Our time in Kabul

Our stay at Kabul hasn’t been too bad but I’m excited for it to
come to an end, so my team and I can move onto our final destination;
Kandahar.

During our time here we have all attended several briefings,
which explained a bit more in detail what our mission will be once we
arrive at our final duty station. We also got split up into teams and
several folks were reassigned to different locations. My location didn’t
change I’m still going to Forward Operating Base Lindsey in Kandahar
Afghanistan. My team consists of four people: Master Sgt. Deremer, Staff
Sgt. Pierce, Senior Airman Patrick, and myself. SSgt Pierce is a female
and is already in place at FOB Lindsey. She arrived about a week before
the rest of us and she’s tasked to stay for a year. We don’t know if she
volunteered to stay for a year or if that was just the tasking that came
down for her. I guess we will find out from her once we get there.

 I think six months is plenty for me. Our core mission we found out for the
next six months is to mentor members of the Afghan National Army (ANA)
who work in Public Affairs. We are told that we will teach them
everything, such as how to use a photo and video camera, write stories,
write press releases, and counter media propaganda. We are also supposed
to be alongside them while they are actually on the job, which means we
will go on convoys with them to conduct on-the-job training (OJT). Our
secondary mission when we are not training the ANA is to cover other
combat and humanitarian missions.

The reason behind the mentoring is the United States Armed Forces is helping the ANA build their Army so that
they can defend their country and fight the Taliban without the help of
U.S. and Coalition Forces. From what we are told the ANA still has a
long way to go, but they have made significant improvements as a whole.
According to the Marine Capt. who briefed us about our missions, the ANA
is in the crawling stage based on a crawl, walk, run scale, but they are
crawling at a good pace she says.

During each briefing we were often reminded that we would need to have lots of patience once we begin
training the ANA ,as we are only the second mentor team to work with
them. Another big factor that we are encouraged to consider is the
language barrier. None of the ANA speak English, and we will have to have
an interpreter any time we work with them. The latest information that’s
been passed to us is that most of the ANA guys who we will be working
with are illiterate. We are told they can’t even read their own
language.

After I heard this, all I could do is shake my head. I’m going
to keep a positive attitude, but from where I’m sitting it sure seems as
if we are being set up for failure. I mean come on! What are we supposed
to do, draw damn stick figures in the sand for crying out loud? For now
I’m going to remain optimistic and just hope that I get some smart ANA
guys who can at least read their own language. We will see.

Making it to Kandahar

SrA Patrick and I have finally made it to Kandahar, but the
process getting here was extensive to say the least. Prior to leaving
Kabul, we were informed that MSgt Deremer was no longer going with us. We
found this news out while eating chow. It really hit the three of us
hard. He fought it as best he could but ended up losing. MSgt Deremer
and I are pretty good friends so getting that news was less than
delightful. Shortly after finding that out, it was time for Patrick and I
to press on. It was about 2230 or 10:30pm and our flight out of Kabul to
Kandahar Air Field (KAF) was at 2315 or 11:15pm. We told everybody good
bye, and they wished us luck, as we were the first ones to leave. We then
gathered all of our gear and pulled it over to the passenger terminal.

As we began carrying our stuff inside piece by piece the lady at the
front counter asked “Are you blokes here to catch the 2315 flight to KAF ?” with her British accent. We respond “Yes ,Ma’am” She looked at us for a second and then said “Sorry boys, bloody plane took off already.”

I immediately dropped the bag I had in my hand, then turned and looked at
Patrick who was crushed. Patrick wanted nothing more than to leave Kabul
and get to our final destination. I wanted the same thing but wasn’t
opposed to staying in Kabul one more night to get some rest and just
trying again in the morning. I suggested this to Patrick. He didn’t want
to stay. So he went and found out  we could fly out with a large
group of British soldiers on a flight that was leaving at 0100 or
1:00am. He came back and told me the plan. I didn’t say much. We
continued moving our gear inside, then got it all palletized and waited
for the flight. A few hours later it was finally time to board the
aircraft. The plane that we were flying on was a British cargo plane. I
had never flown on one of those before, so another aircraft to add to my
list.

As we walked across the flight line with the Brits it was odd to
look around and not see any uniforms like ours. I didn’t have a problem
being amongst  all the British soldiers, but I must say it’s always
nice to have a few fellow American forces around. After we packed into
the plane and got strapped in, a severely wounded Afghan soldier was
rushed out to the plane by ambulance. He was strapped to a stretcher and
had a larger clear plastic bag covering him. Tubes protruded from
several parts of his body and an oxygen mask covered his mouth. The
medics brought him onto the plane, made sure he was secure and a few
minutes later they closed the back ramp of the aircraft and we took off.

Flying at night isn’t bad, but it can get to you from time to time,
especially if you let your mind wonder. Inside the plane, it’s completely
dark, no cabin lights or anything. The only sound you hear is loud
humming. A lot of people listen to their iPod’s, as there’s not much else
to really do. The flight seemed to take forever, but about an hour later
we arrived here at Kandahar Air Field. I found out as we were getting
off the plane that the wounded Afghan soldier was a victim of a mortar
attack. He died while we were in flight. That was sad, but I knew I
couldn’t let it get to me ,so I shook it off. As I stepped off the plane,
and looked across the flight line all I could see was a thick haze
highlighted by the flight line lights. It’s sure wasn’t the pretty
Mountain View we had when we arrived in Kabul. I asked Patrick if the
haze was fog, he looked at me smiled and said “No man. That’s the dust
that we are going to be breathing in for the next six months.” I shook
my head and said “Oh yes, why wouldn’t it be.” (For my family; if you’re
reading, the dust is worse than Sunday night at the Grand’s during mains!
Yeah, that bad) We followed the Brits to the bus, which took us to the
British transition terminal where our bags were located. Our next goal
was to get to the U.S. transition terminal across base. We managed to
flag down the bus driver who had taken us there and got him to give us
a ride to the U.S. transition terminal. Prior to leaving Kabul, Patrick
said he used a phone and contacted SSgt Pierce to let her know that we
would be arriving, so she could pick us up from the U.S. transition
terminal.

As we arrived at the terminal there were no lights on and no
vehicles parked out front. I turned to Patrick and said “You did get a
hold of SSgt Pierce right?” He could see the concerned look on my face
as he shook his head and said “Uh, yeah man,” in a soft voice. Something
told me right then that SSgt Pierce wasn’t coming to get us. We got off
the bus unloaded all of our gear and stacked it up in front of the
terminal. Patrick pulled on the front doors but of course they were
locked. “Looks like the U.S. decided to take the night off,” I said. He
looked at me with nothing to say. As we both stood there staring at each
other with more gear and luggage than we knew what to do with the cold
began to set, and I realized our night was about to become that much
longer.

Morning Routine

I’ve been in Kabul for 3 days now. We live in a 14-man tent. In
the tents are wooden bunks with make shift mattresses. When we turn the
lights out its pitch black, nothing but darkness.

The first night I was feeling the pain of not having my sleeping bag but then remembered half
way through the night, I had packed a pillow and some linen prior to
leaving Combat Skills Training at Ft. Dix. (Small victory) I leapt off
my bunk, rummaged through my bags and found two sheets, a wool blanket,
and a pillow. I made my bed, climbed in and covered up. Five minutes
later I was sound asleep. It seem like it hadn’t been 30 min before ski
was shaking me to wake up for morning chow.

Tired and dragging I slid off the top bunk. Meanwhile, Ski was tripping over gear and weapons
trying to find the lights. He managed to make his way over to them and
turned them on. Everyone else in the tent had already begun getting
dressed. Getting up in the morning is such a process. The male latrine
is across the camp; to get over there you have to get dressed, this
becomes a real pain when trying to get a shower. We get dressed in the
tent only to get to the shower and get undressed again. For those of you
who haven’t had to put on a military uniform, it’s a process. I really
think it’s the boots that make it a pain. Not only that, but our weapons
have to go with us everywhere. So here’s a snap shot of the process I go
through to get ready in the morning.

No matter where I’m at, I don’t wake up any later than 0530 as morning chow begins at 0500 and ends at 0730,
if there’s a chow tent which there is in this case. The goal is to be
the first one to the showers, in hopes that there will still be hot
water. If you’re on an Air Force base or camp you have a good chance of
taking a shower with warm or hot water, if you’re on an Army or Marine
post you can forget about the hot water, as the Soldiers and Marines
start taking showers at some stupid hour like 0300 or 0400. After waking
up and putting on my uniform, I gather everything I will need to take a
shower and prepare myself for the day’s mission to come, which doesn’t
seem like it would be a whole lot but let me tell you. I have to grab a
fresh par of boxers, a fresh pair of socks, a fresh undershirt, my
towel, my toiletry bag, my soap because it won’t fit in the damn
toiletry bag, my shower shoes, luffa, and most importantly vasoline and
lotion. Those last two items are pretty much mandatory for any person of
color especially during the winter months. Without them I would be
walking around ashy and dried out. Not a good look for me.

After gathering all these items I make my way over to the latrine. Upon
walking into the latrine, I grab a bottle of water. I’ll explain why
later. If I’m lucky there’s little to no line. If that’s the case, I get
all my stuff situated and start stripping. Now the rule for everyone, no
matter what service we’re in, is that we are suppose to take a combat
shower. A combat shower last for no more than two minutes. In and out!
You jump in, rinse off , soap up, and rinse off again. That’s it! And if
somebody catches you doing more than that; like just hanging out in the
shower, and the water has enough time to create steam, well there is
usually hell to pay. So for the most part, I try to stick with the combat
shower. So after doing my thing jumping in and out, ensuring that all of
me is clean, I began the getting re-dressed process. Now this portion of
the morning time routine can get a little sticky the reason being is by
this time several fellows have piled into the latrine and are waiting on
an open shower.

The latrine is a very small area, which consists of about
4 showers, 3 face bowls, two urinals, and four toilets. So when guys
pile into a place this small getting dressed and keeping up with all of
my belongings becomes tricky. Privacy at this point is out the window.
I’m not extremely bothered by that, but there’s always something
unnerving about bending over to put on my boxers with six or seven naked
guys lined up beside me or behind me. And, we always have the one crazy
kid that likes to slap people’s asses with his towel or whistle while
somebody’s bent over, yeah there’s always one. I don’t handle the towel
slapping shit well at all, and will put a person in their place real
quick for some nonsense like that. I don’t usually have a problem with
that though, as I keep a very serious look on my face, as if to say don’t
mess with this morning. LOL it’s my defense mechanism.

After managing to get dressed, I have to gather my things and make my way over to a face
bowl to brush my teeth and some mornings shave. I’m extremely lucky that
I don’t grow facial hair very fast! Most mornings I don’t have to worry
about it. Ok, so here’s the tricky part about brushing my teeth. The
water is not potable which means we can’t drink it. The only water that
can be consumed is bottled water. Bottled water is usually kept outside
of most facilities. On my way into the latrine each morning I grab a
bottle of water to brush my teeth. Brushing my teeth like this is such
a process but what choice do I have.

Getting prepared for war each morning is exhausting, to say the least.

Well, there goes my ruck

 We just touched down in Kabul not too long ago. As the ramp of the C-130 let down, a beautiful sunrise stretched across huge snow caped mountains.It was a refreshing and wonderful view. We all filed off the aircraft and made our way over to our still palletized bags. We were instructed by the British forces who work at the Kabul airport to quickly gather our gear and get it out of the terminal, as there were other troops in bound directly after us. The Kabul airport isn’t very big at all and hasn’t been operational very long from what we are told. It consists of one in bound terminal and one out bound terminal.

We scrambled to locate each of our bags. Us PA’s all have six bags or more but not by choice.The reason for this is our pro gear or camera gear has to be transported in pelican cases to ensure it doesn’t get damaged along the way. I was told once that a photojournalist in a war with a damaged or non-operational camera is useless. I guess that has some truth to it. I’ve really got nothing to contribute to our efforts over here without my weapons IE camera, notepad, and pen.

We all worked together un-palletizing our bags and gear. After the pallet had been cleared I noticed I was short a bag. Great! I looked at the pile of gear with Holston marked all over it and counted once more, hoping that I had miscounted the first time. No luck. The number of bags totaled five I have six. Tired and stressed from the events that took place over the last 72 hours I was not excited to deal with this situation. I lugged the 5 bags that did make it outside the terminal and put them with all the others.I then made my way back out to the baggage dock and grabbed the first British troop I could find. I explained the situation to her. She looked at me, and in her sincerest voice said I’m sorry sir. The bag that’s missing is my big ruck. It contains my sleeping bag which we use often and the rest of my combat gear that’s not already on my person. Such as Knee pads, elbow pads, goggles, etc. I found some of the other PA’s thatI had traveled there with and explained to them the situation. They felt bad for me as well but what could they do? Not a whole lot. I went back into the airport found a DSN phone which wasn’t easy and managed to get the number to the passenger terminal that we had just flown from. I called back to them but no answer. After several more tries resulting in the same outcome my only other option was to fill out a missing bag claim with the Brits and go on about my business without it. So I have. Hopefully some other kid’s knees and elbows are being protected. I mean shoot those aren’t vital parts of your body anyway right….hmmmm for goodness sake. I haven’t even made it to Kandahar, and I’m already minus a ruck. Sleeping in a tent without a sleeping bag should be interesting tonight.

Dude it was right here

As we all advance throughout our journey en route to our various locations, the group  we started with originally back in Norfolk had dwindled. Some folks stayed in Manas as that was their final destination and others Bagram. The group that I’m with now consists of seven people, two females and five males. All of us are from different duty stations but work in Public Affairs, and know each other rather well at this point. After doing everything I could to locate my ruck, my next move was to get my bags to my tent. So I began to drag what was left of my gear about a quarter mile to our tents, pouting the whole way. Just as I reached the tent I hear TSgt Sk,i a good friend of mine who is also a PA, yell out.

I stopped dragging my gear, swung around and said “what man???”His face looked as if he had seen an IED. “What man ?Spit it out.” I said. He shouted out my weapon….I looked him up and down realizing that he only had his M9 on him and not his M4 which is his rifle. “Ok ok I said we have only been here for a little bit, lets back track.” “When did you put it down?” We went through the motions for a good while. The whole time Ski was in utter panic. He must have mentioned losing his stripes like sixty times. Well turns out, Ski took a smoke break and laid his weapon down beside some of the other guy’s weapons who were also taking a smoke break and had SrA Lang watch them. SrA Lang set her weapon down as well. When Ski returned she grabbed what she thought was her weapon and began dragging her bags to the tent. The rest of the fellows who were smoking returned and grabbed their weapons as well.There was one weapon left which actually belonged to SrA Lang who was already in her tent, so when Ski realized he didn’t have his weapon we went back to look for it and found SrA Lang’s weapon. However we didn’t know that weapon belonged to SrA Lang,and Ski was just sure his weapon was gone forever. So after a good while of panic and heartache SrA Lang finally came trotting out of her tent now know that she was actually carrying Ski’s weapon.

Ski looked up and said “Lang! what’s the serial number on that weapon?” she said, “oh, this one isn’t yours, but I’ll help you look.” He went up to her, checked the serial number, which confirmed that it was his weapon and all he could do was hug her really tight and laugh about it. I shook my head and immediately went back to pouting about my ruck. I’m glad we got that taken care of.

In and Out of Bagram

 I’m currently at the USO in Bagram. We all made it here with no problems.The landing was rough, but none the less we arrived safely. Stepping off the plane and walking across the flight line knowing I had finally made it to the actual war zone was an indescribable feeling. We were met by an Army MSgt who took us to a small tent, gave us a short briefing about what we needed to do to in-process Bagram and get scheduled for our next flight to Kabul.

Shortly after in-processing, myself and some other Public Affairs folks met up and made our way to the passenger terminal where we got ourselves scheduled for a flight leaving here around 0300. It’s only 2200 or 10:00pm, so it looks like we will be trying to get some rest here at the USO while we wait for our flight out. I’m super stoked because I’m starving and I just found some Combos in my 72 hour bag that I had shoved in there a few days ago. Alex and I discovered while we were in Philly that Combos are the answer when looking for a quick fill you up type of snack! A few hand fulls of Combos and a bottle of water and your all set for a good 3 hours or so.

That will wake you up

 We were just woken up by mortar attacks about 45 min ago. The first mortar hit out on the flight line. It made a deep boom sound and a really bright flash. Not even a second later, alarms set up through out the post started to sound off, alerting everyone to take some type of cover. There are several bunkers set up around post, but for some it was best to stay where they were which is what we did. Two more mortars struck the flight line after that. The word right now is one casualty so far. The USO is right off the flight line so we are lucky we didn’t get hit. We found out that they get rocketed and mortared here about three to four times a week. Perhaps, this is something they could have told us when we got here during our initial briefing. As of right now we are standing by. All flights are on hold until everyone is accounted for and the flight line is clear. Being that close to the strike and being caught off guard is an unnerving feeling. I’ve got to stay on my toes.

After the last mortar hit the SSgt next to me said “Are you at the beginning of your tour or the end?” I responded, “beginning sir.” He said”me too. What a way to start our six months huh?” I laughed and said, “Yeah, well guess we might as well get deep into it now. My final destination is Kandahar.” He looked up quickly, his smile dropped, and he said “Kandahar??” Dang. You take care of yourself out there.”

All Clear

The flight line is clear. All the wounded and the one fatality have been taken care of. Pilots have gotten the ok to press. We just palletized our gear. We are obviously still in full battle gear with our weapons.We should be getting on the aircraft in about 30 min. We will be en route to Kabul, which we are told is about a 15 to 20 min flight. I’m wide awake and ready to go. We are due to arrive in Kabul around 0630.

First take on Manas

As you already know I’m at Manas now eager to reach my final destination, which from what I understand is Forward Operating Base Lindsey in Kandahar Afg. I’m told that the stay here at Manas will be three days. The reason being is so we can grab more cold weather gear, and get more Intel about our deployed locations before pushing forward. I’m not fond of the three day waiting period but I guess I have no choice. Manas doesn’t seem like too bad a place. The compound we are on is nothing but rocks and dirt, but towards the north are really beautiful mountains currently covered in snow. We arrived while it was dark, so I didn’t see them, but when I stepped out of the tent the next morning I was amazed at the view. Pilch can’t stop talking about it. He keeps saying he’s going to take some images of them, but he has yet to do so. I guess it wouldn’t hurt if I took a few photos myself. We will see.

Short a few stars

If I was to rate the living conditions here at Manas, I guess I would  have to go with about a half a star. Yeah, it’s that crappy. We stay in four really huge tents. Each tent fits about four hundred people. Inside the tents are bunk beds that are ready to fall  apart any day now. We have been briefed to ensure the bunk we get is in  good enough condition to sleep in, with out collapsing on our wingman  below us. I hate when we have briefings like that. You know the ones  where you’re told to double check you’re living and eating conditions.  Oh well. Anyway, the bunks are jammed packed into each tent. In the  center of the tents is a place where we can lock up our weapons, M-9 and  M-4, and whatever else we may happen to be carrying (Army, Marines) along  the far side of the tent is about 20 outlets. Now here in lays the  dilemma; with four hundred guys who all have laptops and want nothing  more than to get online and talk with their girlfriends, wives, and  kids who are thousands of miles across the ocean, what do you think is  going to happen? Hmmmm??? We will get into that later. Luke warm air is  pumped into the tent, which seems to work and keep the tent warm during  the day, but as soon as night comes, I’m freezing. Cold nights. That’s  part of it I guess. 

 Private time 

 On the east side of our tent homes is the showers and latrines. The  sinks have mirrors in front of them and both the toilets and showers  have curtains that we can pull for a bit of privacy. After taking a good  look around the latrine and realizing we get to shower and shit with a  bit of privacy I must say I am happy and smiling. (Small victory!)

 Power Serge 

 As I mentioned before, there are only 20 outlets in the tent where  electronics can be plugged in and there are about four hundred men  needing power. This presents a bit of a problem. Pilch and I have  managed to wedge our way into the army portion of the tent, where the  plugs are already being used. You see; Us Air Force kids didn’t stand a  chance from the get go. When we arrived, the tent we all got put in was  already full of Army guys and guess who was already using the outlets?  So after Pilch and I realized this, we both decided we would just have to  acquire us a bunk right in the middle of the Army kids in order for us  to even be in position to gain access to an outlet. We walked up and  down the rows of beds until we found one of the few open bunks. We set  our bags down as if we belonged there and pulled out our sleeping bags,  which showed the Army kids we weren’t moving. Shortly after, we  began our recon for an open outlet. No luck. However a few hours later,  the group of Army guys were informed that they would be moving out.  Score!!! Pilch and I now have power to our laptops with girlfriends  waiting on the other end. Here I come Babe!

Power Move

 Pilch went to a briefing about his deployment and I went to chow. Well,  guess what we left unguarded? Our very cherished power. During this hour  and twenty minutes Pilch and I where away, new army kids came in flooding  our already full tent. The bunk next to us was then occupied by two Army  guys with really bad southern draws. Well long story short, they took the  few electronics we had plugged in and pulled them out of the sockets  replacing them with electronics of their own. (Damn Army, no manners) I  got back to the tent shocked at the sea of ACU patterned uniforms.  “Shit” is what I said to myself as I began to weave in and out of  soldiers making themselves at home. I got to our bunk and immediately realized our power had been “army jacked.” I knew I would have to choose  my next actions carefully. Well, just as I got ready to politely inform  these kids that the power they were enjoying belong to us Pilch appeared  out of nowhere and went off. (AND HERE WE GO) The first words out of  Pilch’s mouth was “What The Fuck…”This surely got the attention of the  Army boys chilling in there bunks with their laptops. They both sat up,  promptly looked at Pilch and me and said “what Air Force?”….. Before I  could respond Pilch said “Well AArrrrmmmmyyyy your plugged in to our  Fu***** outlet.” The Army kids jumped out of their bunks and the pissing > match was on. Army kids “Well how long are your deployments Air Force?”  At which point I responded with “My name isn’t Air Force, in fact I have  a name tape right here that clearly states my name. Oh yeah, I forgot the  Army can’t read.” Pilch didn’t let them get a word in before grabbing  their cords and yanking them out of the sockets, at which time I slid in and  plugged our stuff back in. The army kids were out done. They got all  huffy and hovered over us for a bit and then left for chow. I later told  Pilch that we made a “power” move on them army kids. We laughed about it  for half the night. 

 Stuck at our bunks 

 Needless to say, Pilch and I realized that we are now stuck by our bunks  to keep our outlets in our position. We’ve been thinking that maybe the  power move wasn’t the best way to attack the situation. Well here we  sit. Chow and the latrine are out there and we are in here. I’m sure we  will give up the power sooner or later. Shux.

 All gone

  It’s day three at Manas, and I was just told that I’m still stuck here.  For whatever reason I’m not manifested on the next flight out. My  biological clock is still messed up, so my days are night and my night’s  days. Pilch is leaving today. He got a mission out. This will be the  first time we have split up since we met eight weeks ago at CST.  I’ve really grown to like the kid, and it’s hard to see him go. He’s  gathering his gear and taking the sleeping bag off of his bunk. It  really sucks to see a close friend push on to the war without me. I  understand that this is the way the military is, but I tell you what it  never gets easier. While Pilch has been gathering the last of his  things, I’ve been plotting an idea on how to make nice with the Army kids  and share the damn power. Looks like it’s just me and the Army kids now.  I just learned that several other friends of mine got missions out of  Manas too. How does this happen? LOL now I’m stuck here at Manas for the  next however many days just me and the pissed off Army kids.

 Mentally focused 

 Well Pilch and the others are long gone. I’m still here trying to stay on  my grind and keep my mind right. I was briefed today about how dangerous  the location is that I’m going in Kandahar and I need to not get  complacent and remember that even though I’m in transit I need to  remember where I’m going and what I’m going to do. I’ve made nice with  the Army kids and we are now all sharing the damn outlets. It helps that  we just got one hundred new Marines in the tent. The Army and I have  now banned together to keep the “jarheads” off our outlets.

It’s crazy  how this mess works. I’ve been talking to Alex on yahoo. She keeps me  sane especially during the night when I can’t sleep. I’ve also been working on my Military Photographer of the year package to pass time.  Just getting images put in the correct categories and what not. The  deadline for submission is coming up and I need to get everything  squared away. I hope I get a mission out soon.

 Bag Drag 

 Great news! It’s time to push out. I was briefed that I would be on  Moose 88 which is the call sign for the flight that I will take out of  here. My bag drag is at 0500 or 5am and then I’m on lock down for four  hours after that.  Just got done with the bag drag and am setting in the PAX terminal on  lock down waiting to catch my flight. All six of my bags have been palletized and will be loaded onto the aircraft shortly. We are flying  on a C-17 Globemaster III, a huge Air Force tactical cargo plane that’s  made for transporting troops and heavy cargo. I’m with a few other Air  Force guys and a mixture of Marines and Army personnel. We are going  from here to Bagram Air Field in Afg. Gosh, it’s a process to get to  Kandahar. We are in full battle gear with both our weapons. We were  just briefed that the end of the flight will be rough as the pilots will  have to make a combat landing. All I know is, I’m happy to be leaving  Manas and getting one step closer to Kandahar.

En route to the war (Afghanistan)

I’m currently in Manas, Kyrgyzstan with several other Air Force, Army, and Marine troops. Manas is considered a deployed location, but serves as a transit center for troops on their way to Afghanistan.

I’ve been here for the past three days but getting to this point has been a hell of a process .

 I was told by my higher ups that I was deploying to Afg. in Sept. 2009. After finding this news out I began out-processing my base, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. I had completed about three months of out-processing when I was told my deployment tasking had been canceled, and I was no longer needed to out-process. With that, I stopped out-processing and went back to doing my day-to-day photojournalism job at Whiteman. About two weeks later, I received an e-mail from an Army Master Sgt. who was already deployed to Afg. saying my tasking had been turned back on.

With this news I began out-processing my base once more. Only now, I had about a week and a half to get everything done as I was slated to attend Combat Skills Training (CST) in Ft. Dix, New Jersey right away. And, for those of you who aren’t military, out-processing is not an easy thing to get done in a short amount of time. I scrambled to get everything done and barely made it to Ft Dix by my arrival date.

The CST course was only six weeks long, but the side stitch I encountered along the way was horrendous. Everything from having the incorrect weapon, to having my orders changed from 1610’s to CED, which meant that I would not return to my home base at the completion of CST, resulting in me not having all my photo gear.

I had to beg borrow and steal to get the folks back at my home station to send it all to me. If it wasn’t for Jessica Snow and MSgt Sander, I still wouldn’t have my photo gear. Being as I’m a photojournalist, I probably wouldn’t be worth much without my gear.

CST also fell over Christmas; not cool. Getting over several of these glitches while enduring CST was less than pleasant to say the least. Oh and by the way, we got 18 inches of snow half way through our training. I’m a South Texas boy so galvanting through the snow with full battle gear and both my weapons, an M-9 pistol and an M-4 rifle, was not my cup of tea.

All that being said, I learned real quick  if I was going to make it through this entire deployment without losing my mind I would need to learn how to appreciate and cherish the small victories along the way. For example, I met SrA Nick Pilch at CST, another Photojournalist who is very passionate about his job and has done great things throughout his career thus far. We hit it off right away and instantly became good friends, swapping stories about different photo shoots and stories we had covered. (Small victory!)

 We got a few days off during Christmas, and I got to see my girlfriend Alexandria during that time. It was brief. She didn’t get to stay long, but yet again a small victory. Even things as simple as being the only one in the open bay shower because you got up earlier than everybody else is a small victory, and you just have to cherish them to make it through this.

 Upon the completion of CST we were all ready to move out and get our deployment started. Which just about brings us up to present. We started the mobilization process on Jan. 1, 2009, New Year’s day at 2200 hours which is 10:00p.m. for all you non-military folks. At this time, we were bussed from Ft. Dix, NJ to Norfolk, Virginia, which ended up being a six hour trip.

After arriving at the Norfolk airport at 0400 hours or 4:00am, exhausted and irritable, all 150 of us Airmen took our six to seven bags a piece as well as our weapons and began checking them to have everything loaded on the plane. Little did we know that not all the baggage was going to be able to be flown out with us that day.

After processing the thorough security with our weapons and baggage and having everything checked, we all boarded the aircraft and began the long dreadful journey to Manas Air Base. After 24 hours of traveling and 4 countries later we finally made it to Manas. During the traveling period, all time was lost to me and daylight never seemed to come. I really felt like 24 hours of darkness, which made the trip rather eerie giving that we’re going to a place that some refer to as hell.

First post

I’m a photojournalist in the United States Air Force. I am currently deployed to Afghanistan. I live life on the edge. It’s either WIN BIG or lose Big. Taking risks is something I do on a daily basis. I feel that if I’m not going Moc 10 with my hair on fire then I’m just not living life! When I’m done with life I will have used it, as opposed to it using me. You have to push the envelope! You just have to!!!

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