Monthly Archives: May 2009

Trapper Ray

I’ve been busily observing the contractors providing various base support services. This morning was my check ride with the animal-control team. There is actually wildlife here! Unfortunately, a good bit of it is rabid, and most of it has teeth. So, the general strategy is to capture with a live-animal trap, give them a vet check, and release the healthy ones in some remote corner near the fenceline.

We had quite a haul this morning: one feral housecat (an orange marmalade job) who was most upset; a larger cat that I would call a bobcat or lynx, maybe 20 or 25 lb, who was taking matters more calmly (was this not her first time?); and a juvenile hedgehog (I’m told it was “standard British” size, about the same as a pocket poodle — heavier than a squirrel but not as long as a ferret) who was quietly curious. The trapper said the hedgehogs grow quite large here, and he had recently come across a porcupine the size of a bear cub (it completely filled the trap).

I have seen two sorts of birds here: one small non-descript spotted brown songbird type, and one striking parrot-green thing that is built like a barnswallow and flies about like one as well.

Four-Way Whats?

There are so many aspects of everyday life, taken for granted as routine at home, that are different over here, either because of the past or because of the present.

Driving, for starters. Everything is stick shift (85% of cars sold in Europe have manual transmissions), and diesel. The vehicles have been obtained from various sources, so some have right-hand drive and some have left-hand drive. One could wish that the people who grew up with right-hand drive were given a right-hand vehicle to drive, but one takes what one can get, often. It appears to me that all the left-hand vehicles have been issued, and only right-hand vehicles are left. At least, that’s my story as to why the right-hand vehicles are being driven so erratically.

Then there are the four-way stops. The British, of course, have never seen such things (how many of us had dealt with roundabouts before we built the one by Bainbridge High?).

Did I mention the asphalting is still an ongoing effort? So there are lots of detours …

All in all, the roads are much more adventurous than the “20 km/hr” speed limits would indicate.

Life as a pedestrian can be equally strange — especially for a Washington-stater accustomed to cars yielding the way. One has to walk defensively; wearing those reflective belts favored by the Army and Marines helps, and there’s a flashing-light switch on the little lithium-powered LED flashlights too.

Hedge Funds

Some readers may be wondering about the money situation over here. It’s not as straightforward as you might think.

Of course, we pay nothing for our lodging or our meals, or the voluminous amount of bottled water we drink every day, or the gym. There are no movie theaters or bars. So, in fact, there’s not a huge volume of money changing hands. None of the local merchants (or tha vendors at the market) take credit cards or checks, for example. So cash is king. There are two ATM machines (and one government ATM-like device for service personnel to access their pay accounts — a real improvement over the old paymaster routine).

However, we don’t have or use coins. Instead we use Pogs (See the Military Uses section).

Shades of the Wild West

Yup, they say this is a war zone. I suspected that, somehow. But for most of my time here so far, I’ve been thinking it looks more like Old Tombstone or perhaps Silver City. I mean, everyone (well, the uniformed everyones, not us slimy contractors) is carrying either a rifle or sidearms, sometimes both. Sometimes it’s an old-style M-16, sometimes the new folding-stock M-4 Carbine, occasionally a higher-firepower Squad Automatic Weapon. There are innumerable ways to carry it: slung up, slung down, right shoulder, left shoulder, front or back. And don’t get me started about the various ways to park one while you are dining (underfoot) or at chapel. Pistols tend to be carried by the more senior personnel, and the holsters vary from the traditional belt holster to the more useful leg rig or ever-popular double shoulder.

Hotel Kandahar

Depending on your organization and your length of stay here, your accommodations may vary just a bit.

The combat troops passing through en route to the “downrange” zones further south, where there is considerable fighting going on, will spend several days here for acclimitization and some local training. These guys are assigned to the largest open-bay berthing I’ve ever seen: think “a bunkroom the size of a K-Mart”. So these are the standard double-high Army bunks, with the washing-up in separate adjacent facilities. The women have identical accommodations, next door, with a “Females only” sign on both the berthing and the washing-up.

If you are here longer, as many of the NATO forces are here for some months, your accommodation is an eight (?)-man tent, sort of a textile version of the WWII-era Quonset huts. These are arranged in orthogonol clusters, making streets and alleys. Picture here. (I don’t know where this shot was taken, but it’s certainly a smaller place than Kandahar today.)

The next step up is a pre-fabricated type of housing the design of which must have originated with the 20-foot shipping containers (CONEX or ISO boxes) used in the States for intermodal freight. Only the design, mind you — these are new pre-fab kits, with steel frames and pre-fab floor, ceiling, and wall (some walls have windows) panels. They can be erected on-site with small crews and a minimum of equipment, usually on a foundation of concrete block or a poured concrete pad. Again the washing-up is in separate but adjacent facilities of the same sort. I believe these are used for 2-man or 4-man (if bunkbeds) accommodations. Picture here.

Permanent party base and support personnel are in newly constructed masonry buildings, with the washing-up in the building proper. My E-3 USAF roommate didn’t quite believe me when I told her that onboard ship, there would be 12 living in the space allotted to the 2 of us.

Everything is air-conditioned, of course.

A Hard Week for the UK

Wrapping up my fourth week here – and there’s been a lot going on. Since some of the operational events, which I’m not at liberty to discuss, have made it to the mainstream media, so I can post links.

The Brits have lost six brave lads in the past eight days, in the fighting in Helmand province (southern Afghanistan, southwest of here). You can track casualty figures at the link here.  And the RAF pilot survived a Harrier crash on the runway here at Kandahar, pictures and discussion here and here.  Although, with a zero-elevation ejection, there are frequently back injuries.

It has been beastly hot – 108 Fahrenheit earlier in the week, but has cooled off to 100 today. Winds are about 20-30 mph. With the continued progress of the paving projects, the dust situation has improved dubstantially. I’ve gone from living in a can of talcum powder to living in a hair dryer.

How to Have Fun at Kandahar

Ummm … are you sure you don’t have work to do? Or laundry? How about catching up on your sleep?

Well then, we’ll have to try harder. Each national compound has recreation for their own troops, which includes some fairly dense forests of treadmills/crosstrainers, resistance training machines of manifold persuasions, and the occasional bicycle. The Canadians, for good measure, have built a hocky rink (they also have a totem pole in front of their PX, in case anyone gets disoriented). Most also have something resembling a lounge/dayroom, with board games, cards, and computer access. The smokers (remember those?) tend to congregate near the dorm stairwells on makeshift picnic tables.

The Dutch have opened a sort of disco tent that seems to be very popular on Wednesday nights, and there was some sort of dance/party going on in front of the French PX last night as I was walking back from doing laundry.

Most of the permanent party here seem to have personal laptops along, and knockoff DVDs are very popular items at the Saturday market.

One will be doing all these things sober, though. This is a dry camp in more ways than one.