Kandahar Airfield (KAF): a loosely contained military installation comprised of a shipping container metropolis that has the traffic of Los Angeles, the cloned appearance of east Berlin, and the feel of a refugee camp. Also named for Alexander the Great. It’s a stretch from Alexander to Kandahar, but the more you know… This place is a hub for seven NATO militaries to come and go in sector. Fighter and attack aircraft are constantly overhead. My favorite of the planes is the A-10 Warthog, mostly because of the sound its twin turbojets make and the whine of the dive flaps as it screams overhead. The Navy pilots seem to have something to prove. The F/A-18 Hornets (Navy and Marines) put on an air show every time they fly by. The Air Force, with the exception of the Warthogs, is much more boring. Or more disciplined. Depends on how you look at it I suppose.
If you have ever seen the movie District 9, then you have a good mental image of this place. The streets are mud and in the rainy season, which we are in.They wash out quickly, and the small, right-hand drive, Toyota pickup trucks (4Runners with a bed) frequently find themselves bottomed out in the potholes. The buildings are organized into compounds surrounded by high concrete walls to protect against rocket attacks. There are air raid bunkers dotting the landscape too; emergency protection in case the Taliban wants to party. These compounds are unmarked and makes finding a specific building a royal pain in the ass.
There are many good things about KAF too. The local nationals need jobs to provide for themselves and family, lest the join the Taliban, and KAF supplies that demand. These guys work in the DFAC (Dining Facility), they pick up trash, construct buildings, and work in the shops. They are all very friendly and know enough English to say “ello”, “tank you”, and “yez”. A major issue I foresee with the eventual draw down and pull out from Afghanistan is the loss of these jobs. You can see the appreciation in the eyes of these people no matter how menial the task. It’ll be quite the shame to just let them twist in the wind when the attention span of the American public finally withers.
On Saturday outside our living tents the locals had a Bazaar. It reminds me a bit of Mexico, what with the bartering and all. These people make the movie pirates at home look like amateurs. Weeks before your films are out, they are on DVD here. The trick to buying is never accepting the initial price. Feign frustration and tell them you’d rather look elsewhere. When they counter with a lower offer, pull out a prepared, even lower, amount and inform them that is all the money you have right now. Spread the bills out, count them, and display the cash. When they decline and return to the middle amount, pocket the money and start to leave. They will either meet your price or not. If not, repeat the process at another vendor until success is met, and I assure you it will be. Don’t worry. They aren’t getting shafted. The price-point on these items is so low that even once the asking amount is brought down they still make a healthy profit.
I anticipate buying several rugs and shipping them before I leave here. They also have very beautiful stones from the Hindu Kush that I may snag. I had never seen a black diamond until now and initially I figured them a scam, mere cubic zirconium or something similar. However, I have found out that they are real diamonds but with a higher carbon content hence the black color. They are not particularly valuable as a gem because of the lack of clarity, but are very pretty. We’ll see.
The Platoon has been in class over this last week. Various blocks of instruction on the Rules of Engagement (ROE), operational compensation for collateral damage, new vehicles, and new equipment. We are getting a little stir crazy in these tents. The guys really want to get out to our outpost to settle in and start an operational rhythm. Our physical training has been focused mostly on our Area of Operations (AO). The farmers around Zhari grow grapes and, unlike Napa Valley, they use six foot mud walls instead of fences to cultivate. The guys gear up and we spend an hour or so just jumping these walls. The average soldier weighs a considerable amount with all of his equipment and it is very important for them to be physically prepared to potentially hurdle a hundred of these things on a patrol. They are pretty smoked when we are done. Then it’s off to gym for a lift and the British DFAC for chow.
Credence Clearwater has been playing in my head all week. I’m sure it will be resonating when my legs are hanging out a Blackhawk helicopter en route to Wilson, tracing the Arghandab river valley, the fields of Zhari rushing beneath me. I really enjoy y’alls responses to the updates, and am willing to answer questions you may have. Those of you have responded just about what your up to is awesome and really valuable. I’ll try to respond individually as much as I can find time/internet. Feel free to send pictures too.
Should be at FOB Wilson soon, then down to our COP. Staying ten and a half hours ahead, HE heavy, and until next time faithful readers,
1LT Wm Treadway