Monday, April 23, 2018

Frequent Flyer: My Journey to Afghanistan

Traveling to Afghanistan has been an experience in and of itself. It took about five full days (and five different flights) for me to get from Fort Bliss, Texas to my new home in Kabul, Afghanistan.

It all started with a chartered military flight out of Texas. Our baggage was weighed and our motley crew of contractors and service members were loaded into a traditional, chartered airliner. We stopped over in New Hampshire to refuel and then again at an airbase in Germany. In each of these pit stops, we were shepherded off the plane into a holding area for several hours and then given instructions to board again for the next leg of the journey.

Eventually, we made it to Kuwait - with the time change we seemed to lose a whole day in the process. Kuwait is somewhat of a staging ground for the whole CENTCOM region. Some of the contractors and service members in our group would be staying at one of the bases in Kuwait, while others were headed to Qatar, Djibouti, Iraq or Afghanistan. Those with a final destination outside of Kuwait were given transient accommodations and instructions for our next flight. 

I ended up spending a couple of days in Kuwait. Although it was hot and dry, I didn't mind having a couple of days to get my feet on the ground before traveling again. The women's transient barracks were also not nearly as harsh as the men's. The women's barracks were divided into several rooms with ten to twelve bunks in a room. In contrast, the men's barracks were entirely open, with over a hundred bunks crowded into a single hall. 

C17 Photo by Sergeant James E. Lotz / Wikimedia Commons
After a couple days, our flight to Afghanistan was ready. There would be no more chartered airliners from here on out. From Kuwait to Bagram we rode on a C17. Our baggage was palleted and loaded up a ramp from the rear of the plane. As passengers, we rode in flight seats that ran up and down the sides of the plane. The plane itself was quite loud and most of us wore earplugs for the duration of the flight. On the plus side, once we hit cruising altitude, we were able to get out of our seats and 'move about the cabin'. For most people, this meant finding a place to lie down on the floor of the plane to catch a few more hours of sleep. 

We finally arrived in Bagram just before midnight. After security briefings, I was lucky enough to find some transient billeting to catch a few more hours of sleep and a midnight DFAC (dining facility) to grab a few quick bites. In the morning, I signed up for the next available space on a flight into Kabul. And then I waited. The weather in Bagram was much colder (and rainier!) than I expected. Because of the weather conditions, the first few flights of the day were all delayed. And so we waited. Eventually, the weather cleared enough for our flight to take off. 
DoD Photo by Spc. Russell J. Good / Wikimedia Commons

For the final leg of my journey, I would be riding in a Chinook helicopter. I once again donned my ear plugs, along with my armored vest, helmet and eye protection. The flight itself was relatively quick, but the brevity did little to assuage the trepidation of taking a rotary flight through a conflict zone. After what seemed like an hour - but was really only about ten minutes - our flight touched down at the airport in Kabul.

It's been great to be able to fully unpack some of my belongings and settle in to a new routine. I'm excited to begin teaching and to get to know my students, my colleagues and hopefully some of the other soldiers, contractors and civilians that call Kabul home. 

2 comments:

  1. Ashley, Thank you for sharing information about your journey. Glad to hear that you made it there safely and that you are in your new home in Kabul, Afghanistan. We miss you at Washburn, and we are excited to learn more about your adventure.

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  2. Thank you John! I miss the students and staff at Washburn and I wish you all the best!

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