Training in Wyoming eventually came to an end, but the few days felt more like a full season of goodness. The A Team was good. P-Dawg was good. Being reminded that people are kind, generous, caring, funny, and trustworthy was also good. It would take a few more seasons of goodness before new growth would begin to poke through my battered ground, but it was a start. On the last morning of training, we piled on the busses to the local airport, excited to be heading somewhere where our eyelashes weren’t frozen shut with every blink, but we were also aware of the very real future dangers awaiting each of us. The A Team characters were all going in different directions, but Nurse P was going to be the closest to me in Bagram. Even though I wouldn’t see her in Afghanistan, it made me smile to think of having a friend close.
After a hop, skip and a jump (and 35 unbelievable hours) I arrived in Kyrgyzstan. Flying was exhausting. The depressing safety briefings from underwhelmed flight attendants, take offs, changes in altitude that eventually wore out my ears’ abilities to pop, then sitting in too small seats with nothing but time to imagine what awaits after the final landing—all these elements sapped whatever strength I regained from the intermittent layovers in European airports. And when we did stop to change planes or refuel, there was scrambling for rest rooms, for real food, for electrical outlets to recharge laptops, cell phones and iPods, and for a quiet place to stretch out from head to toe and be alone for twenty minutes before the call to board rippled through the crowds. Sanity was brief before the crazy boredom resumed and we were herded onto the plane again, sheep guided into a flying shearing pen. Deploying is not like traveling. Traveling is romantic and wonderful, conjuring up images of sunny beaches, visits to ancient architecture, pictures of exotic sights, sounds and people around every corner. Deploying is not romantic. It is work, duty, mission and poor hygiene.
With all the hours of flying, I was almost grateful to finally arrive in Kabul. Our C-130, packed full of Soldiers and me, flew directly into the civilian airport’s runway, and we disembarked to run across the open tarmac into the terminal. It was very typical to run to and from aircraft. They were, after all, terrific targets for destruction, and so was any “cargo” the plane carried. We were briefed from the Army Sergeant Major that the cargo needed to “haul ass” inside as soon as the back door was lowered on the aircraft. Never one to disobey my senior enlisted, I quickly shuffled, with my ten pound vest and thirty pound backpack, across the pavement and into the terminal. As soon as I entered the terminal I slammed into the gag-inducing smell of unwashed bodies, foreign food, and goats (I think). The thickness of the odor painted the inside of the waiting room and caused my eyes to water. I made my way to the front desk, which was a single lectern placed before the doors leading to the outside. The US Soldier behind the lectern barely looked up as I approached. He was busy filling out paperwork and listening to direction given over the radio. I heard code words I didn’t yet understand. “Hi,” I said. Nothing. I tried again during a break in the radio chatter, “I’m supposed to contact my ride to come pick me up. Is there a phone I can use?” I tried to maintain the positive outlook I carried through pre-deployment training.
“Sure. The phone’s over there,” he pointed over his shoulder to a red door with a sign that read, “Information for US Military.” As I bent down to grab my hefty backpack and move towards the red door, the Soldier continued, never looking up, “but I don’t think you’re going to get anybody to come get you today. The roads are under Black Condition right now.”
“Oh, really? What does that mean?” My positive outlook was taking a beating.
“That means no one is allowed out until the threat is lifted. We just had a convoy attacked up the road a few minutes ago. You might want to make yourself comfortable…ma’am,” he finally looked up from his paperwork to acknowledge me. “They’re not going to be able to get through the barricades for a couple days. You’re welcome to find a cot in one of the transient tents, if you can find an empty one. Welcome to Afghanistan.”