"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! :)