We had scheduled to do some training in Kunar, and so we set out on the arduous aerial tour that would take us to the remote outpost which was our destination. My team, consisting of myself, CPT Jean-Luc and two interpreters flew into Bagram planning to catch another helicopter to Jalalabad and yet another out to the outpost in Kunar. At Bagram we discovered that the flight to Kunar was originating from where we stood, but we would wait overnight to catch it. It sounded like it was worth the additional pain of a night in Pogadishu. The terps groaned; they hate Pogadishu, because it makes them feel like sub-humans in their own country. But, they were good sports and took one for the team.
We arrived a half an hour before “show time,” the time when they call the roll for the flight, and immediately noticed the red band on the display. “Canceled.” Whoa. Not good. Sure enough, the Specialist at the window indicated that the flight indeed was canceled, and would not be rescheduled. The next flight to our chosen destination would be the next scheduled flight, now days away.
“That puts us outside our mission window,” I said, obviously irritated.
“I’m sorry, I don’t control the flight schedule,” the young Specialist offered.
“I know. You’re fine. I’m still pissed, because my mission is screwed; but you’re fine. I know it’s not your fault.” I’m sure that made him feel much better. Strain showed on his face.
I called the shop and after pondering our situation, they beckoned us to scrub the whole thing and return. I started looking for air again… headed the other way. The fixed wing pax (personnel) terminal, about a mile away, said that they had a flight leaving with a show time only about an hour and a half distant. They don’t take Space A (space available) listings by phone, so we had to get ourselves, our weapons, armor and gear down to the terminal. No big deal… we were getting used to dragging our gear back and forth all over Bagram. As we grabbed our gear, an Air Force Captain awaiting a different flight recognized my obvious irritation and asked where we had been headed. “Ah, Kunar,” he said, “Couple of places out there having a really bad day. They needed helicopters.” This didn’t sound good. Not a lot of information, but enough to know that some of our guys were having a rough time out there.
Maybe my day wasn’t so bad after all.
We wound up catching a shuttle, and soon were on the tail end of a 200 person list to fly to Kabul. Going by the numbers, that didn’t sound promising. However, there were very few people in the pax terminal who seemed to want to go to Kabul. I have no idea where all the people on the list were, but they weren’t where we were. Sure enough, we got seats. We palletized our gear and waited to be called to board the bus that would drive us out to the C-130. In the meantime Tamin, one of our experienced interpreters, noticed someone from our unit who was due back from leave. “I saw Pickling, Sir.”
“He was over there. I dunno… he might be in the bathroom.”
I didn’t see Specialist Pickling anywhere. I got up to look around. There were Soldiers everywhere. A flight had come in from Kuwait with at least 150 Soldiers, Marines and Airmen returning from leaves. I soon spotted Pickling and quickly had a reservation for him on our flight as well. He was relieved not to have to spend the night in the purgatory that is Pogadishu. Something had gone right.
Messages began to come in on my phone. Something was going on. There was word from a friend in the states that a base in Kunar had been overrun. I sent back a message that I had already heard that a base was having a bad day, but nothing at all about anyone anywhere being overrun. Still no solid information.
The picture began to gel as time passed. So did the flu I was coming down with, a gift from the Frenchman. It wasn’t until the next morning, after finally flying back to KAIA and grabbing just under three hours of sleep in the transient tent there (the nicest I’ve slept in in Afghanistan) and a European breakfast (where do they call that sausage?), that reports of 8 KIA at Camp Keating began to filter through. They were part of the same Task Force I was going to work with.
My mission was a scrub; but maybe, in comparison, my day wasn’t so bad after all.