|Freedom Bird - Sergeant Matt Williams and I preparing to board the C-130 |
that would take us off of FOB Salerno for the final time.
Traveling via the military transportation network is also quite a humbling experience. With no first-class seats or in-flight movies, you quickly learn that you are just another number, a small star in the enormous galaxy that is military movement.
As I was reading a recent edition of Conde Nast, I came across the following quote in a Louis Vuitton advertisement (featuring none other than Sir Sean Connery) that I couldn't help but share. As I sit here, now on my 16th day of travel, awaiting word on when I'll finally be headed back towards the land of the free and the home of the brave, Louis' tag line seems all too appropriate-
"There are journeys that turn into legends." - Louis Vuitton advertising campaign
At 12:15PM on July 16th, a C-130 aircraft operated by Air National Guardsman from Niagra Falls, NY lifted off, shuttling Sergeant Matt Williams and me off of FOB Salerno for the final time. If only our departure from Forward Operating Base Salerno was that simple...
|Our home for 46 hours|
When we finally got the word that our bird was in-bound, a mood of cautious optimism began to fill the air. We'd been told that before, but this time it seemed like all of the stars had finally aligned. Even as we walked out to the runway in hopes of boarding the plane, we were careful not to get our hopes up too much. After all, the night prior we had been in the same position and ultimately turned away as the aircraft had been designated as a medical evacuation flight at the last minute. But this time it was for real, Matt and I were finally taking off from Salerno.
|The Magic Pallet|
For brevity's sake, I'll refrain from going into detail regarding the many complications our cargo was faced with upon arriving at Bagram. A long story short, even in today's world of advanced computing, there are definitely still some serious communication issues between the Army and Air Force. In this very blog, I have raved about advances made in joint operations over the years, those advances must be operating in a vacuum far outside the world of cargo movement.
One member of the 3-19th Agribusiness Development Team, Sergeant First Class Tom Johnson, has had the unenviable task of operating as the unit's liaison officer at Bagram Air Base over the last year. In this role, Tom was responsible for facilitating the movement of each and every team member's travel in and out of Bagram for our individual leave periods. While the travel coordination portion is the most visible part of Tom's job at Bagram, he is one busy-bee as he also handles countless other issues around Bagram for members of the Indiana National Guard and beyond.
It seems that each additional visit I make to Bagram, the more I enjoy my time there. Perhaps this visit was cloaked by a sense of completion, who knows. During this stay, I made sure to coordinate sleeping arrangements through the Media Operations Center again as we did during a visit there in May. The only other sleeping option was in tents, not an ideal situation when the average daily mercury reading sits between 106-108 degrees Fahrenheit.
|Major Ducrocq behind the bar at Talibanned Tavern, a gathering spot for French soldiers near the Coalition Village|
Aside from the high temperatures and seemingly daily dust storms, the low humidity found on Bagram was a welcomed relief to those of us who were used to Salerno's muggy days. Our time on Bagram actually flew by as we kept quite stringent schedules. Personally, I took the opportunity to enjoy a few long runs, write a few blog updates, read Tim Russert's book Big Russ & Me (a great read for any son), and also enjoy a little more variety in dinner options offered between the base's seven different dining halls. On our first evening on Bagam, Saturday the 16th, we noticed a large crowd gathered near one of the activity tents. As we walked closer, the Air Force Tops in Blue came in to focus on the stage. After six months months on a "black-out" FOB, where noise and light discipline are practiced after dusk, live music was a much-welcomed sound. I've heard this group of talented Airmen in the past, but have to say that their patriotic-themed set and songs took on a whole new meaning while listening to them in a war zone.
Monday July 25th, our ninth day at Bagram, started off with an alarming phone call. Just as a parent must feel when the phone rings during a sound night's sleep, this was not the call I was looking forward to waking up to. Apparently in the course of the last few days, in the hustle and bustle that is cargo movement at Bagram, the four pallets that we were assigned to travel with had taken off without us and were now sitting Dover, Delaware. The issue of the sensitive pallet isn't quite as concerning now that the goods are back on US soil. If anything, I think the strongest feelings were that of frustration, after learning that we too could have accompanied the cargo and most likely would be nearing Indiana by this time.
In an effort to "catch-up" with the cargo, we were sent to the Bagram Airport in an effort to obtain the first available flight out of Afghanistan. Within eight hours, we were on a C-17 bound for an "undisclosed location in SW Asia" as the military refers to this particular installation. Upon touching down at this location, a particularly rough landing resulted in the foot peg of a gurney-type stretcher (3 foot long piece of titanium) giving me my first official welcome to the country. Fortunately the blow to the top of my head didn't knock me out or require stitches- although it definitely woke me up after my in-flight nap.
|Bon Voyage, Bagram!|
(Matt Williams, Tom Johnson, and I)
As for Matt, I think the rigors of traveling in and out of Bagram, loaded down with several hundred pounds of luggage each, took their toll on his ailing knee. By Tuesday, our first full day on ground here at my currently location, he was limping around considerably. With temperatures nearing 120 degrees here each day and a 10 or 15 minute walk necessary to access any of the bases many amenities, we both decided it was best for Matt to head for the US on his own. Because Matt is an Army soldier, traveling under a different type of "order" per se, he was authorized to leave while I was forced to watch him board his plane bound for the Glory Land.
So in a most bizarre string of events, I find myself alone on Day 16 of my journey home. Things could be much worse though, as there is actually quite a lot to see and do at my current location. With an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a Fox Sports Skybox themed sports bar, it's not hard to pass the time. Now if I could only round up my French comrades and Espresso 57 to join me in enjoying the three drinks per day we are rationed here, then we might have a scene worthy of a Casablanca sequel. After all, as Louis Vuitton cautions, some journeys are bound to become legends...
|Bagram at Night|