The Cessna 208 Caravan is a widely-used aircraft in a variety of civilian and military capacities. The U.S. military has provided a dozen and a half C-208Bs to the Afghan Air Force for use as trainers, spotters, and light cargo carriers. These aircraft are workhorses and are coming and going constantly.
The maintenance English program included many trips to the flight line to provide opportunities to reinforce vocabulary and concepts. One day, we climbed all over the plane for familiarization purposes. The opportunity to snap a shot with one of my favorite students standing at the base of a C-130 tail was not missed.
Look Mom, No Wheels!
The NATO training mission in Afghanistan entails many activities – everything from truck driving to counter-narcotics. Here, a U.S. Air Force maintenance crew instructs an Afghan maintenance crew on the finer points of jacking a C-130 and checking the operation of the landing gear. Such exchanges also provide the Afghans an opportunity to apply the technical English they’ve learned.
Despite his sinister appearance, this little guy is quite friendly and appreciates a good petting. Treats will earn you extra affection. I haven’t run across many cats here, but this one has the deepest voice of any cat I’ve ever heard. Cats are regarded quite fondly by Afghans, while dogs rarely enjoy pet status.
These passengers, or “pax” will soon board this C-130 bound for another province in Afghanistan. The majority of these men are soldiers, coming and going between duty stations, special assignments, and so forth. Two C-130s were recently acquired by the Afghan Air Force to replace its small C-27 fleet.
The Turkish Army has played and continues to play a major role within ISAF. Due to its considerable presence on the KAIA compound, the Turkish Army commissioned a dining facility some years ago. Not only did the facility cater to the Turkish diet, it provided a halal dining option for anyone requiring it. The cuisine quickly became popular and the original facility struggled to meet demand due to its tiny size. This new facility opened in January 2014, to the delight of everyone on base.
The first snowfall of 2013 arrived in late December. Though our winter wonderland doesn’t sport evergreens and plastic Santas, there is an abundance of communications towers and military trucks. In Afghanistan, you learn to take what you can get.
The snow was a temporary novelty for KAIA’s residents, but proved to be a lasting nightmare for the custodial staff. The melting slush fuses with the dirt to create a cake batter-like mixture that gets tracked into the buildings around the clock.
The Afghan landscape is absolutely gorgeous under a blanket of white. The snowfall also creates a uniquely peaceful environment, obscuring visual details, muffling sounds, and keeping people indoors – save for the dauntless Afghans going about their business as usual.
Force Protection, or “FP” entails the measures taken to protect a specific group of people from hostile actions. As an unarmed civilian, I am one of these specific people. While in Afghanistan, the U.S. military is more or less accountable for my safety. One of the nifty tools employed to provide that safety is the M-ATV. These three await their crews’ return from lunch.
Afghan Air Force rotary-wing assets consist almost entirely of Russian aircraft. Here, flight line crews perform maintenance checks on an Mi-17. These helicopters are powerful, sturdy and pretty reliable. The Afghan Presidential Airlift Squadron even uses the Mi-17 — suitably modified, of course.
While this little tree is certainly an adorable specimen, all I really wanted at this instant was to get inside the classroom to enjoy a cup of hot tea.
Living on KAIA is not altogether unbearable. Thanks to the handful of commercial vendors on the compound, one is able to enjoy little extravagances such as these sweet treats. These indulgences do wonders to maintain one’s sanity in a world of monotony.
To say Afghanistan is a dusty place is an understatement. It’s essentially impossible to keep anything clean here. This ambitious coworker beat this rug senseless for twenty minutes before realizing the futility of the activity. Life becomes a little easier when you learn to accept the dust, not fight it.
Rocks n Roses
While many things are in short supply in Afghanistan, the country doesn’t lack for rocks or roses. Although some may be partial to rocks, most will agree the roses are one Afghanistan’s most beautiful features.
The scenery around Kabul is breathtaking on clear days. The country possesses a rugged natural beauty that is reflected in the hardiness of its people. This shot was taken near where I teach, on the Afghan air base at Kabul International.
Meals served at the Turkish dining facility are trucked in three times a day from a contract vendor in Kabul. These princes among men are unloading lunch. These meals are arguably the freshest on the compound, likely due in large part to locally-sourced ingredients and halal preparation.
This modest metal crate houses one of the best eateries on the compound. The dining space is cramped and many patrons have no option but to enjoy their meals outside on the picnic benches. Though the Turkish DFAC (Dining FACility) isn’t exactly Turkish, as the food is prepared locally in Kabul by a contract vendor, it is operated by the Turkish contingent to whom I am very thankful for providing this wonderful dining option. Rumor has it a larger facility is under construction. More on that later.
With the inability to venture out into the city to sample local cuisine, I’m particularly grateful for this tray-full of heaven. The Turkish dining facility provides fresh and unique flavors that are a welcome departure from the typical cafeteria fare offered at the main dining facilities.
Ariana is the national airline of Afghanistan as well as the country’s oldest carrier. During my brief visit to the airport, I was surprised to see just how many airlines serve Kabul. I counted eight, though I’m sure there are more.
While walking outside between the two terminals, my trusty nose detected mysterious, savory aromas. With a little diligence and a lot of help from a nice little old man, I arrived at the only (and not so easy to find) restaurant the airport has to offer. If you’re hunting for good airport food, look no further. This was one of the tastiest meals I’ve had – at airports or otherwise.
Why yes, it does rain in Afghanistan, and here’s some wet pavement to prove it! Within a week of my arrival, there were a few days of heaving drizzling that did wonders to clear the air and settle the dust. It also made some fine mud puddles, as the dry soil refuses to readily absorb the water.
How does the song go? I’m too sexy for these sandbags? I might have that wrong. This sandbag wall exists to protect the inhabitants of the tent behind me — the Mongolian contingent that’s responsible for flight line security. Great group of guys, those Mongolians. I especially like the old Soviet-era weapons they pack. Things look like they’ve been through half a dozen wars, but I bet they work beautifully.
The domestic and international terminals are located on the south side of Kabul airport. Here, I’m standing in front of the domestic. Together, they’re smaller than an IKEA and are more or less deserted unless an arrival or a departure is underway.
It took a little diplomacy to get the nice chap to my left to let me take this photo. I’m glad he did, because I wanted everyone to rest easy knowing there is a strict, no weapons policy at the airport – according to the sign, at least. The international terminal is behind me.
Everything’s more flavorful in South and Southwest Asia – including the airlines. This carrier was new to me, but certainly won’t be to most Indians. Spice Jet is a budget airline based in Chennai, servicing a handful of international routes, including Kabul. I wonder if the in-flight curry is any good.
KAIA is a hub of activity. People are constantly coming and going. Some require lodging for a night, others for weeks. The building behind me is one of two dedicated to housing the transient population. Much more interesting is the building on the right — the mysterious Afghan House. I have never seen anyone enter or leave and the only window is draped in secrecy. I am bound and determined to find out what’s going on in this place.
Just another leisurely day in suburban KAIA. All this photo lacks is children chasing an ice cream truck. In lieu of grass we have rocks, but that picnic bench is pretty nice, right? KAIA is very pedestrian friendly, as everything is just a few minutes’ walk from everything else.
Toward one end of the KAIA base, there’s a shopping strip comprised of local merchants peddling overpriced Indian, Pakistani and Chinese merchandise. Many types of products can be obtained from the shops, including rugs, clothing, jewelry, electronics, and souvenirs. One of the busiest shops specializes in pirated DVDs. They have more titles than you can imagine, including complete boxed sets of popular, recently-run series. Though, you get what you pay for. The merchants are very friendly, but very shrewd. They essentially enjoy a captive customer base and conduct their business accordingly. Nice guys, though.
Several U.S. bases in Kuwait serve as hubs for transportation in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. If you’re traveling into or out of these theaters of operations, there’s a good chance you’ll be assigned accommodations like this between the legs of your journey. Just hope it’s a short stay.
My Ride To Kabul
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the one on the left. I got stuck on the big blue and white one, a Sikorsky S-92. But I was thankful to the noisy, rattling beast for delivering me safely to my final destination.
More Transient Billeting
I spent several days in one of these bad boys on a U.S. base in Kuwait, waiting for a ride out to Bagram. Dimly lit and sparsely furnished (metal bunks and lockers), many active-duty military members call these home. During my stay, I lucked out and was able to grab a weak WiFi signal from the morale trailer located about a hundred feet from my bunk. The tents are air-conditioned and sleep about twenty.
First Class Seating
For my flight to Bagram, I went ahead and upgraded to first class. You’ve never seen legroom like this. The drink service was lacking and the hot towels never materialized, but the flight was among the smoothest I’ve experienced. If you look closely in the center of the image, you can make out a white crate. Two K-9s (and their handlers) came along for the ride.
Air Conditioner Alley
Colleagues Gary (red pack) and Brian (black muscle shirt) enjoy a stroll down a walking path between the buildings that house the base’s inhabitants. Perched above the entrances to these one-room dorms, these sacred climate control units run 24/7 to provide the residents some relief from the triple digit temperatures the Kuwaiti desert doles out.
We arrived at Bagram just after midnight. As the sleek giant taxied toward the terminal, a crewman lowered the ramp allowing the crisp desert air to slip in and greet us. I would soon step foot on Afghan soil.
I’m either poised to para-drop into hostile territory with a team of crack commandos, or merely enjoying a short helicopter ride to Kabul with a handful of strangers. Feel free to make up your own mind.
The Kabul International Airport military installation is referred to as KAIA. It’s a NATO coalition operation that’s currently commanded by the French. There are forces present from roughly two dozen countries and things run very smoothly. Each participating nation provides a particular service or function and responsibilities are periodically rotated. For instance, the French currently operate the base hospital, the Mongolians are currently in charge of flight line security and the Jordanians guard physical entry (gates, check points) to the base.
Toilet (latrine) and shower facilities on some military bases can be a several-minute walk away from wherever you lay your head. They are often grouped together, with separate units for men and women. Though it does take a little getting used to planning an outing to conduct one’s business, at least the latrine facilities don’t smell that bad. Okay, I’m lying.
See that smug, contented grin? I’m wearing it for two reasons. First, I’m finally leaving Kuwait for Afghanistan. Second, FREE C-17 RIDE!
This shot was taken during the flight from Bagram to Kabul. I don’t know much about the Afghan landscape, but I can make out some agriculture and a number of residential compounds. Rural life appears to be pretty rustic, but Afghans are a hardy bunch.