Sunday, March 06, 2005

On to FOB Salerno

After arriving in Bagram and being policed up by our unit, we were escorted to the hooches where we would spend the night. It was about 11:30 local time, but kind of hard to tell exactly, the biological clock was still on Central European Time, the local time is 4 1/2 hours later than that, but everything in theater is run off Zulu (Greewich Mean Time, or Dublin Pub Time) which is an hour earlier than Central European. Anyway, it was dark.

Piled into a wooden hooch called a B Hut, a 15' by 20' structure built to house 2-6 people. Over the course of their existence, they have gradually been improved by the transient occupants but as some occupants demonstrated more motivation than others there are varying levels of luxury not only between huts but between occupants. In any event, there was an open bunk in the one that Craig Short led me to along with a small frozen pizza and a microwave. Life was good for at least one night.

After a couple hours of sleep, I headed for the showers and got my first look at Afghanistan in the daylight. If there was any sign of vegetation, it would hold a striking similarity to Phoenix, AZ except that the mountains that tower in the distance in every direction are about 4 times as high as every high point in Arizona stacked together. Although there was a high ceiling of clouds, I couldn't help be impressed that I was looking at the foothills of the Himalayas.

After showering we took a quick walk to breakfast where I got my first experience with Kellog, Brown an Root (KBR) contractors. While they certainly don't put across anything that even resembels a military appearance, they sure put out a spread. aside from the vast array of freshly cooked breakfast foods, there as in never ending supply of power bars, ceral, fruit, gatorade, and juices. It the rest of the meals were like this it's going to take work to stay in shape here.

On the walk back, I took a closer look at Bagram (BAF) and found it is a small, crowded city with huge military presence jammed into a very small area. Built up from an old Soviet airbase, it now sports quite a few small office buildings, a lot of storage yards, warehouses, vast arrays of the B huts, and of AAFES. Where the military goes, the PX/BX quickly follow.

2 hours later, we were on the ramp at the airfield again waiting for our ride to Salerno. Eventually we were led out to a C-130 wearing our body armor and helmets, carrying our weapons and one bag each. We were filed into the aircraft where the seats run in two rows of two stretching half the length of the aircraft so when you are strapped in, you are literally knee-to-knee opposite the passenger across from you. The remainder of our bags were strapped onto a pallet which a forklift carried into the aircraft and was strapped down behind us. Eventually, the doors were closed, the engines were fired, and without incident this time, we were airborne and headed south.

The flight of the C-130 bore no resemblance to the C-17. We were now being pushed along by 4 propellers and rather than flying over mountains, we cruised up and down valleys as we headed south. By looking over the shoulder of LT Mahoney in front of me I saw out the small circular window, that for the first half of the flight we were probably no more than 2,500 feet above the ground (above ground level - AGL). Suddenly as we entered the Khowst Bowl, the valley floor dropped out from under us and we were a good 5,000 feet AGL. I heard the hydraulics lower the flaps at least partially, but the aircraft still kept a decidedly nose-down attitude and if the airspeed diminished as we approached Salerno, I couldn't tell. Suddenly the aircraft leveled, the wheels of the aircraft punded stiffly into the dirt of the runway and as the pilots reversed the props and fully applied the brakes, everyone was leaned sideways towards the front of the aircraft and I could easily visualize the baggae pallet breaking free and squashing 64 people into the cockpit of the aircraft.

Welcome to Salerno.

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