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.