The Last Journey

#4  Destination Afghanistan


28 July 2010, 2000 hrs Europe Time, in a C-5 Airplane somewhere over Asia….Like most people living in the USA prior to 2001, I did not know very much about a place called Afghanistan.  On September 11 of that same year, I began to hear about this place called Afghanistan and at that time determined that one day I would go there.  Today is that day.  It has taken me nearly nine years to get here.  At this very moment, I am in an Air Force C-5 heading to Kandahar, which oddly enough is not my primary destination.  It is now however the place I will touch ground on for my first steps into this land where so much has changed all of our lives.  It’s been a very long and complicated day, and now night, but as is with everything I’ve ever done in my life, I’m apparently heading to where I did not choose but where I am ending up for the time being.  I am thankful that I have this opportunity, however, I am worn down beyond explanation just trying to coordinate this journey.  Perhaps I will learn now that many, many things are completely out of my hands. 


The day started out once again stuck in Ramstein, Germany.  It’s a daily ritual that one has to go to the pax terminal at 0400 hrs every morning and sign up for what is called the “present” list, meaning you are present that day to travel.  My destination was and still is Bagram Air Base.  However, for the past several days, every flight that was headed to Bagram decided not to take passengers, including myself that had been waiting.  One flight did take some passengers, however, for some unknown reason to me, I ended up down on the bottom of the list and did not make the cut for the 14-pax that were able to be taken.  Days were beginning to turn into a week and my time in Germany was costing me a severe amount of money.  On Wednesday, today, the 28th, originally four birds were scheduled for Bagram.  By the time I got to the first roll call, that number had dropped to three.  The first roll call was being delayed, as everything is here in the pax terminal.  Just the way it is.  I was being told by civillian workers who seem to supervise in some cases Air Force personell handling flight arrangements for passengers, that the flight I was trying to get on was not going to be taking passengers, again.  And, to top it off, I was also being told that the other two flights headed for Bagram were also looking like no pax were going to be able to get on that flight either.  This had become a daily dilema.  One of the pax representatives mentioned that the aircraft going into Kandahar however would be taking passengers.  I decided to roll the dice and just get in country before anymore time got wasted. 


Now the problem with this move is that I had my room at the Air Force Inn Hotel already booked for that day and paid for as well as the next day because the reservationists at the front desk for the hotel kept telling me “no rooms are available and that if I wanted one, I had to make arrangements in advance.  It was a real headache and lugging my bags to and from the pax terminal daily was beginning to wear on me.  With the information I had at the time, I had to make a decision.  Once I made a decision to change destinations I would then immediately drop myself off the waiting list for Bagram which I had been told was looking like a sure no go this day.  I also had to make the decision immediately or I would miss the Kandahar flight.  I, along with a guy who works at the Pentagon, who also was trying desperately to get to Bagram, hooked up for the Kandahar flight.  We rushed our bags through, got checked in, got situated in the holding area and sure enough all things came to an immediate standstill. 


Next thing I know, the Bagram flight has ten open seats and they get rushed through.  Now, I’m in a pretty disappointed mood to say the least.  What I figured out later was that it seemed like a move to get some of those waiting for Bagram to go to Kandahar and then, out of nowhere, the seats on the Bagram flight magically open up, as soon as I agree to go to Kandahar, putting a real kink in my movement plans.  Had I not listend to the civillian workers at the flight control center of passenger services, I would have perhaps been on the Bagram flight which I had been waiting for now for nearly a week.  These are the things that completely wear down a traveler such as myself who knows there is a way to get to the war zone but is always told bad information.  I have been dealing with bad information for the month prior to my departure and up until today, I still was getting wrong information.  It makes life really difficult for me because I’m really just a nobody in this big game of how to get from point A to point B.  If I believed everyone who took my phone calls, answered my emails and spoke to me in person concerning what I was trying desperately to do, and told me what they did, I would still be in New Mexico begging and pleading for someone to let me on an airplane headed into Afghanistan and while I’m waiting to do that, let me purchase a room in the Air Force Hotel on base at Ramstein, which, my travel orders clearly state I am allowed to do.  Folks, it is not an easy task and it really is the hardest part of these journeys.  It is the main reason I am calling this, The Last Journey. 


Having said all that, I am now within the next hour or so headed towards landing in Afghanistan.  There is no telling what in the world awaits me in Kandahar and God only knows how I will get from Kandahar to Bagram and then from there to my first embed location.  What I do know is this:  I will be landing in Afghanistan and it took me nine years to get here.  I had always put off coming to this land.  I knew it would be tough and I also knew it would be one of the most challenging things I’ve done in my days.  Iraq was different, and it taught me how the system works and how to really do this journey one step at a time.  I’ve never really ever had the opportunity to do major events like this the easy way.  Is a matter of fact, I have a phrase in my own household that say, “if everyone else is welcomed through the front door, I, Jim Spiri, for some unknown reason have to come in through the back door.”


Well, today is apparently no exception.  In the end, the roll of the dice was mine.  But, I remember being in casinos in years past and watching what is known as a “shill”.  Once in awhile I feel like I got suckered.  I have no one to blame but myself.  Eventually, I’ll get to where I need to be going.  All will be well.  All these things just build character.  I’m quiet a character, or so I’ve been told.


Jim Spiri Last Journey