Water Water Everywhere

Water Water Everywhere

The military takes personal hydration very seriously in desert climates such as the Middle East and Southwest Asia. The health risks associated with dehydration are serious and can result in degradation of operational strength and effectiveness. In many locales including Afghanistan, reliable sources of clean water and the infrastructures required to facilitate their delivery do not exist. The military tackles this problem the same way many other issues are addressed – with commercial contracts. The contract water provisioning model is common throughout the region. The process begins with a local provider who sends truckloads of palletized cases of water bottles to the compound as demand dictates. The pallets are then distributed throughout the compound where they are gradually depleted over the course of days as people carry away the individual cases. Here on the KAIA compound, the water supplier is a Coca-Cola licensed bottler in Kabul. The product is of decent quality and is comparable to bottled water products sold in the States. Individual bottles are shrink-wrapped into cases of a dozen which are easily carried, stowed or transported as needed. This water supply is continuous and free for the taking. As a result, cases and bottles find their way into every nook and cranny conceivable. They’re found in offices, living quarters, vehicles, aircraft, mini-fridges, backpacks, coat pockets, recreational spaces, dining facilities, and anywhere else on the compound one can imagine. In addition to drinking, bottled water has many other uses on KAIA. Tap water on the compound isn’t potable, so bottled water is utilized for brushing teeth, brewing coffee or tea, nuking cups of noodles, and any other...
First Snow

First Snow

Yesterday, Kabul and the surrounding area received its first blanketing of snow for the 2013 winter season. Snow had been promised in previous weeks’ forecasts, but nothing materialized until now. It was quite a surprise to see the gorgeous layer of white, having been outside late the previous night for a fire drill. Someone who opted to remain anonymous incinerated a bag of popcorn in a communal microwave. The sky was completely clear, twinkling stars and all. At some point between 10:00pm and 6:00am, the skies saw fit to cut loose with several inches worth of white wonder. For the most part, operations on the compound didn’t miss a beat. People trudged through to their respective destinations. Once windows were cleared, vehicles were drivable save for a few dead batteries. Throughout the day, snowball fights ensued and snowmen were sculpted. Interestingly, the Jordanians were particularly skilled in the latter art. Who knew. As with snowfall in many areas, the beauty and novelty quickly gave way to a slushy and often icy mess. The comedy of numerous near slips-and-falls by KAIA residents on the scattered patches of ice relieved a bit of the sting of the frosty temperatures. The snow made many Afghans happy. Perhaps like many Americans, they believe a winter isn’t a winter without at least one good winter wonderland. I emphatically disagree and am counting the days until the temperatures begin to climb into something even resembling a habitable...
KAIA – A First Look

KAIA – A First Look

KAIA is the abbreviated name of the NATO ISAF compound located on the north side of Kabul International Airport. It is home to roughly four thousand military and civilian residents from dozens of nations. It is a hub for ISAF operations in the region, particularly in terms of air transportation, medical support and mentorship of the Afghan Air Force. Sights. Kabul resides in a river valley corralled by mountains that dominate the horizon in virtually every direction. To the north and west lie the magnificent peaks of the Hindu Kush range that are blanketed with snow during the winter. These mountains form a basin that contains not only Kabul, but some of the worst air quality in the world. A persistent haze plagues the city – a mix of dust, industrial pollution, vehicle emissions, smoke from whatever Afghans can burn to stay warm, and who knows what else. On the rare clear days, the views are stunning and the neighborhoods of Kabul that creep up into the foothills can be seen from the airport. While the KAIA compound in many ways resembles a typical military installation, it also possesses some unique features. Due to the dozens of member nations that support the ISAF mission here, a parade of military uniforms exists that sport every variation of desert camouflage you can imagine. Some nations defy local fashion and instead flaunt their native woodland camo of greens and browns – the French and the Czechs come to mind. Then there are the guns. So many guns. Virtually every military member and many civilian contractors are armed 24/7 with either assault rifles,...
OPSEC

OPSEC

OPSEC is the military acronym for OPerational SECurity, which entails the processes and practices designed to limit, if not eliminate, leakage of information that may aid adversaries. Wikipedia offers a comprehensive explanation. Why am I mentioning this? Well, OPSEC basically limits what information I can share through this blog and photo gallery. This website is viewable by anyone, including individuals or organizations who desire to gather data in an effort to further their agendas – particularly those involving violence against the men and women conducting the mission here in Afghanistan. OPSEC can be compromised in many ways – a casual conversation between coworkers in a public setting, photos posted to the internet without discretion, careless use of social media, or even blog entries posted by an innocent English teacher. You get the point. So, while I’d love to reveal every detail of this experience through images and text, my hands are significantly tied. But fret not. There will be plenty to share despite these limitations. Now where did I put those plans for that fully-operational battle station? Hope I didn’t post them to the...
The Road To Afghanistan

The Road To Afghanistan

Getting to Afghanistan was a protracted affair, but a unique and interesting experience. There’s a rigid, cumbersome and somewhat frustrating process that must be endured by essentially every civilian deploying to a conflict zone on behalf of the U.S. military. The best way to survive it is to take a deep breath, relax and tap every ounce of patience you can muster. To be fair, the process is designed not only to satisfy the military’s appetite for paperwork and procedure, but also to ensure each participant satisfies specific deployment criteria and is not a health, safety or security liability once in theater. The journey began with a week of corporate indoctrination in Orlando, Florida. I spent the week with a handful of other new-hires deploying to Afghanistan, jumping through various administrative hoops, completing required training and ensuring all our ducks were in a row for the deployment. The support and preparation from the company was good. Our handlers knew their jobs and did well to prepare us for the road ahead. Next up was the Army’s mandatory pre-deployment process known as IRDO. This week-long experience at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, consists of four main activities: a generous helping of paperwork, a thorough medical review, a mix of web-based and lecture-based training and issue of personal protective equipment. Along with roughly one hundred and fifty of my (newly) closest friends, I shuffled through the necessary steps to obtain the coveted clearance to deploy. The experience was somewhat reminiscent of boot camp, just without all the push-ups and shouting. At the end of IRDO week, everyone is bussed up the interstate to...
It Begins

It Begins

Days ago, I arrived in a country I never expected to visit. A land of deserts, mountains, ancient traditions and hardy people. A place of struggle, transition and hope for a better future. For the next year, Afghanistan will be my home away from home. Several years ago, I began working diligently to prepare for a new career teaching English abroad. I trained, studied and gained teaching experience. Finally, the time had arrived to throw my hat into the international ring. So here I am on a one-year contract to teach English to members of the Afghan National Army. During this time, I will live and work on the coalition base at Kabul International Airport. Although my exposure to Afghanistan will be significantly limited during my stay, I am anxious to discover everything I can about this land and its...