with regular passenger seats for about 50 riders... there were about 20 people on our flight.

The sun had come up before take-off so it was nice to see the base from the air as we climbed skyward and headed South. We only climbed a few thousand feet for our cruising altitude so it was easy to see lots of details on the ground below. Finally we could see beyond the view of our base perimeter and get a look at what else there was to compare of this Southwest Asian country.

The mountains around our base form a natural trough that leads straight toward our destination city. I could only make out one freeway-type road and all the rest were unpaved, packed dirt. All of the houses are made out of mud bricks and coated with a thin layer of mud (like stucco). Every house is mud brown. Around each property is a similarly built mud wall that stands about 6 feet tall. Many of the walls connect to each other forming a non-geometric shaped grid of stacked properties that make up the neighborhoods.

Kabul is only 27 miles from Bagram, so our flight lasted less than eight minutes. Hardly worth the three hour wait that we endured just to leave. We were greeted as we stepped off the plane by one of our contacts who was ready to take us to breakfast.

KAIA (pronounced: ky'-yuh)is a NATO run base, not Air Force or Army, and not US for that matter. There are 27 different countries represented by military forces at that base so it is quite a different operation. The chow hall was filled with many different coalition troops; German, French, Czech Republic, Hungarian, Greek, and we even sat by a large group of Mongolian soldiers. We didn't talk to any, but it was interesting to see the various nationalities. It actually was somewhat refreshing because sometimes if feels like we (U.S.) are over here on our own, so it was nice to get a picture of the 'team' effort that is actually taking place... though I couldn't tell you what their missions are here.

After breakfast we got right to work trying to solve the power problems and as expected it turned into a big can of worms. That's the real reason that I went along, suspecting that there were bigger problems than just 'electricity' I was there to help find a more permanent solution that the base could provide to helping this unit with its support needs. We talked to multiple people from different offices to try to get some answers. It was like a scavenger hunt, if you will, as we scurried the base and went from one person to the next. It started with the broken English speaking Indians who manned the help-desk of the base contractor. They connected us to Taff Phillips, a retired British military officer, who is now the Electrical superintendent. He had us meet and talk to the Project manager, Russell, who then guided us to the base's Chief Engineer, Captain Tvelang from Hungary (I talked with him briefly about my deployment to Kapsovar, Hungary and visit to Budapest). He arranged for us to discuss our issues with Mr. Bridon a large bellied, red-faced, British civilian who was in charge of the cargo for all NATO aircraft at KAIA. Success! He agreed to our proposal and now we just had to get the Command approval and figure out who was going to pay the bill for our project. Oh well, two out of three hurdles wasn't bad for one day of running around.

We caught a return flight at 4:30 in the afternoon and we were back on the ground at Bagram in time to have dinner with the other members of our squadron. All in all, it was an interesting trip. It was definitely nice to see Afghanistan from the air (we came here in the dark of night... so that was my first chance). It was also nice to see what another base was like (our food is better at BAF than KAIA, but their base is much cleaner, less crowded, less dusty, and better organized... I think it's the European influence). We took an overnight bag, just in case we couldn't get back that same day, but I was glad to be back, able to sleep in my own bed for the night... as much as none of this place feels like home, you still find comfort with the familiarity of your surroundings. I don't know if I'll get a chance to leave the base again or not while I'm here, so I'm glad for the opportunity. Hopefully the next time I heading down the runway, I'll be on my way home! :)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tree of Birds

On 7 Feb I posted a video where I walked past a tree full of birds. Here's a close-up of that tree just for a better visual reference. There aren't many trees around this terrain, however, there are multiple trees on base... they certainly don't have to be as crowded as they are. We've joked that they are the reason that the Russians left here :). I think I've figured out what they eat... moths! Each night in just the past couple weeks, the moths have come alive, and in droves. I'll try to get some video of them. At night they swarm around the airfield ramp lights and the way they flutter around the spotlights makes it look like it is snowing! An easy snack for several hundred hungrey birds.

The Mighty wReTCH

This is the Rough Terrain Container Handler, or RTCH (pronounced 'wretch'). There are pobably thousands of container boxes here on BAF. They are used for storage and shipping as well as billeting, bathrooms and offices. This piece of equipment can pick them up and take them where they need to be. The container that we are moving in this video is actually full of 5 gallon buckets of paint; it weighs over 48,000 pounds. You can see the four small pins are all that is used to grab the top of the container to lift it up. It is a pretty impressive sight.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday

What a GLORIOUS day here for Easter Sunday!

At 6am there was a sunrise service out on the flightline to celebrate the Lord's resurrection. Probably 100 people gathered in rows of folding chairs to sing and listen to the Chaplain preach as the sun crested over the mountain tops in the distance. We were positioned in front of the West flightline firestation facing due East. a 2x4 cross stood at the front of the audience on the pavement where we shared our service with several other parked aircraft on the ramp. The sun gleamed through the purple cloth that was draped over the arms of the cross which made it glow. Behind that, were parked the Marine EA-6s and CJ-130s sitting quietly before their next missions. Off to the right and in the near distance, the orange ATCALS radar antenna made its repeated revolutions. Several times during the service a helicopter or aircraft engine would drown out the music or voices up front, but they would pass shortly and the program would quickly resume. In the distance were the taxiways and runway with just a trickle of traffic passing along its pavement. And beyond that were the mountains that surround us here at our base, silloutted by the backlight of the sun and hazy from the dust in the air. The sky was blue and clear; it was going to be a beautiful day... as I find the Lord blesses each Easter year after year with his glory. The sun rose as we remembered how the Son rose!

Actually the sunrise service wasn't the start of my day. Each holiday around here is celebrated with some form of a race to run in; today was no exception. The Easter 5k was scheduled for 6am this morning as well, but wanting to participate in both, I made arrangements to run the race early so I could still get to the service. I got up at 5 and started my race around 5:20. That gave me just enough time to grab a sweatshirt and head to the flightline after I was done running.

After the service, I got cleaned up for the day and followed up on some emails and projects. Some frieds of mine were going to the 12:30 Caothlic Mass, so I joined them for another Easter celebration at that time. It was a very different service, but they were celebrating the same resurrection of the same Lord and I enjoyed the different venue.

Finally, after lunch, I had time for a short rest before I needed to go to my regular Sunday evening worship practice and service. Yes another service for my day. All in all, I enjoyed 3 Easter services today and each one had it's own twist and message that made my day a nice joy and relief from the daily grind that I've become accustomed to here at Bagram.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Late night visitor

We had an unexpected guest stop by our base tonight.

He was only here for a few hours... actually we had to wait from 8pm until his speech started at 11:15 (my feet are sore from standing).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My daily commute...

Here's a short video of my walk to the office each day from my dorm room. You'll see it's a bit of a maze of narrow passages and alleys between bunkers and "B-Huts" (B-Huts are wood-framed structures which are used for office or lodging space here at BAF). I took this video on Friday morning, which was the last day that my walk to work looked that way. Later that morning, we started moving B-Huts with a crane because we needed to empty our grounds for a new passenger terminal construction project that is supposed to start on 1 April.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Project Liberty

Here's a picture a few members from my Civil Engineer (CE) squadron.

We are standing in front of a MC-12. This aircraft is a modified Beechcraft King Air 350. It performs surveilance and reconnance missions through the AOR (Area of Responsibility... that means Afghanistan). They can provide real-time, full-motion video to soliers on the ground that are equipped with special laptops and receivers. Basically, troops below can have a bird's eye view of what's going on all around them without leaving the protection of their cover. It's a pretty interesting mission. They gave us a tour of their facility and aircraft one afternoon.

Here's some more info about it as well:

Basically a Predator on Steroids: That's how Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford , USAF's top uniformed acquisition official, describes the Air Force's new MC-12W surveillance aircraft. Speaking Tuesday at an Air Force Association-sponsored Air Force Breakfast Series presentation in Arlington, Va., Shackelford said the MC-12 features overhead streaming video capability like on MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted aircraft, but adds the capacity for signals collection that Predator lacks. Thus the analogy. The Air Force is acquiring a fleet of 37 MC-12s , based on seven modified King Air 350 airframes and 30 King Air 350 Extended Range aircraft. According to Shackelford's briefing slides, all seven 350-based MC-12s have been delivered (six serving in Iraq, one used for training in Meridian, Miss.) as have nine 350 ER-based units (four in the war theater, one in transit, and four at Meridian) (For more from Shackelford, read What to Expect and Too Much of a Good Thing .)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lots of Updates

FYI... I had a lot of updates from last week. But, I just finally got a chance to post them all. I think I made 4 separate posts last night! Enjoy... thanks for reading. Jason.

Aircraft Recovery...

It was a very busy week.

Monday, while standing in line outside for chow, an Airbus A300 flew over our heads at about 300ft above the ground, traveling perpendicular to the runway. We realized, it was probably buzzing the tower for a visual on the landing gear (they probably had an indication that something wasn’t right). Within a few minutes, we received a call on our cell phone about a faulted landing. The left main landing gear collapsed when it hit the ground. The video and pictures I've included will give you a pretty good idea.

We scrambled to gather equipment and rolled out to the scene. The EOC (Emergency Operations Center) & (Unit Control Centers) UCCs were activated. All crew and passengers were ok and offloaded down the egress slide. We laid down some AM-2 matting (basically it’s interlocking aluminum planks) to get the fuel trucks through the mud to defuel the plane. The runway was re-opened that afternoon with wingspan restrictions.

Tuesday, they got the cargo door open and we offloaded the plane. Since the nose gear had ended up on the edge of the pavement, and the tail was still down in the ditch, the aircraft was pitched up at about a 20 degree angle. This meant we had to manually push all the pallets from the back of the plane, uphill, to the cargo door. One pallet weighed 12,000lbs. It took a lot of teamwork for us to make this happen; it was a major accomplishment. We had the plane unloaded by the end of the day.

Wednesday, the objective was to move the plane up onto the adjacent taxiway. We provided more AM-2 matting and equipment to assist with the move. Since the right elevator was still over the pavement it was restricting wide-body aircraft from our airfield. With a lot of pulling power and a crane, they were able to move the aircraft out of the mud. All this in addition to all the projects we were already engaged in.

It was a very busy week.

Running from rocks!

I've been trying to stay (get) in shape while I'm here. One of my main workouts is running. Today, I ran around the base for the third time; it's about 7.8 miles round trip. I usually do shorter runs during the week and a long run on Sunday morning. The perimeter road is fine in someplaces, but several sections are riddled with potholes, muddy shoulders, and rocks. Depending on when it last rained, can really make a difference on the running conditions. I've included a picture of my shoe/calf from after my run this morning so show how caked the mud can get after running for over an hour through the Bagram terrain. I like to say that my shoes are covered in BAF!

Also, some of the road runs directly along the perimeter fenceline. Outside the fence are fields and houses of the local Afghanistan people. Many times we will see people working out in these fields, sometimes there are children tending to goats or just wandering around along the fence. Sometimes they wave and smiles, and sometimes they throw rocks at us or our vehicles. Last Sunday, as I passed along this fence, two children were shouting at me to get my attention, but the people running next to me said, "Don't look, they want you to stop so they can throw rocks at you." I kept going without really looking at them. Moments later, I could hear rocks landing near me. I didn't get hit; it actually probably helped motivate me to run a little faster. We are told that some of the village elders will pay the children for each vehicle or person they can hit with rocks. Not exactly the welcome feeling you want from your neighbors. I'm not sure the local people are getting the message that we want to help them.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

C-17 Take off

This is a video of a C-17 taking off from Bagram. I shot this video from the old Soviet tower. This is the same type of aircraft that our Unit flew into Bagram on in the middle of the night back in January. It almost looks like they are going to fly into the mountains, then they pull up.

Wiley wiring...

Here are a few photos from around the base that exhibit some of the less than standard electrical and wiring conditions here on BAF. The photo of the burnt wire is, of course, from the electrical fire in our bathroom that I wrote about before ...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shakey Ground

I woke up in the night at 3:55 am to the jostling of my bed. No wait, it wasn't just my bed, it was my building... actually the whole base was rumbling. I knew right away it was an earthquake!

It lasted about 30 seconds and was just a subtle oscilation, not violent (5.7 on the Richter scale). However, it did make me wonder if my building (which is just a bunch of connex boxes stacked 3 stories high) would sustain this tremor. But soon it was over and I just went back to sleep. Most people didn't even wake up, or if they did, they thought it was their bunkmate rustling around unnecessarily in the middle of the night.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Appropriate words of worship...

Tonight at chapel, we sang these words which seemed very appropriate to my current situation...

Blessed Be Your Name:
...Blessed be your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be your name...

Amazing Grace:
...Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home...

I know these word apply to our daily lives most all of the time, but they made a special connection with me tonight. I wanted to share these thoughts with you... Jason

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ice Cream Sunday

Did I mention before that the D-fac's (Dining Facilities) have all-you-can-eat ice cream? Actually, everything at the D-fac is all-you-can-eat, but even the ice cream. We actually have tubs of Baskin Robins; about six of their flavors (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cookies and cream, pralenes and cream, and another one I can't remember). It is available at every meal (except breakfast, I guess), but I usually only have it once a week on Sunday's. It kinda makes it a special treat that way.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mountains all around...

You'll be glad to know that I was able to get a full nights sleep in last night. In fact I went to bed at 8:30 just to get a little extra snooze time.

Here's a quick video of our surroundings. I was able to go up to the top of the old Soviet tower the other day and capture some of this video. Since it had just snowed, the air was void of any dust and haze. The visibility has only been like this one other time since I have been here. You can slowly watch the mountains disappear over the course of a few days as the dust slowly fills the air. It's too bad, because it really is beautiful when you can see the mountains.

P.S. After you watch the video, click on the word "comments" right below the video window to read about a new update that I figured out.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interrupted Sleep

I mentioned yesterday about how we were awoken in the night regarding the avalanche. What I didn't mention was that was the second night in a row. On Sunday night, around midnight, our Deputy Group Commander knocked on our door because an aircraft had accidently slid off the paved airfield surface and into the mud and they were trying to pull it out with difficulty.

Coincidentally, last night, Tuesday night, we were all raised from our sleep once again... for the third night in a row. Around 2:00am the fire alarm was sounded in our building. But it wasn't a false alarm, we had an actual fire! Just a few doors down from my room, the hand dryer had shorted out and started a fire in our shower room. By the time I got out to the hall, one end of it was completely filled with smoke.

Everyone was evacuated and the base fire department arrived. Several of us walked over to our office to stay warm because the temperature got down to only five degrees last night, and we knew it would be awhile before things were clear. Since we live in steel connex boxes, the fire didn't spread too fast or far. Eventually, our building was cleared and I got back in bed around 3:30. It was quite a night.

The shower room was smoked up pretty good and the whole building had a soot smell to it. I told my commander that I would be happy to provide a bid to do the repairs! :)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bagram News

I don't know if you've ever noticed before... but I thought I would point out a news section that I have included with my Blog. At the bottom of the right-hand column you will find links to recent news stories that relate to Afghanistan and Bagram Air Base. Today there are a couple stories from a major event that just hit the news.

I share a room with my Squadron Commander and his boss, our Group Commander, came knocking on our door at 3:30 this morning. He had been contacted by our Command Center that there had been an avalanche at one of the outer lying bases. We didn't know much, but that people were trapped and not able to evacuate, so they were looking for units with heavy equipment (we have some) to help with the relief and clear snow and establish the road network. A convoy of equipment left the base this morning to do just that. All through the afternoon, the chinook helicopters were landing at our base to deliver wounded and rescued personnel (not all were U.S. military, some were coalition forces as well). Our hospital is swamped with patients and several people went there to volunteer and help them deal with the influx.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A short walk...

Click to play video.

Groundhog Day

This past Tuesday was the real Groundhog day, but if you've ever seen the 1993 Movie "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray, that's how several of us here refer to life on a deployment. In the film version, the main character keeps living the same day over and over again until he finally gets it right, then he can go on with the rest of his life. In my case, the number of days is predetermined, but each one very closely resembles the day before and you go to be with confidence that tomorrow will be a similar experience. That's not to say that it is boring or mundane. On the contrary, it has been very busy and engaging with each day presenting new challenges and priorities. Everyday seems to run into the next and they start to lose their distinction. It is not uncommon for people to lose track of what day of the week it is or to feel like something that happended 4-5 days earlier seems like 2-3 weeks ago. A lot happens in a short period of time, so all of your normal time references seem to be out of calibration.

Sundays are a little different. They actually help define the boundaries between the weeks. Even though most of us still walk over to our office for some reason or another on Sunday, it breaks up the routine and gives a little freedom of decision, time to ask yourself, "What do I want to do now?" There are not many options, but at least you get to ask the question.

Today is Sunday for me. Here's how day has gone so far. I slept in until 8:30 this morning, which is a nice break from waking up at 5:15. I opened up my laptop to check my email and to see who might be signed-in on Skype (fyi, my skype name is "jason-lay" if anyone is interested). Everyone back home is living out their days while I'm asleep, so I usually have several emails to scan through to see who might have sent me a message. After that I went to the gym. It's a short walk, about 50 yards from my barracks. I did a little bit of PT then went back to my room to get ready for the day.

With the flexible schedule, it gives us more time to walk to a dining facility (we call them "D-fac's") that might be further away. There is a group of about 15 people from my Squadron that meet at 10:30 on Sundays to walk to the BBQ Dfac. It's a little over a mile away, so we gather outside our building and then walk as a group. The weather has been in the low 30's and it's been of-and-on snowing and raining, so we were all bundled up and wearing stocking hats for the jaunt.

The BBQ Dfac serves barbecue food everyday, but on Sundays they feaure ribs, potato salad, corn on the cob, and fresh watermelon and pineapple. It's the closest thing to tasting like a meal from home that you can find here at Bagram. About half-way back from the BBQ Dfac is the BX (Base Exchange), which is basically a store with a variety of stuff. It's always busy on Sunday, but since it's on the way, I decided to stop and pick up a few things I was needing (soap, toothpaste, etc.). I dropped my stuff off in my room and wandered down to our office to check my email. We were expecting a delivery of lumber to come in on a flight from Manas, Kyrzygstan last night and I wanted to see if it had arrived. Lumber is in high demand here and very difficult to get quickly. I had an email message that stated the plane had some maintenance issues they were working on, so I couldn't confirm if it had arrived yet or not.

Next door to our office we have our construction shops which house the tools and equipment for our different trades. If you saw my earlier blog photos, you'll know that we are moving these shops into k-spans; however, right now they are located in large, dome shaped tents called a California Medium Shelter System. Again, in my photos was our the new tent city we are building, those are the smaller version of the same type of tent. They are called Alaska Small Shelter Systems (we just call them Alaska tents... this is once case where the military doesn't promote the use of the acronym... you'll get it if you think about it. Anyway, so I stopped over at the structures shop to see what was going on over there. Several pepole were gathered to play cards. I joined in on a 4 handed game of Spades and got to know the other guys in my unit a little better. It was a fun time.

I left the CE compound and came back to my room just to relax a little before the evening chapel service. That's where I am now adding this post to my blog. It is 3:32 in the afternoon, my room is quiet and dark and I am enjoying the peace of the day. At 5pm I will head to the chapel. I volunteered last week to play keyboard with the praise team, so we will practice a few of our songs before the service at 6:30. I did this last week too and really enjoyed it; it's another one of those things that break up the routines and give distinction to the week and keep if from feeling like Groundhog day all the time.

After Chapel is over, I will probably come back to my room to see if my family is awake yet on Sunday morning back home. Isaac is usually the first one up and he is often ready to play some games on Skype. We can interact with sound and video and even play checkers, hangman, or several other games together online all at the same time. Skype has been wonderful. It is invaluable to me to be able to see my family and smile back to them. Last night we Skyped for over an hour and a half taking turns talking with each other and playing games. That has been a real blessing!

Once the evening sets in, it will be time to wind down and go to bed to get ready for another day here in Afghanistan. And I'll try to find a way to make it different from the day before so that I know I'm not trapped in some quasi time-space continuum where the earth stands still. So far so good!

P.S. I forgot to mention in my last post about the Soviet tower that I had just copied that picture and article from our weekly base newsletter here at Bagram. That was all interesting information to me that I wanted to pass along to others, and I wasn't trying to imply that I had written any of that... just a redistribution of information. I hope you enjoyed it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A little bit of history...

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan—The old Soviet aircraft control tower days after coalition forces secured the airfield. (Courtesy photo)

Bagram Airfield played a key role throughout the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. Bagram served as a base of operations for incoming troops and supplies and provided the preliminary staging point for the invading Soviet forces. 368th Assault Aviation Regiment, which flew Sukhoi SU-25‘s (Frogfoot), was based at Bagram and provided close air support for both Soviet and Afghan ground forces.

During their time at Bagram Airfield, the Soviets built three large bunkers, a control tower, and numerous support buildings and barracks.

Although the Soviets had a 10,000 foot runway, more than 32 acres of unused ramp space still existed. By 1989, the Soviets had five aircraft at their disposal, dispersal areas and 110 revetments.

After the Soviet forces withdrew in February 1989, the airfield remained abandoned during the subsequent Afghan civil war. During the 1990‘s, most of the buildings on base were either neglected or destroyed by Afghan factions fighting for control of the airfield. What remained from the once mighty Soviet occupation was rusting vehicles, corroding aircraft, dilapidated buildings, and abundant mine fields.

During the liberation of Afghanistan, Bagram Airfield was secured in early December 2001, by 40 Royal Marine Commando‘s, based at Somerset, England. They were soon joined by U.S. forces that consisted of the 10th Mountain Army Division, Special Operations Forces from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. and the 82nd Airborne from Fort Bragg, N.C.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Something to look at...

The old Russian control tower is just down the street from where I work; it's now just used as office space.

The Russians left behind a lot of mined areas inside and outside the base perimeter. These signs warn where it's not ok to venture off.

This is one of our loaders placing a concrete bunker section near a new construction site. The bunker will be surrounded with sandbags once it is placed.

A new tent city we are constructing. This area will create new bedspace for 214 troops. I may be moving here in a few weeks.

Driving along our perimter road. Concrete plants that supply concrete for the base can be seen in the distance.

Inside 4 of these large tents we are building 216 bunk rooms (different tents from the picture above). I created the design for this project.

These large arched structures are called K-spans. My Squadron will be moving our operation to these buildings in March.

Inside the K-spans we are in the process of building out our shops: Electrical, Plumbing, Structures (carpentry), Power Production (generators), and Heavy Equipment.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Communal Living

I got my haircut last night. It cost $7. I think that's the first money I've spent since I arrived here almost 2 weeks ago. If you don't like the rising costs of goods and services try life on a deployed military base -- almost everything is "free" (of course I had to put quotes around that). It's the ultimate in communal living; no rent for your room, no charge to eat at any of the 12 dining facilities on base, you drop off your laundry and pick it up 3 days later with only your ticket in exchange, your vehicles are provided and maintained and fueled, there's no utilities or taxes either (although I do have to pay for this internet connection each month... I guess that's a utility of sorts... and definitely a luxury here in the field). However, all these perks do come with some drawbacks. For example, 80 people per 4 showers (only 3 minutes allowed), there's only one choice for laundry service, if you don't like the food... too bad, you can't much complain about the services that you don't pay for. It is quite overwhelming to think about 28,000 people living in what really constitutes a small city (more people than Milwaukie), and all the money that it takes to keep it going each and every day is ALL paid for by our Government. It's quite crazy when you think about it. I just thought I'd pass along some of that perspective today. :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rain mixed with snow...

Yesterday it started raining, well it was more of a drizzle. This morning it was still raining when I woke up. By mid-morning it was snowing but it melted as soon as it hit the ground. The mountains are gone. Visibility is only about 2 miles now; we are socked in. All the moisture has turned our dry dusty camp into a big mud pit. It's that kind of mud that builds up on your shoes and makes you taller the further you walk in it. I didn ' t much care for the dust before, but now I'd rather have it than the mud. Just below the top layer of mud the ground is baked solid like a ceramic clay, so the water has no place to go. All the rain has flooded several work areas and roads. The drainage on the base is quite poor, plus several of the ditches have been filled with dirt for vehicle crossings making the situation even worse . Many roads have large puddles covering the entire width with no way to see the hidden potholes below, so driving is rough. They say the rainy season lasts until May, but I'm hoping it will have some breaks during that time. It is supposed to snow here again on Monday.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mailing Address Update...

We were just given new guidance today regarding our mailing address for incoming mail and packages. A new line has been added to the bottom of the address as follows:

Jason Lay
455 ECES / CEO
APO AE 09354

Just thought I'd pass it along.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Close your eyes, bow your head, and please check your safety...

Ever wear a sidearm to church? I just did. It's not so bad when everyone else there has a weapon too. Though I could see that it was harder to clap along with the praises for those with an M-16 slung over their shoulder. The funny thing is that the Chaplain is considered a non-combatant... which basically means that he's not authorized to be armed. So, as a result, he's the only one in the building without a firearm. That would probably explain the excellent sermon that he preached! :)

Dangerous Laser BEANS!

Here's a story from our base this week... I'm not sure if this was a type-o or if the interviewee mispoke, but it made me chuckle...

Afghan workers at Bagram Air Base have staged a protest against maltreatment by the US military and laser health hazards at the camp, says a report.

Employees at the US military airport and housing complex in Bagram, 11 kilometers southeast of Charikar in the Parwan province of Afghanistan, gathered in front of the camp to show opposition "to US inappropriate treatment of the workers," a Press TV correspondent reported on Saturday.

Demonstrators said they have to pass through a "scanning device equipped with laser beans" which puts the employees' health in danger. (click here for the whole story)

There are long lines to get onto the base each day for all the workers. They prepare and serve our food, make deliveries, perform construction and service tasks, and much more. It is just a part of the whole environment on any foreign military base.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I made it!

Sorry to keep you in suspense... but, I'm here now. Actually, I've been here for 4 days... 4 very busy days, and I'm just now able to take some time to enter a post into my blog.

A lot has happened over the past few days, I'm sure I can't possibly convey it all, but I'll try to hit some highlights...

First of all let me tell you a little about where I am. Bagram Air Base is located 27 miles outside the capital city of Kabul in Northeast Afghanistan. The elevation is just shy of 5000ft. We are nestled in amongst 270 degrees of tall snow-capped mountain peaks. The land is amazingly flat until it sharply meet the mountains which dramatically tower over the base from a distance. It is a high desert evironment with minimal vegetation. The temperature swings about 30-40 degrees each day. Currently we are experiencing unseasonably warm tempertatures which have reached to even 61 degrees this week. Over night, it will drop to the high 20's or low 30's. Snow is forecasted for this weekend, that will be the first precipitation I've seen since I arrived. Weatherwise, it is much more bearable than Kyrgyzstan.

My first few days have been filled with meeting the team that we are replacing and trying to absorb as much information from them as possible. Most of them leave this coming Monday night. So, for the time being, everyone is doubled up and space is at a premium. In our office there is a lack of space, so I have not had a dedicated desk or computer which has made it hard for me to keep in touch. We are sleeping in 8x16 rooms with 4 people (two of which will be going home next week) -- that will free up some more space. It is nice to not be in a tent or on a cot. Our rooms are essentially CONEX steel shipping containers that have been converted into living quarters (I'll explain this in another posting).

I finally was able to setup an internet connection in my room, which is where I'm typing this from now. As the days continue, my schedule will tend to normalize, but at this point, everyday has been unique. I think I'll be able to make more frequent posts in the future.

The days are full and go by fast. I have been getting up around 5:30 each day to exercise and get ready. We meet at our office (which is just a short walk from our billets) and a group of us all head to breakfast at 6:30. The work day starts at 7am and ends at 7pm. After that, there's just a little time to wind down, take a shower, and go to bed around 9-10. Then it starts all over again the next day. Tomorrow is Sunday, and that is our day off; though, I'm sure at some point some of us will still go by the office just to check email or connect with other people who hang out in the conference room or use the phones to make morale calls home. That's just how it goes... there are not a lot of other options of what to do on your day off. I plan to sleep in a little and find a chapel service to go to, plus get some of my stuff organized and ready for the coming week.

This turned out to be a long entry... for those of you who are still reading, thanks for bearing with me as I recount the details of my time here. I'll try not to let so much time go by between posts so that I don't have an overload of information to pass on. I still have lots to tell and I'll try to include some pictures in future posts so you can see some of my experience as well. Until then, thanks again for staying tuned.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Kyrgyzstan... Where's that??? (click here for info)

Well, I'm now on day 5 of traveling! Yesterday, Monday, we arrived at Manas, Kyrgyzstan around 4 in the afternoon. We had to leave the luxury of our first-class 747 seats and face the harsh reality that was awaiting us. 44 of us volunteered to help with baggage detail as we were promised to be the first to in-process. 3 hours later, after handling every piece of luggage from the belly of our plane and loading two 40 foot semi trailers floor to ceiling then unloading them again, we realized that promise turned out to be empty... everyone else had long since finished in-processing.

Record low temperatures and 9 inches of fresh snowfall had kept us from getting here on schedule, and as it turned out, it had kept several other units from being able to leave here too. Many troops process through this base before going into Afghanistan from all branches of the military. It got down to 2 degrees farenheit last night, which is a pretty bitter feeling when you have to walk everywhere... to chow, billeting, bathrooms, etc. While we were doing the baggage detail, several of us stood right under the 747 near the landing gear; there are hot air exhaust vents that exit the planes duct system... it was like standing in front of a giant hair dryer!

We are staying in large canvas covered metal framed temporary buidlings with huge open bays of 350 bunkbeds and 700 other troops... I'll try to get a picture. We were issued some of our gear before heading to Afghanistan and we should be getting on a plane again tonight (if the weather holds up).

I'm doing well, but I'm weary from all the traveling and I'm ready to get somewhere that I will be for more than a few hours; it will be nice to get settled somewhere. Sleep has been a scarce luxury; all in all, I've only spent 8 hours in a bed over the past 5 days! Looking forward to some quality shut-eye.

My next posting should be from Afghanistan... so I'll tell you all about it when I get there.

Bye for now.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday in Frankfurt

I spent the day in Frankfurt Germany at the Maritim Hotel. Our flight was cancelled last night so 300 soldiers loaded into 5 buses and invaded the hotel lobby at 7am this morning. It has been a good day of rest while we wait for our flight tonight. Between eating and sleeping, I watched The Shawshank Redemption on my laptop in my room... not to mention, I did some research about how to create a blog. That's all for now (this is my first posting, and I want to see how this is going to work).