Chapter 1: My first days in Afghanistan

Posted: September 10, 2012 in Uncategorized
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FOB Fenty / Jalalabad Air Field

It’s not easy deploying an infantry brigade to Afghanistan from Hawaii. Just getting there required a multi legged trip that turned into the most convoluted journey I have ever been on. In my mind, the logical route would have been to head west to Japan or Korea. From there one could easily fly over into Russia then down into Afghanistan. Quick and easy. Instead, we flew north from Hawaii to Alaska. From Alaska we flew up over the north pole to Germany.  Then we flew over Europe to Kyrgyzstan where we arrived at Manas Air Transit Base. Needless to say, it took several days just to get to Kyrgyzstan.

Chapel-tent at Manas in Kyrgyzstan

We flew out of Manas on an Air Force C-17 after several relaxing days enjoying Air Force facilities. When we crossed into Afghan airspace the crew chief made everyone put on their body armor and helmet. That was pretty disconcerting. After about 90 minutes in the air we landed at Bagram Air Field. As we all descended down the ramp out of the back of the aircraft we were met by a gorgeous view of snow-capped mountains. It was raining and cold. It was not at all what I had expected of Afghanistan in April.

For those who haven’t visited, BAF is a complete dump and there are entire websites dedicated to humorously showing love for its peculiarities.  Most guys in my unit would up spending almost a week there living like homeless refugees in overcrowded flooded tents. I got lucky and wound up catching a flight out of there after only a few hours, skipping two days worth of “vehicle roll over” training.

About five days after leaving Hawaii I finally arrived in Jalalabad via a “combat landing” in a C-130.  For those who aren’t familiar with a combat landing, it’s when the pilots decide to go from being in the air to being parked on the ground in about thirty seconds. Its fun. Our plane actually landed at JAF/FOB Fenty around 2200. I will never forget my first look at FOB Fenty. I was standing under the tail of a C-130, it was pitch black and the only lights I could see were from across the runway where the main part of the base was.  I was hot, sweaty, and smelly. The smell of jet fuel and burning wood filled my nostrils. Dust and dirt being churned up by the propellers stung my face.  I looked out across the runway and thought: so this is my new home for a year? I couldn’t make out any buildings, just lights from windows. It looked like anywhere and nowhere at the same time.

They herded all of us together and walked us single file across the runway for accountability. My XO, who had arrived several weeks earlier, was there to meet us. She took us to the Company Command Post (CP) and had us sign in and account for our weapons. Then they took me to my room. I was pretty tired when I arrived but I had the hardest time sleeping well that first night.

I spent the year living in a one story cinderblock building. Each building had a couple of hallways with 8 rooms made of plywood. The walls went about 8 feet up but the ceilings were about 10 feet tall.  The beds were mattresses on plywood racks up high with a little desk below.  The guy I replaced basically got thrown out as soon as they heard I was coming and I believe he wound up sleeping on a filthy cot in the hallway the first night I was there.

My first morning in Jalalabad was an exciting one. I woke up disoriented and exhausted from lack of sleep. I took a much-needed shower, grabbed some food and then made my way down to the clinic. The dental clinic at JAF is close to the flight line and was two buildings down from where I lived. In the same building we had a surgical team with two operating rooms, a small physical therapy clinic, pharmacy, patient hold area, and admin area.

As I was walking out of my building I saw a lot of commotion by the clinic. People were running around. Golfcart-like vehicles called “Gators” were zipping back and forth. I picked up my pace a little bit and asked someone what was going on.

Entrance to our clinic and the surgical team

A suicide bomber had walked onto a nearby FOB and killed eight or nine individuals – mostly Afghans if my memory serves me right, and wounded several American servicemen and one civilian contractor.  I remember seeing the MEDEVAC birds coming in for the very first time and watching as the survivors of the attack were brought to our medical facility for treatment. I went down to the flight line and helped carry some of the wounded off of the helicopters. I remember the smell of blood throughout the clinic, followed later by the unforgettable odor of the disinfectant they use to mop the floor after it gets soaked with blood. I remember the look of exhaustion on the faces of the wounded and the slow defeated way they walked. There were several patients that had to be carried in that day, but I can’t remember them distinctly now as they just blend with all the others we carried in that year after them.

Those first few days were a rapid orientation to what was going to become my world for the next twelve months. By the time our year there ended, 20 soldiers from my brigade had been killed in action and dozens more from our supporting units had lost their lives as well.

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Comments
  1. […] first exposure to the violence of this war was in the first 24 hours after arriving in Afghanistan. A suicide bomber walked onto a nearby base and the wounded were evacuated to our facility. Still, […]

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