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.