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).