My three month assignment with the Army at FOB Sharana is finished, and I’m now transferring to Camp Leatherneck where I’ll be teaching Marines. This means relocating from Afghanistan’s eastern mountains to its southern desert. (Click on any image below to zoom in.)
Travel by military air is similar to bus travel in Africa. First, military air is wonderfully inexpensive. My status as a civilian contractor allows me to travel for free on a Space Available status, which is great … except when there are outbound medical patients, soldiers returning from R&R. or officers — all of whom outrank me when it comes to getting a seat. But patience is the key. In fact, the first two days of my journey, no one went anywhere because snow and ice grounded all flights.
Just as with African buses, boarding a C-130 is fast. There’s no cleaning of the aircraft or shutting off the engines. As soon as the previous passengers have disembarked, new passengers hop into the plane and find seats. Also, military air doesn’t waste time with silly restrictions on carry on luggage or metal detectors. Whereas in Malawi, passengers often boarded with baskets of fruit or fish; on military flights, most passengers carry at least one weapon. The only rule, I think, is that the safety must be on.
With no direct flights from Sharana to Leatherneck, I flew north to Bagram AFB hoping to catch a flight from there to someplace south or west. Although Bagram has flights to and from Germany, France, Kuwait, Dubai, Pakistan and remote locations all over Afghanistan, there’s no fixed schedule and the flight you need may not be available right away. So, just as with bus travel in Africa, you should plan to be at the terminal for a while.
Here’s the big screen which shows the continuously updated flight schedule. It’s essential to watch these flight boards. Just as in Africa, you never know when something might be going in your direction.
While waiting for your flight, enjoy the amazing views outside. Another delight in both African and military travel is that transit hubs are often scenic. Below are a few C-130s on the runway at Bagram. In the background is the snow-capped Hindu Kushu, rising 5000+ meters, glowing pink with sunset.
The spontaneous and casual nature of military travel continued to remind me of Africa. On day three, I missed two flights to Kandahar because they weren’t posted on the flight board. The next day, my flight left without me when it departed an hour ahead of schedule. By day five, I realized that, just as in Africa, the secret to travel by military air is to know the right people. Within a few hours, I had a seat on an unlisted flight that went straight to my destination. I even got a window seat. Granted, the window was a port hole 15cm in diameter. But I had a chance to see from the air the beautiful country that our troops are risking their lives for — and your tax dollars are paying to defend.
On the night of my arrival, the Marines had their first geology class of the new session. I’ll be here for eight weeks. Think of me when you’re watching the Superbowl. We’ll be eating popcorn and watching it at the USO — sans commercials or beer, of course.