Thursday, November 24, 2011

Another Bad Morning

FOB Joyce, Kunar Afghanistan – Combat Outpost Nevada

Ok, getting caught with your pants down whilst under attack is bad enough, what the hell could be worse than that.

Take this morning, after a sleepless night and a chopper to catch further into the mountains to a remote Combat Outpost on a mountaintop in a couple of hours.

This was a good chance to have a shower before a few days of basically living in the dirt and having to ablute without porcelain, (a polite way of having to shit in a bag then throw into a fire pit to burn slowly).

So enjoying the warm caress of hot water cascading down, and feet slipping in my flip-flops.

The gentle hiss of water was broken by the deafening scream of the siren.

Incoming Waa Waa, Incoming Waa Waa

Great, f…ing fantastic bad enough getting caught with your pants down the other day, now buck naked in flip-flops in the shower.

So stumble out wrap the micro fleece towel around and collect my stuff and try to get back to the shelter. Out the door and naturally in wet feet slipping one of the flip-flops breaks within two steps.

Back at the tent, into clothes and then the reality if nothing has gone bang in the last few minutes. What the hell, I am going to get dressed.

Two minutes later the all clear is broadcasted, and life on the base returns too normal.

Half an hour later with kit packed ready to go and up at the landing zone waiting for the chopper to the Combat Outpost. I had managed to get to the DFAC and grab a cup of coffee and taken it up to the chopper pad. Putting it down on the bench I turned to watch a heavy lift chopper with a sling come into to transport fuel drums.

The down draught then hits and my coffee is basically flying through the end and naturally lands on my body armor at the end of the bench. Great what else can go wrong?

Then again it only takes a simple sign on the back of the Portaloo door to restore the Zen of the day, as they say.

I write this from the top of a mountain at the edge of the Pech Valley in Afghanistan, perhaps one of the most remote and dangerous places in this war zone. Food is no longer at a DFAC three times a day across the base, but is delivered in the morning on the back of a donkey.
Home for the next two days is in a pit depression on the mountain, with twelve soldiers and a lot of mountains around us.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Caught with my Pants Down

November 20, 2011

FOB Joyce

There is the expression getting caught with your pants down. Normally associated with acts that have absolutely nothing to me this morning.

Having woken at a normal time around 7am, not that you know inside the tent with partitioned into small rooms with plywood walls (think Ikea natural pine) and a stretcher for a bed, thou some interior designer has come in and added some ambience by putting some nails in the wall studs so you can hang stuff up, a minimalist wardrobe approach is the best way to describe the nails.

With the sun shining in the valley as I walked back from the Conex (Container) Box that serves as the Latrine, rather than the Portaloo on the corner. It was time for a shower also in a Conex Box next to the Latrine, every two to three days it is nice to wash and change clothes. Not mandatory by any stretch of the imagination. But given the sun was out and the golden rays shined across the valley on the mountains, it felt that why put off today what I have put off the last three days.

Having flip-flopped my way over thru the rocks and dirt, I enjoyed the hot water cascading over me and dried off. I flip flopped my way back into my suite in Tent 13 and looked at the clean clothing on my stretcher. I had decided on a khaki look for the day around the Forward Operating Base to blend in and not clash with the camouflage of the Army uniforms.

And just as I was reaching down to pull up my pants …..

“BOOM, BOOM, ratta tat tat, ratta tat tat”…. Gunfire and explosions erupt in the valley


The base is under fire and the warning siren is set to Volume 12 on the Spinal Tap scale of amplification.

So with my pants around my ankles, decisions have to be taken. Do you kick them off and run for the bunker or pull them up and run the risk of being unlucky.

“Waa Waa Waa” the sirens continue

I honestly thought that at one stage, the Robot’s voice was going to come over and come out with the classic “Warning Will Robinson Danger, Danger”.

Pants up, grabbed the camera and out the door, behind the concrete barrier, film for a few minutes. Then in a lull head for the nearest bunker to find Conor in his shorts straight out of bed. But suitably attired in his flak jacket and Kevlar helmet.

With sleep in his eyes we filmed a quick piece to camera describing but was happening.

Gunfire and mortar booms gradually ceased.

The robot came back on and proclaimed “All clear, return to your duties”.

All this before a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning or as someone pointed out it is in fact the equivalent of a Taliban Monday. As someone wisely pointed out always avoid the DFAC (Dining Facility) for the first hour of daylight as the bad boys constantly try to target it early in the morning thinking it will be full of hungry souls.

I will sleep in tomorrow an extra hour to allow for this new found wisdom, and also have my pants ready just in case.

Friday, November 18, 2011

84 Hours

1:50 am Friday November 18th 2011
Bagram Air Base

You just wait, and when you are tired of waiting you wait some more. The misconception of arriving in Afghanistan is that from the moment you arrive you are under gunfire from Taliban or Insurgents can be misleading to say the least.

We arrived at the base here Tuesday afternoon and had high hopes of catching a flight to the East later that night only to have all hopes dashed as the Air Force just cancelled that flight, remember that they do not have to give a reason they can just cancel. And the wait begins in the aptly named Hotel California that is the media holding rooms on Disney Road the main road in the base.

Now the word, Hotel is somewhat of a misnomer. In fact a wooden shack divided by ply wood into four rooms, three bunks in each room, a mattress and a pillow, no sheets or pillow cases so God only knows what creatures are from head lice to bed bugs are free to breed. Though I do add we had Room 1, which is considered the suite, as it is few square feet larger, and the luxury of a metal folding chair. Each room has a small fridge with a few bottles of water, I should add though that according to the energy consumption labels still on the door indicated that energy efficient rating was about as bad as you could possibly seek out.

There are no windows in any buildings as glass and bombs are not a good combination in the case of a rocket attack. So you have no concept of day or night. The heating and air conditioning is pumped into the building via by what sounded like a pre cold war jet engine. The tranquility of the environment is rocked every ten to fifteen minutes by this rush of noise more than heat or cold air.

The routine of waiting to hear that the next flight has been cancelled or that there are no flights to where we want to go, usually means being woken up by a knock at the door at 11pm, 1am or 6am. Flight schedules for daily flights are posted at different times and only 24 hours in advance. So if there is no flight you know that the wait to try again is 24 hours away.

There are no stories to be done at the base here as after ten years of war every story has been done at least five times and no one has any interest in day-to-day operations, because in a word nothing has changed, so you wait.

Breakfast in the DFAC (Dinning Facility) is followed by Lunch at the DFAC, wait and then dinner at the DFAC. The walk from Hotel California to the DFAC is about 8 minutes down Disney Road. More anything it kills time. The food is good, but obviously the big issue at the base here is obesity, as you enter the DFAC there are signs trying to explain portion size, which to some members of the Armed Forces and Contractors needs to be enforced. An extra large serving of fried onion rings is not considered 2 of your 5 daily requirements.

Of course there is option of Pizza Hut, but to the consternation of many on the base is not open for breakfast. Popeye’s another fast food chain is closed but reopening soon.

The other popular time wasting pastime, shopping. And the PX store is the same as it was 5 years plus again, from chewing tobacco to knives. Then just down the road is the local Afghan equivalent to the PX store, where every known dodgy DVD is available for $3 along with more aftershave and perfume than a duty free store at an airport. But the best sign in the bazaar is a note posted everywhere from the Base Commander stating that claiming something is fake is not a reason for demanding a refund.

The most disliked people on the Base seem to be the MP’s (Military Police) these people are more diligent than a traffic warden in London. Caught not wearing a seat belt, even in the back seat and your car is compounded for ten days and you must do a self criticism and how you will change your ways. Maximum speed 5 mph is enforced, no wonder service personnel have trouble adjusting to the real world after a tour of duty, spend a year driving the same roads at 5 mph. I suspect that a private wheel-clamping contractor is not that far away.

Finally after 84 hours we boarded our flight to Jalalabad, as they say a mere elevator ride less than 25 minutes in the air. The irony is that we could of driven from Kabul to Jalalabad in just over two hours. And saved 82 hours, nothing moves easy, in which you are part of a 32,000-person jigsaw that is the US Military.