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 Indianapolis International for the charter flight to Kuwait, via a short layover in Germany. In Kuwait, the military transportation machine takes over. Within a day or two, fortunate travelers would arrive at their final destinations. The less fortunate (like me) had to endure a few additional days of waiting around in the Kuwaiti desert before our flights became available. However, the hospitality of our military hosts was good and I did ultimately get to ride in a C-17 to Bagram Airfield, which was cool. After a few more hours of waiting at Bagram and a twenty-minute helicopter ride, I finally arrived in Kabul.
Six days from Indianapolis to Kabul was a fatiguing experience, though I did get to see and do some things I imagine most people will never have the chance to, which is precisely what I’ve been working toward – to meet new people, experience new places, and do new things. As someone once claimed and many have reiterated, when you’re old, you’ll more regret the things you didn’t do – including whiling away hours on a dusty military base waiting for a plane ride.