Just returned from another wretched trip to Pogadishu, once again challenging my moral endurance. One of the more blatant signs of disconnection from reality; several Soldiers complaining vociferously about Pizza Hut running out of beef while nearby a Soldier who was passing through Bagram to go on leave had come from a FOB where running out of water for days at a time was relatively common, and needed supplies were unable to be delivered due to a lack of airlift capacity. The ridiculousness of the concerns of the denizens of Pogadishu is highlighted in the presence of those who pass through their midst on their way to and from the real war.
The Soldiers who pass through are subjected to visions of high-rise (three story) conex condos while they are subjected to the horrors of the “transient tents.” These hovels house nearly two hundred men who share four shower stalls, two urinals and three toilets. Overflow capacity is provided by several porta-johns nearby. I haven’t been to the east side of Bagram in two years, but I hear that conditions over there are even more horrific. How that can be escapes me, but there must be another level of depravity on that side of the runway. In the north transient tents, one tent, which is not an Army tent but the type of enclosure that might hold diners at an outdoor wedding, holds double-deck bunk beds that house at least 175 men. It is nearly always filled to capacity, a scant foot to a foot and a half between bunks. Dimly lit, it is like a holding pen for a level of Hell that is filled to capacity. Bare plywood floors are perpetually dusty, and there is an air of resignation.
The other tent, of the same construction, has standard Army cots separated by the same intervals. This tent easily houses a hundred men. It seems more pleasant because of the ability to see from one end to the other. Not all of the occupants are transients. Many Soldiers and contractors are “housed” there for weeks at a time before getting more “permanent” housing, likely in one of the many B-huts which have small living areas separated by cubicle-like “walls” with lockable “doors.” The “walls” cannot go all the way to the ceiling because there are only two Chigo (heating and air conditioning) units, one at each end of the hut. Often a dozen men will be housed in one B-hut. B-hut living is tolerable. It is sheer luxury compared to the Spartan living in the transient tents.
In the transient tents, privacy is a matter of mind over matter. The iPod is a savior. If one puts in the iPod, one can almost forget the man snoring 18 inches from his left ear. As I lay there on my cot, the roar of two F-15’s taking off shattered the near-serenity of Pachelbel’s Canon. I restarted the tune, immersed in the quiet dignity of what is likely my favorite piece of classical music. A bit later, another pair of fighters took off, afterburners punctuating Steppenwolf’s invitation to a young woman to join them on a Magic Carpet Ride. Brilliant.
I think that the iPod saved my sanity.
But there is no saving one’s sanity from the utter fobbitry. NFL on Fox made the trip to Afghanistan, only to root themselves in the land of those who serve, forward deployed but not in any way, shape or form an actual participant in the hostilities. As we were conducting training for several days to one of the headquarters elements, we moved through what is to us is something out of Alice in Wonderland. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if I were approached at Bagram by a huge, time management-challenged rabbit. So, eating in one of the dining facilities during lunchtime, we saw Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long as they exited. They had been seated in the large, cramped DFAC and had signed many autographs. Asked by a friend back home if I had said anything to them, I replied, “Nah, this place is full of fobbit jock-sniffers. I don’t want to be one of them.”
I was informed that coffee being shot through the nose is very uncomfortable and stains shirts.
I am reminded that Toby Keith heads out to FOBs and COPs where he has played for very small groups of Soldiers on an acoustic guitar. It was a nice gesture for NFL on Fox to head to Afghanistan, it really was. When I first came to Afghanistan, half of the people I knew weren’t even tracking on this country. It was the forgotten front of the “War on Terror.” Iraq was where all the money, troops and attention went. So for Fox to come to this land was a great gesture. But the kids at Bagram have everything.
Except beef on their pizza… at least for a few days.
There are Soldiers and Marines all over this country who get squat… even water… while Bagram has “Karaoke Nite” and “Salsa Nite.” Then the spoiled wonders there even have the temerity to rant out loud about not getting beef with their pepperoni for their Pizza Hut pizza (delivered, no less). Now, I can’t fault them for making their lives as comfortable as possible, but there is silly and then there is ridiculous. Salsa Nite is silly.
Housing the warriors who normally live in Spartan conditions that the fobbits at Bagram would riot over in those pathetic “transient tents” is ridiculous. You do not see field grade officers spending the night in those wretched holes called “transient tents.” If a full Colonel ever got stuck in there for a night, lots would be made of the event shortly thereafter. But it is perfectly fine to “house” a young Sergeant with two Purple Hearts, who has lived for days without clean water and who has no electricity on a regular basis, in the slums of Bagram while the full-time denizens of that massive disconnect from reality are housed in apartment complexes formed of stacked shipping containers with cable TV and internet service in their rooms.
The word is disparity.
“I can’t believe that they have the nerve to even open their mouths about not having beef on their pepperoni pizza,” the young Sergeant stated, “but it just reminds me that they are nothing.” He continued, “They come here and then they go home and talk about how they went to Afghanistan, but they aren’t even in this war. This is like an American town in the middle of Afghanistan. This isn’t Afghanistan, and these people ain’t shit. Hearing stuff like that pisses me off, but it reminds me that I’m an Infantryman, and I’m in it for real.”
Bagram really needs to do something about the shameful disease vectors that it calls “transient housing.” There should not be a soul living in pampered condos while the warfighters themselves pass through the scummy misery of those fetid tents. Tons of money is being spent there on construction, and yet a man who lives in crap out on a FOB has to share four shower stalls with over two hundred other men? Bagram is a hub for all who pass in and out of Afghanistan. The notoriously snarled air traffic leaves people hanging for days at a time… to suffer the indignity of an ill-run “transient housing” situation. It is unconscionable.
They didn’t show the celebrities the “transient tents.” Why? Why not show them where the real warriors get stuck when they pass through on leave or rush home in family emergencies? Because they are not idiots. If you chain your child in a closet, you know better than to show anyone. Certainly not anyone with a camera. Not only is Bagram disconnected from the war, but they treat anyone who actually is connected to it like some kind of animal. For anyone going on leave, Bagram is just part of the hellish journey that only becomes any semblance of normal when they reach Atlanta.
It’s a shame.
I’ve caught yet another upper respiratory infection in the transient hell of Bagram. If you ever really just have a burning desire to get sick, go to the transient housing office at Bagram and tell them you need a place to stay.