Monday, January 11, 2010

The journey begins ....

From the beginning, I knew that this deployment would be an interesting experience. Things were rapidly evolving in Afghanistan, from leadershipto organization, and the information being passed on was changing daily. From the time I received my initial deployment notification in September until the time I actually landed at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, in January, the transition hub for Afghanistan deployers, my deployment had changed five times. Although this was my second time to Afghanistan, and my second JET or in-lieu of tasking, I knew things would be much different than the first time around.

Upon landing at Bagram Air Base our group of about 20 Public Affairs personnel learned there was a flight leaving for Kabul International Airport in less than 12 hours. We were determined to be on the flight; having spent several days in Manas waiting on our luggage to arrive, two days getting from Norfolk to Manas and five weeks at Combat Skills Training in Ft. Dix, N.J. the, "Are we there yet?" feeling was running high. Since the flight show time was relatively close to our arrival time, we were given the direction to stay close by the passenger terminal, so our options included the dining facility, the USO and transient restroom facilities. Already sleep deprived, some decided to just hit the coffee pot and stay up all night, while others curled up wherever there was a space - on benches, chairs and floors. I was somewhere in between. I went for food, used the morale computers to send a few e-mails and decided to take a shower. During my previous deployment and from this travel experience, I learned it was always best to eat and take a shower whenever the opportunity presented itself as you never knew when your next chance would be. Slightly refreshed, I sat down to watch a movie and promptly fell asleep.

That two hours of sleep got me through the next day of travel to Kabul International Airport, Camp Phoenix and then, finally, to Camp Eggers. Another Air Force public affairs member was traveling with me, and as the Army convoy carrying us and our combined 14 bags of luggage dropped us off at the gates of Camp Eggers, we just looked at each other and laughed. It was just getting dark, we didn't know where we were or how we were going to get in touch with our points of contact, move our gear or find a place to sleep forthe night. It was one of those classic "so there we were" moments.

Luckily, the gate guards let us call the PA shop, who promptly showed up with enough people to carry our luggage to the office. It was a whirlwind of movement and within two hours, we'd had dinner, picked up our inprocessing paperwork, got assigned a room and were shown around the camp. My travel partner and I both were lucky enough to get a room in the brand new lodging, complete with a real door and indoor bathrooms. For those military folks who've had to get dressed and walk through the freezing cold in the middle of the night to get to the bathrooms, all the while cursing the fact that you drank water after 7 p.m., you understand how glorious this is.

Understandably, my co-workers who had to live in transient tents for weeks were a little jealous. I had been forwarned that living space was tight so I was prepared for the possibility of tent living but it was just the luck of the draw. So, on day two of my stay at Camp Eggers, I'm beginning to learn the ropes of a joint NATO Training Mission and our role here in Kabul. For me, our mission here is a new concept in military journalism; instead of covering the U.S. military and our efforts in Afghanistan, we highlight the progress the Afghan's are making in learning to govern and discipline themselves and their development as a nation. Both are vital topics, and so while my official capacity is to focus on Afghanistan, I hope to use this forum as a way to share what our team of 20 plus photographers, broadcasters and journalists are doing here, along with those serving with us in Afghanistan and Iraq. What we do, as media professionals, is important, but even more so are the efforts of our fellow military members.

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