“The Last Journey”

Article 5 a&b...First Impressions


29 July 2010, Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, 1600 hrs, Thursday….It’s amazing how once in the war zone, familiar things come right up front and center, no matter how long it’s been.  Landing at Kandahar late at night there was this sense come over me which was, “ok, what have I gotten myself into this time.”  I had left Ramstein, a very nice place to be laid up and headed desperately into Afghanistan, Kandahar of all places.  My honest first thought upon arrival was, “what on earth was the hurry?” 


After the C-5 landed, we were escorted down the long ladder which leads to the cargo deck.  There, we retrieved our checked luggage and carried it all between the pallets of cargo.  Each time I do something like that I remind myself that I’m always carrying too much stuff.  I hate this part.  It’s so draining.  All part of the process however. 


We were picked up by an old bus that somewhere along the line must have been discarded by some other entity in the Air Force and now used to pick up passengers that land in Kandahar.  In years past, in Balad, Iraq, I actually had the job of driving a bus picking up pax on the flight line in the middle of the night.  Now I am one of the pax to be picked up and I’m all eyes looking around at what hits me first here on my initial arrival into Afghanistan.  By far, the most prominet sense that completely overtakes my being is the stench permeating the entire area.  It is extremely powerful and there is no escaping it.  Added to that, it’s terribly dusty, hot and nothing is going exacty right, yet. 


This is going to be a difficult journey, but I can do it.


The people who picked us up were young soldiers, and were actually pretty cool folks.  Music in the bus was pretty much blarring out some kind of heavy metal which is not my taste at all, but in all fairness to the younger generation fighting this war, they can listen to any music they want, it’s fine by me.  It’s their war. My generation just put them into it. 


We were taken to what is called the pax terminal in Kandahar which is really completely nothing like Ramstein.  I mean, nothing at all.  I’m trying to convey that this is the part that separates the men from the boys.  I would wager that given the opportunity, most people would turn around and go straight home if they could get right back on the big freedom bird home.  But I asked for this.  I’ve done this before.  I am here because others have to be here.  I need to tell their story.  I can handle it for a couple of months, I hope…!


Arriving in the middle of the night, my first order of business is to try to coordinate a flight out of here to Bagram.  That means, wait in line, get on a list but this time, wait outside for roll call.  Herein lies the new problem.  At this time, it was 0300 hrs in the morning by the time we got to the pax terminal.  The next flight schuduled for Bagram is not until 0100 hrs show time, the next day.  There is nowhere to wait, it’s hot and dusty, dark, I’m burned out, and I have at least 22 hours to figure something out.  So, my friend from the Pentagon and I, sign up for the list, and low and behold there are only 200-people ahead of us for an aircraft that seats 53 passengers.  This out to be fun. 


At this I soon realized that I have to somehow locate my proxy POC and see if we can get some assistance for the next hours.  Otherwise, we will be in a world of hurt health wise in short order.  I immediately told Vic that I would be back and was going for a walk.  Now, the problem is, I don’t have any ID card, yet, but I do have a travel pass that is to be renewed every five hours.  I located an internet place which is run by some Pakistani business guys and it’s a huge rip off.  It costs $5 an hour and it takes about 15-minutes to log in.  I bought the time, located an email I had saved with some contact information on it and found a cell number for a Maj. Constantino, who is a public affairs officer here in Kandahar.  I called her cell phone, woke her up in the middle of the night and she readily contacted the media support center which turned right around and came and picked me and my friend Vic up.  The moment I saw Sgt. Justin Green, he had a wonderful positive attitude and presented me with what I had been desiring for a long time…an ID card with my photo on it.  Wow…I was now set.  No more hassels because of lack of ID.  My US passport had been getting through, but it was not easy.  ID cards are a must and now I have one.  Huge hurdle overcome. 


After loading up mine and Vic’s belongings, we were taken just down the street to the offices of the media center and given a place to lay our head, washroom facilities and protection from the outside elements.  We had made it to shelter, got water and now rest was on the horizon.  And, to top it off, the Army folks taking care of us were all excellent.  At the time, we were the only ones here.  But, that would soon change by the next afternoon.  My friend Vic is getting a real education how this end of the war works.  It’s been fun to show him this side of things.  And what’s more so, I’m pretty much learning it all about 30-seconds before having to explain it to him.  I remember getting around Iraq, and thought that was hard.  Afghanistan is much, much more difficult.  This in itself is a long story. 


We were shown our sleeping area and put our bags up.  Soon we hit the sack after taking a few bottles of water.  I had been negligent on drinking water but now was time to hydrate.  Now, I find myself always with a bottle of water in hand and sipping it throughout the day.  It’s something that must be done now every step of the way.  I woke up this morning with somewhat of a large headache and immediately began drinking water.  Much to my surprise, the headache subsided after about an hour.  Cannot get dehydrated, must remain aware of that. 


By daylight hours, Vic and I began checking things out.  Vic now has become part of a story I will do on him because his son is also deployed here in Afghanistan as a CH47 helicopter pilot.  Now we have a very important thing in common; both our sons are 47 pilots.  It’s times like this that I like being in the war zone if only for whom one meets and befriends.  There are some really good people whose paths I come across. 


There have been serious dust storms here for the past several days and one can taste the dust in the back of the throat area.  It also has caused a huge backlog of folks trying to get to Bagram.  As I have said many times, this is the hardest part.  Just getting there.  In the mean time, I’ve noticed that this particular base has a huge international flavor to it, much bigger than what I saw in Iraq in years past.  This war here in Afghanistan is being waged by lots of countries.  Most of what I see here are Brits, Aussies, Canadians, Dutch, Italians and some others I have not identified yet.  But there are lots of folks from many countries here in Afghanistan.  I’m not sure how long they all will be here but for now, I see lots of them.  And I’m sure there are many, many more.

Jim Spiri





1945 hrs, 30 July 2010, Bagram Base, Afghanistan, Media Support Center…I have arrived in Bagram via C-130 transport plane.  I am almost at my first embed location, however, there is still a ways to go.  But I am inching ever so closer.  I have arrived at Bagram, the place where my son Jimmy came to in late 2001 after the events of September 11 summoned him into duty.  I wondered if I ever would make it to this place. 


Getting on today’s plane was no small feat.  Is a matter of fact, there were over 200 people waiting to get to Bagram from Kandahar.  The recent dust storm activity had caused a back log of passengers and I was beginning to have my doubts.  I will say this however, it’s a good thing to know good people.  It’s always a good thing in the war zone to be on your best behavior.  Enough said about all that.  I was put on the plane with 24 other passengers.  I was very thankful and inside I was leaping for joy.  The scruffy older looking guy with a camera with a New Mexico hat on, had finally met the right people to help him out.  It was a real blessing.  I like this part of the journey.  The war zone has some really good people in it, they are just hidden in the most unlikely of places. 


Upon arrival in Bagram, the C-130 opened its tail gate area and I could see the mountains surrounding Bagram from my seat.  Mountains.  That’s what I see, and they are high, very high.  It looks at first like New Mexico.  I know right away I’m in a different part of the country now.  It is still quite dusty outside, but not as bad as Kandahar.  I’m upcountry now, and I’m about to go deeper into “them thar hills”. 


I’ve been notified that by August 1, which is less than 30 hours from now I will be on a helicopter headed to camp Salerno.  That was always a goal of mine.  To get to Salerno.  I’ve been told that the public affairs folks will come get me in the middle of the night, early Sunday morning and will take me to the helipad area which is close by my quarters and push me towards the 101st Airborne folks who have agreed to have me embed with them.  It is an honor to be accepted by them.  I will give it my best shot.  I will have my birthday with these folks.  I doubt at this time in my life I could ask for a better present. 


I’ve been walking around the base for a couple hours since my arrival and getting set up in my room.  It’s a huge base and there is no way I could ever get to figure out just what’s here.  One thing I’ve noticed for sure is that here there is also a large contingent of multi-national forces.  This is a big joint effort from lots of countries across the globe.  It’s very big.  What that tells me is the enemy is strong.   I know this to be true.  I also know that there is one more day in July and it has been the deadliest month yet in this war here in Afghanistan.  Right now, the Afghanistan surge is beginning to really mobilize.  It’s going to get deadlier before it gets any better.  That is what those in authority over us have been saying these past few weeks.  I have arrived at a time when history is being made daily here in Afghanistan.  I am in awe of having made it this far, and yet, there is more just to get to the starting line. 


Jim Spiri

mailto:jimspiri@yahoo.com?subject=The Last Journey


HOME – JimSpiri.com