Friday, October 31, 2014

Fullbore Friday

I will be, uncharacteristically perhaps, brief for today's FbF.

I actually had a rather long post written, and then deleted it. Most of it really didn't need to be published, and the public consumption part most of the regulars here know; know my view of what was done to move the difficult but winnable Afghan war in one speech in DEC09 to a hopeless cause.

Don't try to fight it out either way in comments. I'm in no mood to play with tired arguments from people are at best are just temporally disjointed, ignorant, or at worst just petty trolls.

Instead of all that non-productive crap, I decided to think of the good memories of Camp Bastion/Leatherneck as I knew it here. That cross between the surface of Mars and Moon Base Alpha. 

Two visits stand out the most. The two days of heartburn when I had following my overly enthusiastic breakfast with the Brits after not sleeping for the better parts of two days. Beans, stewed tomatoes, butter soaked dry toast and some kind of sausage on a stomach like that only prepped with black coffee in a dehydration was ... well ... what it was.

In a little more than four months before I hung up the uniform for good, Bastion was the pivot point in my last, "Screw the USAF, I'll figure this out myself" adventure.

Being stuck in Qatar after a conference; needing to get back to Kabul yesterday; a "two week delay" to get a flight back; staying all night after most everyone else gave up, and convincing a C-17 loadmaster in the middle of the night to open just a few seats in their "cargo only" flight - in a few minutes he came back after checking with the aircraft commander with a thumbs up. Had 5-minutes to get on. It was one of those, "Yes, I need to get to Kabul, but for now I just need to get in to AFG. I'll find my way to Kabul from there." moments.  

On the way, with a smug, "I told you I could do this" grin on my face, I walked around the lost souls hanging on hope in the wee hours I had met that day, grabbed a SEABEE CO and CMDCM who needed to get to their command who I told to wait with me as I was "feeling lucky," another lost O-5 Navy type who, like me, refused to accept that we had to wait two weeks, and a female USAF E-4 who was just lost not knowing what to do. With my team of misfit toys in tow, we followed the loadmaster to the C-17 and, like the cat who ate the canary, just nodded at each other as wheels when up, and fell asleep. Only the SEABEEs actually needed to get to Bastion - the rest of us other places. 

Sure enough, we got to Bastion in that C-17, shook hands and went our separate ways. My plan was that I had no plan, but hey - at least I was in AFG. Thing is, when alone and needing help - always look to family. The USMC was there. I knew right where to go.

Walked over in what was in '09 just a tent next to the taxi way, to USMC flight ops to see what was going to Kabul or Baghram - and generally to hang out in a place I knew I would be welcome, even if I was just a USN terminal O5 staff weenie a log way from his desk. 

"Nothing due today." Said the Marine looking at the ink board for today's flights, when all of a sudden we heard the distinct sound of a recently landed C-130 in beta. "Who is that?" I asked. "We have no idea."

Funny but longish story later; an ANG C-130 was dropping off one pallet and then flying empty to Baghram. I asked if I could have a ride, the nice Major said, "Sure." They said as long as I was willing to do a "combat dropoff" or whatever it is called when they keep all four burning and drop the ramp for people to run off; they'd stop in Kabul to drop me off. Just me.

And so, I found my way back to Kabul, not only two weeks earlier than the pogues in Qatar said I would - but 10-days earlier than the US Army Majors I traveled to Qatar with - but didn't think I could work the system, so headed off to the tent to snooze. They may have been SAMS graduates, but they didn't have that Navy, "I'll figure it out when I get there." sense of adventure. 

What a way to return to Kabul; a special flight in to Kabul all by myself, with a big sh1t-eating grin trotting off the back of a C-130 that didn't even bother to shut down - and before I was even past the tail of the aircraft, the ramp was coming up and the plane was taxiing. 

That was the last C-130 flight I would take, heck of a way to end that run. Still makes me smile.

A call to HQ ISAF, a USAF E-5, a Kiwi and a RAF guy pick me up in a Land Rover, and back to the HQ to finish up what was, in hindsight, thrown away by small, blinkered men. We tried.

Sigh. That was when we were in the middle of getting everything up to speed for the surge and we were all optimistic about the future. Few of us thought that Obama would quit later that year.

The days of SEABEEs, Red Horse, Rhino Snot, worldwide shortage of airport matting, and the Karzai family's cornering of the rock crushing market. Good times, good times.

That is my small, insignificant, staff weenie memory of Bastion/Leatherneck - but that isn't the story of that base. 

You could fill up years of FbF with the sacrifice of the US, UK, and allied servicemembers who served there. Doing their job as best as they were allowed - but largely untold by a bored nation, distracted leadership, and a largely indifferent culture.

Yes, the above is the short post. I'm just going to end it with the videos below. I frankly, just don't know what else to say. 

All that fighting, great fighting, that so few know about, and even fewer care. BZ to all - we did what we could and at least some of us, those who served with you and others who didn't but made the effort to find out, know. 

The rest can go pack sand.

Pause, ponder, and reflect.

Staff Sergeant Kenneth Oswood, of Romney, West Virginia, is one of the few members of the squadron who participated in both the Iraq withdrawal and Monday's Helmand airlift.

"It's a lot different this time .... Closing out Iraq, when we got there, we were told there hadn't been a shot fired in anger at us in years. And then you come here and they are still shooting at us," Oswood said.

"It's almost like it's not over here, and we're just kind of handing it over to someone else to fight."

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