They’ll also remember how comfortable sitting in this thing for a 6-hour flight was.
By Jay Kirell
I was part of an 18,000-troop surge into Afghanistan in the summer of 2010. By that time Operation Enduring Freedom, as it had been named, was in it’s 8th year. Today it is still ongoing in year 12, with tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen having been rotated in and out of the country.
Not every service-member who set foot in Afghanistan saw combat. Not all have tales of heroism and valor. But they all shared at least some common experiences. Because at some point or another, anyone who debarked from a plane that touched down at either Bagram or Kandahar Airfields had to eat, sleep and do things other than fighting terrorism.
Here are 10 things none of them will ever forget:
10. Poo Pond
Poo pond is basically an overflowing septic lake where all the waste from Kandahar Airfield spills into. To get to certain spots of the Airfield you have to drive past it. You get a whiff of it long before you ever see it. A strong stomach is required just to drive past it, and nobody who came into the country through Kandahar will ever forget that smell. Throw in 130-degree heat in the summer, and it’s quite overpowering.
Think driving through Staten Island in the summer…and getting stopped in traffic for 12 years.
9. The Boardwalk
About to be shuttered for good, the boardwalk at Kandahar Airfield was literally an oasis. For troops shuffling in and out of remote outposts, who might not have showered in months, let alone eaten KFC or pizza – this place was Times Square, the mall, and the YMCA all at once. The size of a city block, the boardwalk wrapped around a volleyball and basketball court with open areas for soccer or softball. If you know someone who served in Afghanistan and they brought back a little souvenir for friends or family, it was probably purchased at a shop along this boardwalk.
I used to buy DVD’s from the shops along here. $10 for something like six seasons of 24. They don’t let you take back all the bootleg movies back to America though – only “one” box set and “one” regular movie.
8. Jingle trucks
And I thought New Jersey drivers were bad. You haven’t seen ballsy driving until you’ve seen one of these things coming in the opposite direction down the highway. Drivers making eye contact with you from your turret, essentially saying “sup, yo?” Most of the time you just hope whatever the hopes and dreams the driver used to secure his cargo holds up for the time it takes them to pass you.
These trucks will be stacked up with goods so high they’ll look like a giant moving metallic muffins.
7. camel spiders
If a camel spider could take over my column for a moment and describe itself to you – which it totally would if one ever wanted to – it would say it’s the 10x as terrifying as any Taliban member and way more numerous. Troops who’ve seen combat often have nightmares about combat. Troops who haven’t have nightmares about these things.
6. $5 cartons of cigarettes
You can’t get a pack of cigarettes for less than $5 anymore – unless you’re one of the thousands of service-members who don’t smoke…except during their deployment. The picture above shows a brand available in Afghanistan that cost $5 for a carton – yes, a carton – in shops at the airfields, forward operating bases and even some local Afghan shops.
They are absolutely horrible cigarettes. But if you don’t want to pay much for your only-allowable stress-relieving vice during deployment, they do the job.
5. Bottled water towers
To survive in a place where temperatures make it feel like you’re living on the sun, you have to stay hydrated. The best source of hydration, obviously, being water. And if you like bottled water, you were probably in heaven during your deployment. We would get pallets of water a week since every deployed service-member is required to drink a certain amount of water a day, they would need to be replenished as quickly as they could for us to keep performing missions.
Nothing like spending two hours in the hot sun unloading a tractor-trailer size amount of bottled water and making a 50-foot human chain and tossing-catching-tossing-catching after you had just finished up a 4-hour guard shift at 8 in the morning. Not that I’m whining – but, yes, I’m whining – now.
Not a humid Florida heat, more like a dry Arizona heat. Except when you live in Arizona you don’t dress head-to-toe in heavy, layered clothing and throw a helmet on, ending up with the only parts of skin exposed being your face. Heat stroke wasn’t uncommon due to the heat in combination with supplements soldiers take to stay and look strong. Which is why, even when not in full-gear, the Army mandated all soldiers wear…
3. Boonie Caps
Because nothing says intimidation like the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island in camo.
Either you wore one because you were forced to (thanks, visiting higher-up), or …well, being forced to was the only reason you’d wear this over your patrol cap. It looked ridiculous. Nobody liked them. The only people who wore them without a sense of shame were the Command Sergeant Majors who lost all sense of irony in their last deployment.
2. The Eagle Cash Card & Pogs
Since you don’t really want to take your credit card out to a warzone, an Eagle Cash Card is how you paid for anything in-country. This card was often the difference between eating a 7-year-old bag of M&M’s you found in an MRE right before your tower guard shift on the outpost, or a box of fresh bag of Doritos from a trip to the FOB.
The “pogs” are the change you get when you pay for things in cash. You accumulate them in-country and cash them in when you get back to the states. Or that was the idea. I’m pretty sure most got thrown out. I know mine did.
1. Slow Internet.
Granted, the concept of Internet cafe’s at all in a warzone is kind of bizarre, but it is the 21st Century so this is to be expected. During your deployment you have what are called MWR‘s – Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities. These are usually found on large Airbases and medium-sized Forward Operating Bases. My tiny outpost didn’t have one until about six months into our deployment, and when we got it, it was just as slow as everywhere else. For people who have only known high-speed Internet (like most teenagers and early 20-somethings I deployed with) this was amazingly frustrating. For me, it just took me back to 1996 when I graduated high school and my Internet was running on the home phone line and I eagerly waited the minute or two it took to bring up a webpage.
Phone calls were just funny since the time delay makes what you’re saying get received about three seconds after you say it. That was why I avoided most phone calls and just wrote physical letters or corresponded via Facebook with people back home. Facebook was an exceptional resource for deployed troops and should be commended.