Home > War Journalism > Traveling, The Army Way!

Traveling, The Army Way!


By Joseph Kassabian

 

Everyone while deployed gets to take two weeks of leave and go home. The best part of all of this is the Army pays for it all. I guess in order for the Army to give something back to you, you just have to get sent to a shithole warzone. Being from Michigan I was in for a shitty vacation. Rain, snow, bad weather, and pretty much zero fun awaited me in the land of the great unemployed mitten.

Being that I’d been in the Army for five and a half years at this point I’d never been on a real vacation. The Army just kept sending me places I wouldn’t visit on my own (I’m looking at you Texas and Kentucky!) so I really wanted to go somewhere nice. My good friend Bugzy was going on leave at the same time as me, and is from Florida. The idea was fun in the sun, beaches, and drunkenness and it sounded amazing. We decided we were going to Florida together.

This isn’t my first deployment, so I’ve traveled the Army way before. Last deployment I was stuck in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan near Bagram Air Field, the main conduit of travel for soldiers in and out of the country. So the experience wasn’t horrible, a pain in the ass yes but not terrible. This time around the experience wasn’t going to be so tolerable.

First confusion racked our platoon. We were due to conduct a CONOP (a large company wide operation with one goal in mind) and were already short on personnel. And the only people going on leave from our platoon were all team leaders. That and they would not be able to drop us off closer to our leave date, meaning if they were going to drop us off it would have to be a week early. A week stuck at a huge base with working showers, shopping, and good food before going on leave. This sounded awesome at the time.

So after finally coming to the conclusion that they would have to send us to Kandahar Air Field (KAF) a week early they told us at midnight that we were going to be leaving in four hours and we needed to pack. So Kitty, Bugzy, and I rolled out of bed and started rushing to pack. We were so excited that I think we got done packing in a few minutes and walked outside and chain smoked until the convoy taking us to KAF was reading to leave.

The ride to KAF was uneventful, and the convoy dropped us off at a random bus stop on a street corner (KAF is so big it has its own bus system operated by Nepalese contractors). Our company had one person stationed on KAF, a Staff Sergeant named ‘Goggles’, whose sole job was to usher the soldiers going on leave through the transit process. He is also a total useless sack of shit. Kitty tried calling him several times on his government issued cell phone to no avail. Thankfully Bugzy knew his way around KAF and knew where to go.

We arrived at a place Bugzy nicknamed ‘the Section Eight of KAF’. Once upon a time it was a British Army compound within the walls of the air field; once they moved out and when it was given back to the US it fell into disrepair. A haggard looking Specialist issued us out a place to sleep in the equally haggard looking green, Vietnam-era tents.

Bugzy, another soldier from our company named ‘Cyst’, and I all signed into the same tent. When we went inside it looked like something straight out of a FEMA camp. Torn, stained, fifty year old green cots were lined up against the walls, trash littered the floor, and everything looked like it would be sticky if we touched it.

Finally Goggles called Kitty back asking where we were. She kindly told him we were already in Section Eight, no thanks to him. He told us we weren’t supposed to get on a plane to Kuwait until Friday. This was on Sunday; we were trapped in the tent ghetto for a whole damn week. Goggles insisted he was going to try to get us on an earlier flight, but we all knew he was just going to forget.

Another soldier from our company named ‘Irish’ who Bugzy knew from when he was stationed in Korea joined us in the squalor of our tent. We all got on a bus and headed to the ‘Postal Exchange’ which is Army speak for an off brand Wal-Mart on a military base. We aren’t use to such luxury, and quickly spent way too much money buying shit we didn’t need. We returned back to our FEMA camp and slept like the dead.

Sometime during the night we were attacked with rockets, Bugzy, Cyst, and Irish all slept right through it. A loud siren screamed

“Rocket attack! Rocket Attack!” In a British accent, followed by the wailing of klaxons. It went on and on for about twenty minutes. Goggles ran into the tent, having driven all the way to our tent ghetto from his barracks in an all-terrain golf cart. He was freaking out, for him; this is as rough as the war got.

“Are you guys okay?” He screamed at us, obviously stressed out.

“Will you shut the fuck up?” Irish screamed, throwing a boot at him.

“Who’s yelling?” Bugzy yelled through his half asleep haze. Finally we harassed him enough that he waddled his fat ass out of our tent. We all walked outside to smoke and make fun of Goggles. At this point all three of us had been shot at, found explosives, or been blown up. The thought of being stressed out by some badly aimed rockets fired from the back of some camel made us laugh. We all rolled over and went back to sleep.

After two days of wandering around KAF we learned a valuable lesson: KAF is a toxic hell hole. Scattered throughout KAF there are tall black metal towers that spew noxious black smoke, those are the ‘burn pits’. The area where all the trash from KAF is brought and burned. Chemicals, metal, whatever, and it’s all burned with no thought of the horrible repercussions of such polluting to the inhabitants.

The choking smoke is nothing compared to the horrible stench of hundreds of thousands of peoples shit and piss that is gathered into a massive open air pool in the middle of the air field. For some reason the collective thought process of the engineers who built this place decided the best place for all of the human effluence of the populous was right among the people who created it. You have to drive past this pool to get to anywhere on the base, and the smell is not of this world during the summer. The dust mixes with the shit pool covering everything in the area in a fine layer of shit powder. Thousands of people live on KAF around this sort of thing, we live in the middle of Kandahar City and it was cleaner.

KAF is obviously the domain of the pretend warrior. People who join the Army to serve as jobs people in the Army didn’t even know existed. They still walk around with a weapon, but they have no ammo in which to put in it. Finance Clerks, Paper Work Jockeys, and Chairborne Rangers. The type of soldier who goes home and talks about how rough the war was, yes it may have been rough one day in the chow hall when they ran out of ice cream the same night the third world contractor cook burned their steak. Just looking at them pisses me off.

Dealing with these people wouldn’t have pissed me off nearly as much if I didn’t have to be here for a week before I got to go home. We would go to the ‘board walk’ as it’s called, an area built around a god damn soccer field and running track. The board walk housed countless shops ran by locals and some Europeans who found their way over here. The pretend warriors and imported civilians sat around picnic tables and sipped coffee, some people were obviously on dates. These Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and Sailors could actually go on dates to a coffee shop, but still call themselves veterans. The thought made me sick.

Finally it happened: I was harassed by an NCO for my appearance. Worn out uniform, stained boots, and out of regulation hair, I probably looked like everything this person hated in the Army. She was a short fat black Sergeant First Class who looked like the closest she ever got to combat was when she had to fight to get a second helping at the chow hall.

“Excuse me Specialist!” She shrieked at me, her fat jowls shook with her anger.

“Yes Sergeant?” I reluctantly went to ‘Parade Rest’, a position in which you put your hands behind your back when a senior NCO is talking to you. I knew I wasn’t going to win this fight, so I didn’t even try being my smartass self.

“What the hell are you doing walking around here without a PT belt? It’s dark out!” She was obviously shocked I would do such a thing. A PT belt is a reflective belt the Army loves to make soldiers wear like kids with mittens pinned to their jackets year round. Mind you I am on the ‘board walk’ a place not accessible to vehicles.

“Sergeant I just got here from the city. I don’t have a PT belt, and I seriously doubt I’ll be hit by a car on the board walk.” I can’t control what I say, I generally lack a filter. This is why I’m always in trouble.

“You might get hit by a fat bitch.” Laughed Irish, obviously he has less of a filter then I do. Thankfully the fat cow in front of us didn’t hear him.

“Where are you from in the city? I’m pretty sure PT belts are an Army wide thing. And what’s that on your face?” She of course was talking about the three days of beard growth I had. At this point Camp Spartan had no running water, so shaving was kind of an optional thing.

“We came from a place with no running water, and if we wore PT belts where we are at in the city, the Taliban would shoot us.” Bugzy chimed in. Bugzy is one of my best friends, not just in the Army, but in my life. But he generally shuts up when senior ranking people get on his back, not because he has no balls, but because he is smart enough to know you always lose and it’s better to save your breath. Our united front finally scared off the fat NCO, I think anything further would have devolved into personal insults against her; it’s not like she knew who we were anyway.

Our stay at KAF slowly turned into seeing how long we could sleep a day. Up until now we had been operating on two or three hours a sleep a night working out of Camp Spartan, so we obviously had a lot of time to make up for. Even then I couldn’t sleep more than a few hours here and there. Bugzy and Irish slept like they were a damn corpse and were dead to all of us for twelve hours at a time. Cyst slept with no real schedule, he would randomly wake up to play on his cell phone at 2am, but sleep throughout the day, leaving me with the only person with anything resembling a normal sleep cycle.

The week dragged on, all we could think about was going home. There was one more step before we could get on the plane to the US. Sometime around midnight we all packed into a C130 cargo plane. It shot straight up into the air, a tactical maneuver that makes it hard to target and shoot out of the air with a missile. Sitting inside shooting into the sky like you’re in a space ship is an intense and scary feeling, after a few minutes the g-forces subsided and we had a normal flight.

We landed in Ali-Al-Salem, Kuwait at some horrible time in the morning. We stumbled off the plane and into a formation so that the Air Force paper jockeys could gather up our ID cards to check us into the transit area.

The people stationed in Kuwait were worse than the people on KAF. They were in a totally peaceful country yet got paid as much as we did in Afghanistan, and I’m pretty sure the last time a US soldier took fire in Kuwait was 1991. I was actually asked what country I was from because the uniform I was wearing.

Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan don’t wear the normal Army Combat Uniform; we are issued ‘Multi Cam’. A green, tan, and brown pattern that resembles the British Army uniform, and much better at concealing us from the Taliban then the normal uniform. I guess the American flag on my right sleeve wasn’t enough to show these idiots I’m from the same country.

After several hours of classes given to us by the brave intrepid war fighters of Ali Al Salem that covered such wonderful things as:

-Why not to kill yourself while you’re at home.

-How not to beat your wife and kids while at home.

-How not to drink yourself into prison while at home.

Obviously the military thinks its ranks are full of total retards. We waited inside the classroom for hours before we finally filled out the paper work that would allow the paper jockeys to manifest us on a flight back to the US.

A few hours later we were stuffed onto a bus and driven at insanely high speeds through the Kuwaiti desert to the air port with a police escort. For the first time I was nervous about the whole thing, whenever we went through a place in Afghanistan that was considered dangerous we had our own weapons in which to defend ourselves, here in Kuwait we were at the mercy of whatever passed as a police officer in this middle eastern shit hole.

Thankfully we arrived at the airport without incident. Without being given any reason we were stuck on the bus for three hours before being allowed on the chartered plane.

So after nearly a week and a half of travel time in order to take two weeks of vacation, we were homeward bound. Bugzy to his wife and two year old baby, me to my bottle of whiskey and two weeks of bad decision making; before long we would do the entire process in reverse to go back to Kandahar and back to Camp Spartan.

 

 

 

 

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  1. Penny
    February 21, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Thanks so much for the newsy newsletter. Sounds like quite an experience to get a 2 week leave. I think they’re trying to discourage you from taking leave. Hope someone has pics of this place. Can’t even imagine what that place smelled like. Thanks to all of you for what you go thru to keep the USA safe. You are quite a journalist, should pursue this career in real life. God Bless you all and all the troops.

    Grandma Penny

  2. amy
    March 30, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    “how not to beat your wife and kids while at home.”
    i peed a little.

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