Thursday, October 02, 2008

Thrills & Reality


Wednesday October 1st 2008

There is thrill and reality of covering the war in Afghanistan. It does not have to come from being in "kinetic action" as the new term for gunfights with insurgents is referred too. The thrill of being in a Blackhawk helicopter filming out of the window past the guns hanging out the side, with the wind rushing in and buffeting you at a 150 knots, as you fly twenty above the ground crossing mountain passes of 10,000 ft. You can feel your stomach lurch as the updrafts rise and drop, like a rollercoaster with no track. 

We headed to the Eastern Province of Khorst and Camp Solerno. Moving around a battlefield is sometimes like a game of chess and getting from A to B is often a matter of waiting at C. C being back to Bagram and then driving to Kabul. The distance from our original starting point at Camp Shank to Kabul is less than forty miles by road; two hours drive at the most. But conditions here make travel on unsecured roads to risky. So air transport is the only way and it will take nearly 36 hours to safely get back to Kabul. 

Our connecting flight on a C130 had a check in time of 11:30 pm, the logistics of moving troops, contractors, equipment and at times media like us, can only be compared to running a major airline. After we had checked in and loaded our camera kit and bags onto the pallet to be fork lifted onto the plane. The Army corporal in charge of check in, yelled out

"Could everyone please make sure that clips are removed from your weapon and that there are no live rounds in the chamber"

There are no metal detectors here and you do not have to take your boots off or empty your pockets before boarding. 

The bad news was that the flight was now not until 02:30. Even in the middle of a war zone, you wait in airports. Producer Maryam Sepeheri and I settled down to a game of scrabble, the only thing that opened was a chest of cold water in the corner and as we played on, soldiers slept in broken armchairs covered with the sweat and grime of previous passengers.

Finally a Sgt announced that our flight was inbound and let's get ready.

"Make sure you are all wearing your IBA"

Individual body armor in plain English.

Walking out of the terminal into the night, you are surrounded b y blackness, the base has a blackout policy due to recent attacks by Insurgents that included truck bombs and suicide bombers at the front gate.

You can make out the rough image of the person in front of you and nothing else and out of the darkness you hear the plane land. No lights on the runway all operations for the pilots here are infrared, it is a strange experience to hear a plane and not see it. Like children on a pre school outing you file out to the plane, there is no talking as the drone of the blades and the smell of jet fuel blasting on you as you wait.

Shuffling on, you find a seat on the webbing and take your helmet off, Bagram is only thirty minutes away and we finally get to our bunkhouse on the base at 4am.

The thrill of the morning chopper ride over the mountains will remain with me forever, but the reality of traveling here, even short distances is brutal.

Post script – FYI I beat Maryam by 10 points in scrabble, Qi on a triple letter


Anonymous said...

Interesting blog, Mr. James. The shortest distance from point A to point B is never a straight line it seems, especially with a mountain inbetween. Poor Maryam...didn't have a chance did she. I have a grandbaby by the name of Maryam. I wondered where they got that spelling but was afraid to ask. Is it arabic? Hadn't seen it before. Would you ask her?

21stCenturyMom said...

I love Qi - Qi is my savior and I don't even know what it means. Xi is in the same category.

As always, glad you are safe.

Anonymous said...

Like all great women producers, you let the boys win sometimes, makes them happy ;o) Stay staying safe