Waiting on a Helicopter

Sometimes the most ordinary or inane event can bring back a memory for me. This week that was caused by the weather. Here in the Florida Panhandle, we have four seasons. They include Hot, Really Hot, Humid with Heat, and a few days of winter. Since we don’t experience the winter most others around the country do, we may have a skewed view of the winter season. When it gets down to the 30’s at night and daytime highs are only in 40’s, we start to lose our minds. And when Mother Nature decides to throw rain at us during those “freezing” temperatures, we act like the world is coming to an end.

Although I’ve experienced snow and cold weather all around the world, I am not a fan. During my deployment to Afghanistan, we had plenty of snow in the mountains 6000 feet above sea level. We had below freezing temperatures, the lowest I recall was 14 degrees Fahrenheit. But the most gloomy, uncomfortable weather I experienced there was like the weather here in Northwest Florida this week. It had been in the mid- to upper 30’s with rain during one missions. The near freezing rain is what clinched it for being classified as miserable. I would have rather it been a little colder and traded the rain for snow.

I went on over two dozen missions during my 9 months in Afghanistan, mostly escorting the unit chaplain to different places he needed to be. Although, I always downplayed each mission by calling them “trips.” It sounded less dangerous. And my roommate over there would go a step further by saying I was going on vacation or a weekend getaway since most of the missions were multiple days. Most of the travel to and from our destinations went well, considering we were traveling in a war-torn country. There were always possibilities for delays, either caused by the enemy or the weather.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/03/18/ptsd-moments/

From our base in Kabul, we embarked on what was supposed to be a six-day mission. First, we took the few minute flight to the airport in Kabul. From there, a British C-130 gunship to Kandahar, with a stop at Bastion on the way. For the trip back, we flew to Bagram, which was like my home away from home during deployment. And that’s where we got stuck for a few days. The transition to winter weather was upon us. It was early November, fairly mild up until that point. The days had been comfortable, the nights were cool. Nothing too bad. But that was about to change.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/04/memories-and-afghanistan/

The night before we were supposed to fly by helicopter back to Kabul, the temperature dropped to almost freezing and the rain came. For three days it rained. Cold, wet, miserable, rain. Knowing the weather would likely result in travel issues, I woke up at 0430 to walk the mile to the terminal to see about flights. If they were flying, I would call the chaplain and the other traveler in our group and tell them to come. But of course, they weren’t flying. I walked back to where we were staying. In the cold, miserable rain.

The next morning, I awoke at 0430 again and made the walk. The rain was just enough to be annoying, light but steady, and still very cold. I was in line to inquire about flights, knowing we weren’t going anywhere. They guy came down the line holding a clipboard, asking each hopeful traveler a single question, “Where you going?”  I answered, “NKC.”  He simply said, “Nope,” and moved to the next person in line.  Back to my bunk, sloshing through the rain, looking forward to a nap. In my journal that I kept about the missions we went on, the single entry for that day was: “Flight cancelled due to weather. Did nothing, getting bored.”

On the third morning of being stuck at BAF (Bagram Air Field), I made the same early-morning walk. Still raining, still cold, still knowing there would be no flights. At least not any civilian contractor flights that we mostly traveled on. But while at the terminal, I was able to find out that the Deputy Commanding General of our unit was traveling through there on his way back to Kabul. And the DCG flies on Black Hawks with military pilots, not relying on the civilian contractors.

When flying with the civilian contractors, you just show up, get on, and go. It doesn’t work that way when trying to hop a flight with a general. When I peeked over the counter and saw the general’s flight on a manifest, I told the guy that I was in that unit, and we had three personnel that had been stuck at BAF for days and needed to be on that flight. He looked at me like I was Jon Lovitz saying, “Yeah, that’s the ticket!” But, eventually, after some phone calls, we were confirmed on the General’s flight.

Finally, just before midnight on the ninth day of our trip, we boarded one of two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters going back to our base in Kabul. It had been a long trip and I was ready for it to be done. And as much as I loved traveling throughout Afghanistan during that deployment, it was nice to get back “home” to my own bunk. After returning, my roommate told me I got back just in time, that he was going to rent out my bed because he thought I wasn’t coming back. And of course, he asked how my ‘vacation’ was.

Good times. Good memories. Despite the blaring sirens during the rocket attacks and sitting in concrete bunkers at both Kandahar and Bagram during that trip, I have good memories of that mission. And somehow, it was this miserable weather here that elicited those memories and made me smile. There are still things around me that might take me back to an event during that trip that would not make me smile. Perhaps, a fire alarm or loud booms might make me remember the same trip in a different light. But for some reason, and I can’t explain why, this cold, wet, nasty weather we had in Florida this week takes me back to that mission in Afghanistan, and I smile because of it. Go figure.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/07/15/my-worst-war-memory/

Thank you for taking the time to check out Story of My Life. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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Memorial Day Weekend, 2017

Every Memorial Day Weekend I take time to reflect on the Service Members that paid the ultimate price. As you enjoy your long weekend, sales, BBQ’s, and family time, take a moment to remember how we got those freedoms. Men and women who willingly put on a uniform gave their lives to insure our continued freedom. Take a moment to remember them.

DSCN4755 Death Registers at Enduring Freedom Chapel at Bagram, Afghanistan. 

I invite you to check out a previous Memorial Day post I’ve made. It contains a piece of poetry about Memorial Day I wrote while serving in Iraq in 2009. https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/05/28/memorial-day-weekend/

I also invite you to check out another post I made while serving in Afghanistan that gives insight to the ceremony for the fallen of the NATO and Coalition Forces. https://storyofmylife.blog/2013/09/04/the-ceremony/

DSCN3370 The set-up for the weekly ceremony at ISAF in Kabul, Afghanistan that honors the fallen.  Only the countries with killed-in-action have their flag displayed during the ceremony.  The U.S. flag was displayed every ceremony I attended.  We gave a lot over there.

But most of all, I ask that you pause for a moment in your busy weekend and be grateful for the ones that gave their lives so that the rest of us didn’t have to.

Good day, God bless.

Dave

2230 Hours, Kabul, Afghanistan

2230 hours (10:30 P.M.), Kabul, Afghanistan, about five or six weeks into deployment. My two roommates and I had already turned out the lights and called it a day. I was half asleep when the loud knock on the door startled the three of us from our bunks. Who the hell was banging on our door so forcefully at that hour? One of us may have even yelled to the person at the door using some colorful language. Oops. To our surprise, it was one of our Master Sergeants. He informed us that Bagram was “getting lit up” and that intel reports were suggesting we were next. He told us to stay put, but be ready. Then he was off to the next room, banging on that door.

Really? “Stay put, but be ready”? Needless to say, I didn’t fall asleep until 3 or 4 A.M. I got online and messaged my friend that was stationed at Bagram and asked if he was doing alright. He told me there was some excitement going on up there, but he was well so far. There was not an attack that night at my base. Where I was stationed, at New Kabul Compound (NKC), there were very few attacks like those at other bases outside of Kabul. My base was across from the U.S. Embassy and ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces). Because of those places, we were fortunate to have greater security.

During my deployment to Afghanistan, I spent a good deal of time traveling. I used to call Bagram my second home because I was there so much. I became very familiar with the rocket attacks that would come in from the mountains there. Same thing at Kandahar and Shindand when I visited there on missions. Loud, unexpected noises still startle me, bother me, and get my adrenaline pumping for a moment. But our threats in Kabul were different. Usually they involved attacking a convoy in the city with an explosive device that could be slapped on to a vehicle stuck in the slow-moving Kabul traffic. Other threats were vehicles loaded with explosives that might try to penetrate the gates of one of the bases or detonate next to a convoy. Small arms fire was always a threat everywhere over there. Then there was the one big threat that was hush-hush, secret.

Whether these threats got carried out or the bad guys were disabled, the threats were real. Dealing with those threats in our minds was very real. We had to be ready no matter what. And having to deal with them over and over without anything happening most of the time took a weird toll on me. I am still having to learn what is a real threat and what is not. I imagine police officers go through that at their job daily. To me, when I’m driving to the store or to pick the kids up at school, I’m looking for threats. I seriously doubt there are any real threats on the roads here where I live, but I’m looking. When I see a car change lanes hastily without a turn signal, I see a threat. When people walk through traffic without using the crosswalk, I see a threat. When someone is driving the wrong way in a parking lot or trying to exit at an entrance only, I see a threat. I’m conditioned to see a threat even though in my rational mind I know it’s not.

At the end of one mission to ISAF we were waiting for the drive team to retrieve us. The two vehicles were separated before they could both enter the base and the second vehicle didn’t get in. A truck supposedly packed with explosives was trying to get in the base and traffic was halted. It was a mess. We were advised to move to the opposite side of the base until the threat was taken care of. The one vehicle that made it into the base met us in the rear. We exited the back gate and eventually met back up with the other vehicle and returned to our base without further incident.

For local missions, we traveled by convoy. Before each trip, we were always given safety and situational briefs by the convoy commander. This covered the route to be taken, who does what in the event of an attack, and current threats in the area. During one brief, we were advised that intel indicated that we should be on the lookout for a white Toyota that was carrying a trunk full of explosions. That information narrowed down our potential threat to about half the vehicles in Kabul. Maybe not quite half, but there were more white Toyotas than any other vehicle on the roads it seemed.

For out of town missions we traveled by helicopter and airplane. One trip coming back from Bagram, a short helicopter ride from Kabul, we were delayed for a day or two because of a threat somewhere in the mountains that we had to fly over. Finally, a pilot decided to make a flight back to Kabul. We got on the bird to head “home”. We took a different route back than we usually would. When you travel as much as I did, you get used to the terrain and route. Needless to say, the change of route was a little uncomfortable to me. We flew around the “bowl” and found our way in and made it safely to our base.

All of the threats were real, some came to fruition, and others never did. But either way, the threats were real in that every one of them had to be treated as such. Every threat brought a sense of self-preservation and wondering about our own mortality. Every threat had an element of reality that any of us could be going home in box draped with an American Flag. I’m still working on what’s real and what’s not in my life now as far as threats go. I’m getting better, but I still can’t help it when I have a flash of feeling threatened during certain situations and events. Some things just trigger that in me. Maybe it will go away one day. Maybe not. We’ll see in time.

Thanks for reading this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other posts related to this one:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/03/19/the-fear-in-the-eyes/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/04/memories-and-afghanistan/